Written by Laurie McLaughlin
Mark Cuban is a well-known billionaire entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and he has an interest in popsicles.
“These aren’t popsicles made of water, dye and sugar,” says Theresa Fraijo ’08, creator of Veggie Mama’s Garden Pops. “These are premium pops made with real fruits and veggies.”
Fraijo created these frozen snacks nearly three years ago in her own kitchen in an effort to get her family – husband, Robert, and sons Vance, 8, and Maximilian, 2 – to eat more vegetables. She froze her pureed concoctions to make it easier to store and serve, and the brightly colored and nutritious veggie pops got a lot of attention from other moms and teachers. This enthused interest turned into sales, and a business was born.
Within a year, Theresa and Robert, who live in Laguna Niguel, were pitching their popsicle enterprise to the notoriously tough investors on an October 2013 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” television series, which features Cuban and other internationally successful business titans – they are the “sharks” on the show – looking for the next big business idea. “If you watch the show, you know that the sharks can be pretty critical and sometimes tear people apart,” says Theresa. “When you go out on the stage, you are meeting them for the first time, and they don’t know you or your product.
“They drilled us for a good hour, but we had really done our homework on every shark, and we anticipated what they might ask and try to offer. We had a great response, and they were pleasantly surprised there were vegetables in our pops.”
A bidding war among the sharks resulted in an investment of $75,000 from Mark Cuban and real estate entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran; in exchange, the two investors each have a 10% stake in Veggie Mama. “We got exactly what we wanted,” says Theresa. “They all loved our product.”
Cuban, Corcoran and their respective business teams act as advisors and mentors to the company; but otherwise, Theresa manages the entire operation – from recipes for new products and sales to grocery chains to the minutiae of shipping frozen foods across country. “The sharks are there to help me, but it’s still my business, and I am expected to perform and run the show.”
In 2012, she and Robert used their savings along with loans from friends and family to open a commercial kitchen in Upland, and Theresa even pawned the diamond in her wedding ring when they needed to buy a particular piece of equipment. The subsequent “Shark Tank” funding was the boost they needed to continue to grow.
Veggie Mama Garden pops –in three flavors: carrot berry, citrus cucumber and sweet potato pie – are currently sold in nearly 200 Sprouts Farmers Markets locations, in Whole Foods Markets up and down the western United States and in a number of smaller grocery store chains on the East Coast. Their products – including the new sweet potato peach and raspberry beet Garden Jams – are also available online at www.veggiemama.com.
A Mihaylo business administration major with an emphasis in finance, Theresa says one of the best things about her education was the industry expertise professors brought to the classroom. “For example, my banking professor worked at a bank, and that real-world knowledge was invaluable,” she says. “That’s what I liked about my business degree: the real stuff. Everything I learned has been applicable to what I’m doing now.”
As she puts those lessons to work, Veggie Mama is growing, and Theresa continues to pursue more sales outlets. “Eventually, we’ll offer more products,” she says. “But for now, we’re ‘popping and jamming.’
“I started making the frozen pops, because I wanted my kids to eat well. Now that it’s a business, it’s a lot of long hours, but I love our products.”
Theresa Fraijo was recently named one of OC Metro magazine’s “40 Under 40.”