The "Keurig for food" joins YC class of 2016

by Andreas Rekdal
March 8, 2016

, the Chicago company behind “the Keurig for food,” announced on Tuesday it is part of Y Combinator’s (YC) class of 2016.

YC’s impressive portfolio includes household names like Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit — to name a few. Chicago-based graduates include

and .

Co-founder David Rabie said his team was initially apprehensive about applying for YC, which makes a $120,000 investment in exchange for seven percent of the company’s equity. The company had already built out a Chicago-based team and had a roadmap to launch its product without additional funding.

But entering into YC is about more than just the money. Less than half of YC-funded startups actually need the funding, according to the accelerator’s own statistics. For most companies, the real allure is the opportunity to get feedback and advice from some of the biggest names in tech and build relationships with other founders.

After talking to several persuasive YC alumni, Rabie decided to go ahead with the application.

“They were like, ‘Look, if you can get in, you go!’” he said.

The company was accepted into the accelerator program this November. Rabie and co-founder Bryan Wilcox traveled to the interview with an appliance prototype their engineering team had only gotten to work a few days prior. While the interview went on, the prototype cooked a roast chicken dish accompanied with a fall ratatouille.

“The chicken was great and the ratatouille was okay, and we later learned that we did not get in because of our food,” said Rabie, adding that the panel was more excited by the idea and the fact that the appliance worked at all. “But since then, our food has gotten a lot better.”

This January, Tovala’s team members quietly packed their bags and went to Silicon Valley, where they’ll live and work together for the program’s three-month duration. In addition to focusing on its product and preparing for YC’s infamous Demo Day — where founders pitch their companies to over 450 investors — the team has been working on a Kickstarter campaign that went live Tuesday morning.

According to Rabie, the biggest advantage of participating in the program has been the ability to get away from the daily grind and work with absolute focus toward those two specific goals.

The appliance, originally launched on Kickstarter, differs from earlier iterations in a few significant ways. First, the company has moved away from its initial single-button interface in order to make the user experience more consistent with what customers have come to expect from a tabletop appliance. The oven can also be controlled with a phone app.

Tovala’s advisors at YC are Justin Kan and Michael Seibel — co-founders of the Twitch.tv video game streaming service that was bought by Amazon for just under $1 billion in 2014. The team will be returning to Chicago after its graduation from YC in March.

Images via Tovala.

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