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Food & Drink

Founded by:
Valérie Aelbrecht

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You can find us at:
Elder Street
United Kingdom

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Tell us your business story to date...

I founded ProToGo in April 2016 with the mission to make healthy, high protein food accessible to everyone. As a former model and economics graduate, I had to divide my time between Antwerp (my hometown), Paris, Milan, Berlin, and London for modelling work. Bored of unsatisfying salads and fed up of filling up on unhealthy snacks (as I was always on the go), I started to ponder how I could create something filling and energising without having 800 calories in one meal. After doing some research, I realised that protein was the key. It’s the protein in meals that keeps you full up and satisfied for longer. I noticed that certain fast-food chains would have an option to add protein on their menus, but they didn’t take into account that the rest of the meals were full of carbs, fats, preservatives, and a lot of calories.

As the step towards healthy eating is often very hard, I started thinking of a way to ease the pain. Back at home, my mom and I always tried to reinvent unhealthy meals and make them healthy again. So I started experimenting and came up with an entire range of recipes. It’s about taking dishes that are perceived as being on the unhealthy spectrum of food, and making them healthier. No boring salads that don't fill you up. On the menu you’ll find tasty treats such as chicken nuggets, egg salad bagels, and mac ‘n’ cheese being served up. I often get the question how on earth you can make a dish like mac ‘n’ cheese healthy? We use pasta made from chickpea flour- low in carbs and contains 40g of protein per 100g, and for the sauce we use Quark- a low fat, high protein soft cheese.

Eating enough protein to sustain your energy levels after a meal doesn’t mean stuffing your face with a whole slab of salmon each day though. At ProToGo, it’s about eating a variety of different nutrients too. Almost half of the meals in our range are vegetarian or vegan. I designed a lot of the meals with non-meat eaters in mind, as a lot of vegetarians and vegans struggle to find enough high-protein, on the go meals on the market. That's why aside from dairy, meat, fish and eggs we use a lot of pulses, beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds as well to increase the protein content of every meal.

i launched ProToGo on Spitalfields market in June 2016. Afterwards I had a pop-up stall on Finsbury square and we started working on our first bricks-and-mortar pop-up store at Old Street Station. We had the shop in August-September and it was a big success! I must say, in those couple of weeks I experienced the steepest learning curve ever. Since then, ProToGo is mainly selling online via Uber Eats, Caterwings, Feedr and our own webshop. Shortly, we also started delivering to our first gym: Urban Kings at Kings Cross. We're hoping to increase both our online presence and presence in gyms. And besides that, another pop-up and a first permanent store are on our long-term to-do-list too!

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What has been your biggest lesson from your startup journey...

Never assume. Never assume that your fridge will arrive in time before the store opens. Never assume that someone did something like you would do it. Always be on top of things. So don't assume, but check and double check.

How will your business change the world?

We will make healthy food accessible to everyone. Healthy food is often related with unsatisfying, boring and bland. We solve the unsatisfying aspect by using protein as a key ingredient, so you stay filled up for longer. We solve the boring and bland aspect by not serving boring salads but exciting, naughty healthy versions of chicken nuggets, chili con carne, mac 'n cheese and much more.

What tools & resources have helped you in your startup journey?

-Building a network is key. Contact people, go to events, use LinkedIn, Instagram etc to grow your network

-Try to be part of a start-up community co-working space. I have a desk at the Ministry of Startups and I think it was one f the best decisions I made in the earliest days of the start-up

-Reach out for a mentor. Especially when you are a sole entrepreneur. You have to touch base stuff with someone, and preferably someone with experience.

-Some savings. When I was 9, I opened a savings account for my pocket money, and later the money I earned from student jobs and modelling. When I opened it I told my parents: "this is for my business one day". 14 years later I'm so happy with my decision back then. It was the start of ProToGo.

-Supportive family and friends. I am blessed with my parents who are still living in Belgium, but support me in every possible way. Also I couldn't be more grateful for my friends. They help me out where and when possible and they boost my energy-levels mountain high.

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Is there anything you can offer to help other startup businesses?

I'm always happy to share my learnings and experiences so far! Starting your own business is quite of a roller coaster experience. It's a lot of fun, but can be quite scary sometimes as well. I found that talking to fellow entrepreneurs makes it all easier and less of a lonely journey.

Is there any help that are you looking for?

At the moment I am looking for a development chef with a health/fitness background. Next to that, ProToGo will go for investment soon-ish as well. And of course, we're always in for new collaborations too. Gyms, personal trainers, healthy food brands, sports apparel, .... teaming up can be a lot of fun!