The idea of launching her own business venture simmered for a long time on the back burner of Harinee Sampath’s mind. “I never considered myself an idea person, and I thought it would be five to 10 years before I could start a company,” says Sampath, a 2015 graduate of the Ross School’s evening MBA program. “The Zell Lurie Institute gave me the confidence, resources and mentoring to launch a new venture while I was in graduate school, and then pushed me to make it happen.”
Sampath initially pitched her idea for South Asian Flavors, an exotic food company offering Indian-flavored savory yogurt dips, to her MBA classmates in a New Venture Creation course at Ross. During the class, her team conducted extensive market research through taste tests, focus groups and surveys, reaching more than 100 consumers to confirm a market need, identify target markets and segments and position her products. Based on feedback, Sampath tweaked her yogurt recipes to appeal to the American palate. Her team completed a business plan for the company, and Sampath refined and advanced her business concept with $7,000 in venture-shaping, assessment and integration grants she received through the Institute’s Dare to Dream grant program.
In July 2014, Sampath, a Zell Scholarship recipient, launched South Asian Flavors in the Detroit metropolitan area, fulfilling her dream to start her own company. That fall she entered her business plan in the Michigan Business Challenge and won the 2015 Marketing Award and $2,500 in prize money. She also received the Samuel Valenti Award for Exceptional Entrepreneurial Development. “The Zell Lurie staff was helpful in guiding me through the business plan competition process and introducing me to influential contacts in the food industry,” says Sampath, who is currently working on her first product launch. “They gave me simple, easy-to-follow, small steps to take in creating and launching my company and met with me whenever I needed advice.”