Mike Kovarik was more than a decade into a career in food service product management when he recognized a seemingly universal problem: suppliers and distributors weren’t speaking the same language. They were mired in clunky spreadsheets and unapproachable data.
What food service partners needed, he realized, was a central platform to capture, share, and enhance information quickly and efficiently.
Enter Attribytes, a startup data company offering a proprietary, cloud-based platform that houses, cleans, and enhances transactional, customer, and product data in the food-service industry. This marriage of business intelligence and analytics allows manufacturers to have better visibility into their own product, customer, and sales information within distributors’ systems.
The technology positioned them to be one of six awardees (among 149 applicants) this past spring in the prestigious Arizona Innovation Challenge, one of the largest business plan competitions in the country.
“We spent a lot of time getting the application ready,” Kovarik says. “It's an intense process.”
Most of the company’s employees are food service “lifers,” said Kovarik, who himself spent a decade at US Foods after graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in supply chain management. During the last half of his tenure with the Tempe-based company, Kovarik led US Foods’ master data management team to ensure the technologies they were investing in had accurate, adequate product information. From there, he spent several years at Shamrock Foods before launching Attribytes in 2015.
The company set up shop at coworking space Gangplank, allowing it to operate without office space overhead and in close proximity to other entrepreneurs. From there, “we signed up a larger enterprise client and it's been off to the races since,” Kovarik says.
The company’s participation in the Arizona Commerce Authority’s Venture Madness program first introduced them to the larger role the ACA could play in bringing their business to the next level and preparing for pitches to investors.
“We had to get our financials buttoned up and our story right – and the day before (the Arizona Innovation Challenge application) was due, we asked (Humberto) Cruz” – the company’s VP of Business Operations and Strategic Partnerships – “not to submit it. We thought we weren’t ready.”
Turns out, Cruz had already submitted the company’s application. “We were mad for a minute, but we’re glad we did it,” Kovarik laughs. He credits the process with helping the team clarify their message and future plans.
“We knew how we'd spend the money and we knew what the next milestones we wanted to achieve were,” he says. “It also gave us the opportunity to make sure we continue to move forward with our mentors, because folks who helped us out in early stages played a key role in reviewing the materials we developed.”
Going forward, the company looks forward to continued expansion in the Valley.
“My family is here, my alma mater is here, and we have a lot of great relationships here,” Kovarik says. “We’re fortunate. We've really blossomed and grown our company through partnerships with the ACA and being situated at Gangplank around entrepreneurs – they've been there, done that. The opportunities for mentorship in the Phoenix area are really vibrant.”