The Gen Z Entrepreneurs of Target Incubator Are Building Businesses with the Potential to Change The World

  • Jun 28, 2019
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When Kaitlin Mogentale got a first-hand look at how much perfectly good juice pulp goes to waste at local juiceries, she had a “light bulb” moment. Using her background in environmental studies and a passion for reducing waste, she cooked up the idea for Pulp Pantry—a startup business that turns juice pulp into granola bites and other nutritious snacks. Today, she and her team are using their platform to make eating servings of vegetables and fiber more fun, accessible and convenient. 

Kaitlin is a founder of one of eight businesses selected to take part in our first Target Incubator—a program for Gen Z entrepreneurs with aspirations to make the world a better place with “better for people” or “better for the planet” ideas. It’s part of our growing portfolio of accelerator programs aimed at helping startups develop their businesses and get hands-on experience in retail. Each participant started with a passion, a big idea, and a courageous leap into the world of business. Now, they’re ready to take things to the next level.Participants work at a table in their Target space. A sign in the foreground readsThroughout an eight-week course happening this summer at Target’s Minneapolis HQ, the participants are networking with peers and mentors, developing skills in negotiations, branding, pitching and more to grow their businesses. All their hard work is leading up to an important moment: A Demo Day on Aug. 1, where they’ll showcase their final pitches in front of peers and Target business leaders.

Here's the best part—we’re inviting Gen Z change-makers from across the country to join us for the big finale. Want in? Check this out:

Introducing Target Incubator Conference, powered by Next Gen

Target is teaming up with Next Gen to host the Target Incubator Conference powered by Next Gen July 30 – August 1 in Minneapolis. Next Gen is a business hub that energizes young entrepreneurs with resources, mentorship, knowledge and community to empower founders to build meaningful companies. At the event, 200 attendees will be immersed in a series of workshops and learning sessions about the world of retail, hear inspiring talks from experts, and test their skills with a unique business challenge. Selected participants will also have exciting opportunities to network, meet mentors, access Target resources to help build their ideas, and of course, see Target Incubator cohort’s pitches live at the Demo Day event.

Applications are open through July 19, and you can learn more and apply here.

Excited? So are we. Read on to get to know the Target Incubator Class of 2019 and hear what inspired them to turn their big dreams into reality.

Joshua Shefner
founder and CEO of Blue Mangoes

Surrounded by mangoes in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Joshua and his business partner Hayden realized just how much fruit goes to waste every year, and how much money the farmers lose. So they started their company, Blue Mangoes, creating new sources of income for rural women farmers and eliminating food waste by drying the fruits and selling them in the United States.

Joshua is enjoying building a network of mentors through the Target Incubator program. “Being around such an amazing group of social entrepreneurs has pushed us to be better,” he says. “The advice and insights we’ve gained on new opportunities is huge and will keep us innovative.”

Jennifer Simons
founder of Dressmate

“Getting ready for a night out (or in!) with friends is so much fun,” Jennifer says, “and knowing that the products you’re using and wearing support designers with a mission makes it even more spectacular.” So she founded Dressmate, a company that curates female-led, independent and sustainable designers and hosts their products online and in stores.

So far, Jennifer’s enjoying eating her way through Minneapolis’ restaurants—and exploring new facets of her leadership style with the help of her colleagues. “I learned that I do especially well in work that produces clear outcomes, like new product development.”

Danya Sherman
founder of KnoNap

Danya is passionate about exploring ways technology can help empower individuals against drug-facilitated crime. To this end, she invented KnoNap, the napkin that knows. KnoNap is a cocktail napkin that is capable, upon saturation, of discreetly testing the contents of a drink for specific date rape drugs.

“I wanted to develop a technology that could be seamlessly incorporated in any social setting and used by anyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or geographic location,” she says. Her favorite part of the program so far? A moment the group shares each Thursday where they discuss the happenings of the week. “It’s a time to share our appreciation, vulnerability and aspirations for the future.” 

Mikaela Nelson
founder of Mickey’s Mission

As an undergrad, Mikaela stumbled upon a blog post from a mother desperately seeking for a doll that looked like her daughter, who was born missing a part of her arm. It inspired her to found Mickey’s Mission, a company that produces 3D custom dolls made to look like children not currently represented in the doll industry.

“I love crafting new things and I wanted to use my passion to make things for others,” she says. So far, her favorite part of the program is learning about her fellow founders and their stories as they explore Minneapolis together.

Kaitlin Mogentale
founder and CEO of Pulp Pantry

As you read above, Kaitlin’s desire to turn juice pulp waste into delicious and healthy snacks has grown into a mission to help more communities—especially picky kids and busy parents who want to feed their families better quality nutritious foods—eat their servings of vegetables and fiber as part of a healthy diet.

Kaitlin’s been enjoying working closely with Target leaders during the program, and getting to know her cohort peers. “They're fearless, and hearing their stories has encouraged me to keep pushing, to let go of my own fears, and to drive forward to create something that matters in this world.” 

Nikita Gupta and Ahva Sadeghi
co-founders of Symba

As the workforce continues to evolve, Nikita and Ahva saw a major gap in the tools and resources available for workers in the gig economy. So they founded their tech startup, Symba, and assembled an all-female founded team that’s passionate about empowering the next generation of workers. 

Since the program kicked off, they’ve taken opportunities to learn about strategy and innovation across Target’s different business groups. “It’s great to see how a large organization like Target is embracing innovation and making sustainable decisions,” Ahva says. Favorite activity so far? “There was a surprise moment where we were each called on to stand up and pitch another founder’s company in front of the group,” Nikita says. “It was powerful to see how much we all knew about each other’s important work after just a few days of being together. We’re excited to grow with this cohort and continue building meaningful relationships.”

Julianna Keeling
co-founder and CEO of Terravive

Julianna founded her business, Terravive, to produce better single-use products. Whether it's a simple drinking straw, a utensil, or a multilayer consumer package, her team is committed to using home compostable and marine degradable materials produced at a similar cost to plastic. 

“Learning about different frameworks for thinking about strategic problems is incredibly exciting to me,” she says of the program. During a recent guest experience workshop where she shared her company’s journey, “Other teams offered their feedback and inspired me with new ideas.” 

Georgia Messinger and Ariana Sokolov
co-founders of Trill Project

After hearing about a friend's struggle coming out as a bisexual teen and discovering that about 40% of transgender people attempt suicide, Georgia and Ari were inspired to address these issues using their passions for technology. They launched Trill Project—an anonymous and free social networking app that offers moderated peer support for users across the globe.

“Our goal is to make the internet a safer space for everyone,” Georgia says. “So far, Target’s mentors have been an amazing component of Trill's learnings, and we’re thrilled to forge new relationships with even more experts and peers.”

Target Incubator is one way we stay connected with the next generation of our guests. Some of our newest owned brands, including the trend-forward Wild FableOriginal Use and Heyday, were designed with inspiration and feedback from our Gen Z guests. Stay tuned for more news about Target’s accelerator portfolio as programming continues throughout the year.

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