cooking up growth

Unique Nigerian cuisine startup propelled by Houston accelerator heads into its next phase

All I Do Is Cook is on a mission to grow accessibility to Nigerian dishes. Image via allidoiscook.com

After completing the gBETA accelerator program and winning the grand prize in the ClearCo ClearPitch competition, Tobi Smith and Bethany Oyefeso are transitioning their small business, All I Do Is Cook, into a startup with the ultimate goal of making Nigerian food accessible to everybody.

Smith and Oyefeso came one step closer to that goal when Phoencia, a Houston grocery story, started stocking the startup's condiments in 2021. In that same year, Smith and Oyefesso joined the gBETA accelerator program. Smith described this program as being instrumental in the advancement of their company from a small business to a start up, now at the beginning of their pre-seed funding phase.

“They taught us everything about what it meant to be a start up and connected us with mentors and other individuals working in the food and beverage space,” says Smith.

It was during their time in the gBETA program that they learned about the ClearCo ClearPitch competition and would ultimately win the $20,000 grand prize.

“The last two years have been bonkers,” exclaims Smith, who started All I Do Is Cook as a blog in 2016, and grew it into a cooking business.

"When I arrived in Denton from Nigeria, I walked into Walmart expecting to find common Nigerian snacks but was surprised when I couldn’t find any so I started cooking my own food and sharing the recipes,” he says.

The pandemic and subsequent closing of restaurants sling-shotted them into overdrive where in just one year their number of total orders increased from 350 to over 2,000 which they then doubled in 2021 to over 4,000.

And if a focus on Nigerian food doesn’t already set them apart, their approach to production does. Smith shared that he and Oyefeso have focused heavily on the operations side of their business.

“We want everything to run as efficiently as possible with as little waste as possible,” says Smith. “We don’t carry an inventory. We only order as much produce as we need, and we only print as much packaging as we need. We know how much food we can produce in a week, and we use the timing and amount of orders as our indicator of when we might need to increase production.”

This focus on efficiency and mindfulness of the environment should keep them attractive to both investors and consumers alike.

“We are getting ready to kick off our pre-seed funding phase,” shares Smith, “and our goal is to get into the big supermarkets like Walmart, HEB, and Kroger.”

Tobi Smith and Bethany Oyefeso are taking their startup to the next level. Photos via allidoiscook.com

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With this new grant, UH has a new center for researching bioactive materials crystallization. Photo via UH.edu

A new hub at the University of Houston is being established with a crystal-clear mission — and fresh funding.

Thanks to funding from Houston-based organization The Welch Foundation, the University of Houston will be home to the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization. The nonprofit doled out its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant to the new initiative led by Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Professor of Chemical Engineering, who is known internationally for his work with crystals that help treat malaria and kidney stones.

“Knowledge gaps in the nascent and rapidly developing field of nonclassical crystallization present a wide range of obstacles to design crystalline materials for applications that benefit humankind, spanning from medicine to energy and the environment,” says Rimer in a news release. “Success calls for a paradigm shift in the understanding of crystal nucleation mechanisms and structure selection that will be addressed in this center.”

The Welch Foundation, which was founded in 1954, has granted over $1.1 billion to scientists in Texas. This new grant program targets researchers focused on fundamental chemical solutions. Earlier this year, the organization announced nearly $28 million in grants to Texas institutions.

"Support from the Welch Foundation has led to important advances in the field of chemistry, not only within Texas, but also throughout the United States and the world as a whole,” says Randall Lee, Cullen Distinguished University Chair and professor of chemistry, in the release. “These advances extend beyond scientific discoveries and into the realm of education, where support from the Welch Foundation has played a significant role in building the technological workforce needed to solve ongoing and emerging problems in energy and health care.”

Rimer and Lee are joined by the following researchers on the newly announced center's team:

  • Peter Vekilov, Moores Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Alamgir Karim, Dow Chair and Welch Foundation Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering;
  • Jeremy Palmer, Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley Associate Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Gül Zerze, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Francisco Robles Hernandez, professor of engineering technology.

The University of Houston also received another grant from the Welch Foundation. Megan Robertson, UH professor of chemical engineering, received $4 million$4 million for her work with developing chemical processes to transform plastic waste into useful materials.

“For the University of Houston to be recognized with two highly-competitive Welch Foundation Catalyst Grants underscores the exceptional talent and dedication of our researchers and their commitment to making meaningful contributions to society through discovery,” Diane Chase, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, says in the release.

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