Sunday, December 02, 2012 at 12am

Red Rabbit: Where Education, Healthy Food, and Social Entrepreneurship Meet

Red Rabbit: Where Education, Healthy Food, and Social Entrepreneurship Meet main image

When people think of innovation and entrepreneurship in New York City, they often think about the tech startups in Silicon Alley. Or possibly companies catering to foodies with artisanal ice cream or high-end food trucks serving a mash-up of cuisines (think kimchi tacos). However, one of New York’s (and the country’s) most innovative small businesses is Red Rabbit, which provides healthy meals, made from scratch, with regionally sourced produce, to the City’s schools.


Founded in 2005, Red Rabbit provides meals and snacks for public and private schools as well as Head Start programs and summer camps. Red Rabbit consults with chefs, nutritionists and pediatricians, to develop recipes that are tested by kids. In addition to more exotic meals like jerk turkey, you’ll find traditional kids meals on the menu, including (modified) chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese. The mac and cheese replaces cream with pureed cauliflower and the chicken fingers are breaded and baked instead of fried. Red Rabbit also offers interactive wellness and nutrition labs for educators, teachers and kids so they can explore, learn and grow healthy relationships with food that will last a lifetime.


Looking for Healthy Food for Your Kid? Ask an Equity Trader


It was a simple request from a friend that launched Red Rabbit Founder and President Rhys W. Powell into the world of healthy food for kids. A friend struggling to find healthy food for his 4-year-old asked for Rhys’ help. When Rhys and his friend couldn’t find healthy and convenient meals for children, Rhys realized that he might have identified a market opportunity.


However, as a finance professional with degrees in Computer Science and Engineering from MIT, he had no experience in the world of food or the school system. So, while working as an Equity Trader at the Carlin Financial Group, Rhys began researching the issue. “After six months [of research], while still working in finance, I realized I couldn’t do both. I wasn’t going to drop the company to go back to finance.” So Rhys left his job to run Red Rabbit full time.


“I didn’t consult anyone when I made the decision. I thought it was a good opportunity, working hands on with people and working in the community. I had no training or education in food and was thoroughly unprepared. So I had two years of hard knocks.” He also leveraged the expertise of others, hiring a chef, recipe developer, marketing firm and a business plan development company. In addition, he cooked and delivered food for the company’s first three years.


The Challenges of Stepping Off the Path


Although Rhys made the decision to become an entrepreneur on his own, his family was supportive. “They were like, ‘We trust that you’ll figure it out. We’re not sure where you’re going, but you seem to have had success so far.” However, like many others who leave lucrative, prestigious jobs to pursue their dreams, Rhys also faced his fair share of doubters. “The critics were non-stop and we still have them. People sometimes can’t see something in your mind until it’s created. I had to blind myself to it.”


In particular, some of Rhys’ former finance colleagues were critical of his business. “Sometimes conservative careers that lure the brightest minds box them in, luring them with security and high salaries. These people may be the most able to create and lead, and already have the skills they need to create something.”


Rhys Powell's Advice for Entrepreneurs


In addition to tuning out your critics, Rhys advises those considering starting a business to think about it like a career change. “Entrepreneurship is not a project, it’s a career. I would approach it with the mindset that you’ll have no choice but to be successful. There is no secret sauce. I would advise people to focus on the craft of entrepreneurship.”


That means investing in your professional development. Rhys joined Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), a global network of entrepreneurs, that helped open his eyes to the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur including sales and marketing, leadership, operations and finance. EO also provides a supportive network of entrepreneurs, which is an asset often overlooked by new business owners. Powell says, “As an entrepreneur you’re often alone and the demands on you are unique. Joining networks with people going through the same thing, for support and guidance, was invaluable.” Red Rabbit was also accepted to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, in which Rhys learned how to manage staff, negotiate with vendors and market the company.


Entrepreneurship may also require a change in mindset or lifestyle. Initially Rhys thought that being an entrepreneur would give him more control of his time, but the reverse happened. “I lost control of my time. I can’t turn things off and say, I’m not working now. I don’t have that luxury.”


What’s Next for Red Rabbit?

Rhys’ work ethic and investment in himself and his business has paid dividends for Red Rabbit, which now works with close to 100 schools and programs, serving over 20,000 meals and snacks a day throughout the NY-Metro area. Red Rabbit is anticipating major growth with plans to expand throughout the Northeast, including Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston and Connecticut. So if you’re interested in bringing Red Rabbit’s healthy meals to your child’s school, you can reach Rhys and the rest of the team at



About Akiba Smith-Francis

Akiba Smith-Francis has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, serves as a Career Coach for Columbia Business School students and other young professionals interested in making major professional and life transitions. Akiba is also a founding member of counSOUL, a consortium of career coaches focused on mid-level professionals (28-38). She is working on a book called Stepping Off the Path: From Doing What's Expected to Doing What You Love and offers a free eBook on the 5 Questions You MUST Ask Before You Quit Your Job. Akiba is also training to become a Martha Beck Certified Life Coach.


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