It’s been a busy few months for Tom Thekkekandam and Jenny Citineni—the married couple behind Tom & Jenny’s, the startup aiming to disrupt the candy industry with tasty but healthy and teeth-protecting candy.
Since we profiled Tom & Jenny’s in April, the pair pitched at Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest competition, won second place at the “Big Launch Challenge” in Danville, VA, expanded to more North Carolina storefronts, and were selected as one of SoarTriangle’s six mentee companies. SoarTriangle annually helps women-led startup companies raise money for their companies. And along with that comes mentorship, business strategy help and a lot of connections.
We caught up with Thekkekandam and Citineni to get a quick update on their business, and learn their goals for Soar.
They also attended the North Carolina Dental Society’s Annual Session in May, where eight North Carolina dental practices signed up as customers on the spot, and 100 others signed up to learn more.
But to the co-founders, the most exciting part of retail and dental practice expansion has been the market validation and positive feedback they’ve received along the way. Rising sales are proof of what they’ve believed all along—that a healthier, tastier candy fills a void in the market.
The Rise of the Rest and Big Launch Challenge pitches have helped as well. They tied for second place in Danville, Virginia’s Big Launch Challenge, winning $7,500.
The couple applied for the SoarTriangle program at the recommendation of fellow food industry disruptor, Mati Energy founder Tatiana Birgisson. Birgisson was a member of Soar Triangle’s first cohort of female-led companies and has publicly credited the program with helping her reach major milestones like growing revenue by 666 percent and winning Google Demo Day and a $100,000 check from Case. She’s since raised a round of funding from angel investors too.
The pair also liked that the program is inclusive of companies like Tom & Jenny’s, which is led by a woman and a man. The couple is most looking forward to the deep mentoring the program provides, and is already seeing the benefit as a result of a new connection with a branding expert.
Prior to Rise of the Rest, Thekkekandam and Citineni had started talks with some local angel investors. They are building those relationships now, and hope to raise a seed round in the next eight to 12 months—a process they hope SoarTriangle can help them prepare for.
With the recent surge in attention on and investment in food industry disrupting companies like Blue Apron and Sweetgreen, Tom & Jenny’s has hit the market at the perfect time. CB Insights reported in March that food tech companies raised over $1 billion, a 272% increase from 2013. But with investment comes lots of competition, so the Soar program will provide crucial help for Tom & Jenny’s as they differentiate their product from their competitors.
Lauren Whitehurst, Soar Principal and co-organizer, says the early investor interest coupled with Tom & Jenny’s innovative product and eagerness to learn from experts led to their selection for the Soar program. Over the course of the program, Thekkekandam and Citineni hope to expand their retail presence to 100-300 stores. They’ll grow production capacity through contract manufacturing (which they hope to have up and running in a few months). They also will rebrand, develop a new (under wraps for now) flavor, and continue building a team of world-class advisors.
But even with all these exciting forthcoming milestones the pair hopes to achieve, Thekkekandam says that he and Citineni continue to be most excited by the fact that they’re, “working on something that is a whole new type of candy with health benefits that people don’t expect to receive from products in this market.”