The idea:An oven that steams, bakes, and broils with just a scan of a barcode
The aha moment:“The germ of the idea came on a Sunday four years ago, when I was cooking for myself and using multiple appliances,” says David Rabie, 31, who at the time was attending the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “I was boiling rice on the stove, using a steamer basket for broccoli, roasting sweet potatoes, sautéing tofu, making a salad. Five different things to make one meal.” There had to be an easier way to cook.
Since then:Rabie, along with engineer Bryan Wilcox, Tovala’s chief technology officer, invented nothing less than a new category of oven: one that automatically cooks the prepackaged meals that are delivered weekly to your door. Their now-40-employee company began rolling out the first microwave-size Tovalas last July, selling them online for $399, compared with the thousands of dollars restaurant steam ovens cost. (The price drops to as low as $199 if you sign up for a meal subscription, which runs between $36 and $72 a week, depending on the number of servings.) The concept was strong enough to attract $13 million in early financing that included a quartet of Chicago heavy hitters: the venture capital firm Origin Ventures, Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto, restaurateur and real estate developer Larry Levy, and the Pritzker Group. The most notable investment, though, came when Tyson Ventures, a division of Tyson Foods, offered not only funding but potential collaboration. Says Rabie: “In theory you’ll get a Tyson product in the grocery store, scan it, and it’ll cook in our oven automatically.”