MooBella’s Revamped Ice Cream Machines Debut at MIT After $18M Financing Deal
MooBella was having no trouble finding people willing to try out its make-your-own ice cream machines last week at MIT. If only designing market-ready versions of the machines—which are now more than a decade in the making—were as easy. Xconomy got the inside scoop recently on how MooBella has spent the last couple of years reengineering the machines to overcome some major design and functionality flaws that have blocked the commercial rollout of the ice cream factories on wheels.
The Taunton, MA, firm showcased test versions of its machines—which enable people to use a computer touch screen to order up to 96 different ice cream varieties made fresh within 40 seconds—at the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT in Cambridge, MA last week. (And yes, I saw in person how the machine whipped up my own scoop of low-fat cake batter ice cream with crushed cookies and cream. It was tasty.)
The company, which is planning a full commercial launch either late this year or in early 2010, has been busy lately. It announced the closing of an $18 million Series A round of financing from W. Health LP, a venture fund managing by Inventages Venture Capital, last week. (The deal was classified as a first-round financing, even though MooBella has raised previous rounds of capital, because the business was recently reincorporated.) The plan is to use the money to manufacture 100 of its machines for places such as university and hospital cafeterias in New England over the next six months.
While stand-alone machines have made soft-serve ice cream for a long time, machines that can churn out fresh scoops of hard ice cream haven’t become mainstream—and MooBella has been working to change that since the business was founded by entrepreneur Paul Kateman under the name Turbo Dynamics in 1992. After a couple of bumps in the road, perhaps most notably a failed joint venture with General Mills in the mid-1990s, the business appears to be finally closing in on a commercial launch.
The proof was on display at the MIT conference. The company’s Ice Creamery machines, which are about the size of a large refrigerator, appeared to be working as advertised by MooBella. Chief technology officer Steven Moysey, who last spoke with Xconomy in August 2007, shortly after his hiring, filled me in on the engineering overhaul the machines have undergone to be ready for the market.
While MooBella had already been testing prototype machines for years prior to his arrival at the company, “The design was not sufficiently robust for volume production,” says Moysey, a former engineer and executive for firms such as Bose, Boston Scientific, and Gillette. “It employed too many custom built circuit boards, too many air cylinders, too much wiring, and it really wasn’t a scalable design in terms of its approach. We essentially scrapped [the previous design] and started again.”
The current design came together through a confluence of engineering and marketing expertise over the last couple of years, Moysey says. A key factor was the beginning of a partnership between MooBella and … Next Page »