Connecticut native Ali Lazowski went to school in Baltimore and then lived in New York City for several years while battling several chronic illnesses. During that time, she learned two vital things about herself: She wanted to create an allergen-free food product and she wanted to create a company to produce that product in Connecticut.

Ali connected with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price in early 2018, when she was participating in the reSET Accelerator (read: Food and Beverage Startup for Healthy Eating). Since then, she’s taken her company to new levels here in the Hartford Region.

NAN PRICE: Why was it that you wanted to launch your company here in Connecticut?

ALI LAZOWSKI: I wanted to be back in the Hartford Region because my entire family is here. I know the community too, so I thought it would be easier to start here. I didn’t even realize how much support I would receive from the community. It’s been incredible. Hartford is the right place to launch a startup.

NAN: Tell us about the starting out process.

ALI: The idea came from a need for me to satisfy my sweet tooth and be able to enjoy something that didn’t contain allergens, which were contributing to my illnesses. I also wanted something portable, because I was spending a lot of time in doctors’ waiting rooms.

I started making a hot cocoa mixture in my kitchen and brought samples to many friends and other chronic illness sufferers. I spent months refining the recipe. Everyone was really encouraging, telling me the cocoa mixture was so good I should sell it. I talked to my parents about the idea of starting a business and they agreed, saying this would be a great thing for me. My whole family was supportive. So, in 2018 I took the leap. Soon after I made that decision, I connected with reSET and Bare Life took off from there.

NAN PRICE: How your company has evolved since?

ALI LAZOWSKI: When we last talked, I was in the Impact Accelerator. I had a recipe, but I didn’t even have a product. I knew I needed a facility and a kitchen to make the product. Since then, I’ve found office space, created the product, and found a co-packager. The Bare Life hot cocoa product is in 14 stores throughout Connecticut and selling on our website. I still can’t believe it. It’s been an amazing experience.

NAN: How did you learn the next steps, like how to find a distributor?

ALI: reSET has been amazingly supportive—not just during the accelerator, but afterward with opportunities for the networking and getting to know the community and availability to answer questions.

Also, through reSET I met Denise Whitford from the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), who became my advisor. We meet monthly and she helps me keep on track with what I’m working on now and what I need to be thinking about for the future of the company. It’s a huge benefit because, as an entrepreneur, I’m always thinking of new ideas and things I want to do and directions I want to go. Having a business advisor helps me stay focused.

I utilize a lot of the local business resources. I’ve made impactful connections, so I can reach out and see what other companies have done, get advice, and emulate them. It’s been great to have that support system and mentorship.

NAN: What’s next for Bare Life?

ALI: I want to maximize what I can do with the hot cocoa because I think it’s such a versatile product. I’m working on additional flavors and our website has a bunch of recipes for muffins and smoothies using the hot cocoa mix.

We recently redid our packaging to provide single-serving packets with a material that’s actually more sustainable than the individual glass mugs we started out with. Also, the new packaging has enabled us to offer bulk packaging for coffee shops, restaurants, and school cafeterias. I’m really excited about growing the channels and looking at different opportunities for distribution I hadn’t thought of before—again, that’s where mentorship and having a great community helps with that kind of feedback and suggestions.

The part that keeps me up at night is thinking about the next step, which could be a baking mix or protein powder. I want to stay in dry foods for a while, though. Eventually, creating clean, delicious, convenient prepared meals would be the dream.

I always say this is just the bare beginning! I’m grateful that I love what I do and I’m excited for what’s next.

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