City: Chicago, IL
Entrepreneur: Mike Hyzy
For our second week on the road, we worked with Crisp!, a grocery delivery service for the city of Chicago. Of particular interest to Crisp! and entrepreneur Mike Hyzy, was the topic of access to healthy, affordable food — including (and especially!) in Chicago’s food deserts. Food deserts are defined as areas where there is low average income, low access to vehicles, and low penetration of full-service grocery stores. There are over 400,000 people in Chicago (and over 1 million households in the state of Illinois) living in food deserts today.
Mike was working for the non-profit Catholic Charities as a Project Director when he first started pitching the Crisp! concept. He convinced his boss to let him work on the growing food desert areas phenomenon — particularly in the South of Chicago area. Crisp! began as a mobile produce cart, but due to its blossoming popularity, it quickly evolved to become a mobile grocery delivery service powered by a fleet of refrigerated trucks.
Most recently, Crisp! launched a physical store in Ford Heights, an area that scores high on social deprivation and food desert indices. Our experience driving out to Ford Heights hammered home the significant obstacles that Mike still faces in realizing his dream of improving healthy food access across Chicago. Ford Heights, which is predominantly African-American, lacks almost any stores. Mike met skepticism from residents from the moment he first arrived. In addition to the rigors of Crisp!, he works hard to engage and recruit the community to build tangible momentum behind Crisp!’s food initiative.
Some of Crisp!’s momentum comes from Mike’s commitment to creating a business model that reflects the needs of the communities he serves. Only a few mobile grocery delivery services in the country accept food stamps (SNAP, EBT or LINK as they are sometimes known) as payment. Mike applied, and was approved, to accept food stamps as payment because he realized that the low-income households he wanted to reach were using food stamps to buy food — and thus were excluded from the mobile grocery market and the access to healthy food it brings.
In the first days of working with Mike, a flood of questions about Crisp! surfaced: Who was funding the grocery business? Who were the customers? How much should they pay? How did Crisp! reach them? How did the business model work? While understanding each question was important, trying to fully answer and produce deliverables against every one of them during our week on the ground at Crisp! would be ineffective — we couldn’t make great progress for Mike on all fronts in such a short sprint. Accordingly, we used our conversations with Mike to unearth the definitive most important question: How might Crisp! secure the vital funding needed for its survival and for the continuation of its efforts to bring healthy produce to underserved areas in Chicago? Building on Mike’s passion for the company and his natural strength as a salesman, we created both a pitch deck and guide for him to use when approaching potential investors. Perhaps the most valuable insight we shared with Mike was our own approach for our week together: Focus on the single most important thing. Be upfront with investors and make sure your ask is clear.