This past summer, Jenna Martinez ‘19 lived in her hometown of Miami, FL, interning and soaking up the warm weather. During that time, she realized that açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) bowls were really popular in Miami and after trying them, she was in love. As the summer was coming to an end, she thought about how she would get açaí bowls in Ithaca, NY and quickly found that there was a gap in the market. With her determination and initiative, Martinez launched Açaísy, the first service that allows people to order açaí right to their door in 10 minutes or less!
As described on Açaísy’s website, “açaí is a fruit that grows on the Açaí Palm Trees in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest and is one of the best superfoods in the world! Açaí bowls are typically described as rich, grainy, tropical, and refreshing. According to researchers, the açaí berry has antioxidants that may protect cells from damage caused by harmful molecules in the body called “free radicals” and can help fight against diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Additionally, açaí aids weight loss, promotes skin health, and helps digestion!”
Currently, as a Biological Engineering student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences trying to transfer to communication, Martinez recalled her inspiration for starting Açaísy. “I was thinking, ‘Where do they sell this in Ithaca?’ and so I looked online and no stores came up. The only thing that came up was a blog saying why açaí should go to Ithaca.” Knowing that she could use a first mover advantage and enter the market in Ithaca, Martinez reached out to her older brother who advises small businesses and consults them on their growth. She proposed the idea to him, started doing research about açaí and the market, and he helped her form an Limited Liability Company, LLC.
Right now, the Açaísy team consists of Martinez and a driver who deliver orders. Every single açaí bowl is hand-made by Martinez, and she runs the business out of her own apartment. Martinez sources her ingredients from a local distributor where she was able to negotiate and get packs of açaí in bulk at a wholesale price compared to high prices on Amazon.
While her team is small, Martinez highlighted Açaísy’s competitive advantage, noting that “It’s really convenient and affordable because the price is $10, which is cheaper than the average price, and the driver will take your order right to you. I also offer a lot of discounts and promotions so people can try it out.”
Yet, like any startup, Martinez has encounter her own share of challenges along the way. “The first two days were so slow, and I was talking to my brother because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong and no one was here to help me,” she described. “I had class as well, so I was scared and overwhelmed, and then slowly, I realized that I needed to post on Instagram and Facebook and promote my business.” Thinking on her feet, Martinez used her social network at Cornell to spread word of her business, acknowledging that, “a lot of people don’t really know what açaí is so I had to explain it on the website and through social media.” Since its launch, Açaísy has had over 400+ customers, with many repeat, loyal buyers. Martinez has also started to figure out which days are the most popular, helping her combat the unforeseeable flux of orders.
Another challenge for Martinez was balancing Açaísy with her school work. Açaísy operates from 11-4pm and since she got out of class at 11am on most days, she would have to leave class early, rush home, and give the bowls to her driver for delivery. Martinez said that the açaí base can be kept frozen, but the toppings have to stay fresh, so she would wake up three hours before class to prepare the toppings and be meticulous about the presentation of each bowl.
With winter around the corner, Martinez has decided to make Açaísy a seasonal business and plans to return next fall. In the meantime, starting Açaísy has helped Martinez think about her entrepreneurial journey, mentioning, “If I continue to see growth in Açaísy, I will get more people on the team because I can’t do it alone. It was never my intention to start a business. It was just an idea and I thought I might as well just try it, but it’s been such a good experience.”