According to digitalundivided’s Project Dianne report, as of 2020, only 93 black female founders and 90 Latina female founders had raised over $1 million in venture capital. However, it is important to highlight progress: more minority-led startups are receiving funding than ever before. Between 2018 and 2020, the number of black women-led startups that received funding rose from 40 to 57 percent. Highlighting the success stories of female entrepreneurs of color is therefore vital for continued change, and one such story is that of Maacha Le Blanc. She is the founder and CEO of a sustainably sourced, plant-based milk company called Milli Mylk.
With years of experience spanning sales, marketing, investment management, and private equity – most recently as a founder and managing principal at Aeterna Capital LLC – Le Blanc knew what she was getting herself into by launching a startup.
“Be prepared…there are men that can walk in on the fly and be unprepared, but as a woman, you must, it’s expected,” she advised during a roundtable called “Closing the Funding Gap and Supporting Black Women in Business” earlier this year.
Le Blanc had a good idea that investors would get behind her venture. And get behind it they did, with Milli Mylk raising $5 million in seed funding. As she explained to Forbes, “they are excited to invest because Milli Mlyk sits at a unique intersection of food, innovation, and technology…Most importantly, upon tasting the mylk, investors commented that they have never tasted anything like it.”
So, where did the idea come from? Upon the birth of her son Jack in 2013 and discovering that there were no adequate plant-based milk options on the market for a child with dairy intolerance, Le Blanc decided to make her own version at home. Although she eventually had to give up this messy and time-consuming chore due to her busy schedule as both a mom and a member of the workforce, she and her husband Caleb Ferguson circled back around to it in 2020. It was then when they noticed not much had improved in the taste and quality of available milk alternatives.
They decided to launch a company that would fill the gap in the market, with a vision called the “mylky way” because they are “shooting for the stars,” as they explain on their website and a name that “that personifies optimism, kindness, trust, and felt harmonious with milk. . . We think of Milli as your ‘friend’ in the fridge,” Le Blanc told Forbes.
What makes Milli Mylk so desirable for consumers? For starters, the formula was created by Michelin chefs and food scientists to be completely organic and vegan, with all plant ingredients purchased from producers that treat workers and the planet with the utmost respect. Plus, nutrition and tastiness are packed in: some standouts include oats and almonds from the U.S., tiger nuts and almonds from Spain, coconut sugar from Indonesia, coconuts from the Philippines, and cashews from Africa, India, Vietnam, and Cambodia. With two flavors currently available, Almond is described as “dynamic and delightful, like your very best friend,” and Coconut is presented as “fresh and breezy, like a day at the beach.” As the company continues innovating with flavors and ingredients, two more are expected to launch soon – Oat and Chata.
Plus, these ingredients remain fresh until you drink them on the mylk on their own or mix it into a latte, pudding, smoothie, soup, or other concoction. After the plants are harvested at their ripest and “mylked,” they are freeze-dried to “lock in that goodness” and turned into a ground mix. The Milli Mylk team researched the freeze-drying process with the NC Food Innovation Lab, resulting in an energy-efficient method that preserves 99 percent of the ingredients’ nutritional value. No carrageenan, preservatives, binders, gums, fillers, or artificial flavors can be found anywhere in the mix since they are not needed.
After convenient front door-delivery, the preparation process for consumers is far easier than what Le Blanc used to do when her son was young. The milli mix can simply be added to a bottle, mixed with water, and shaken to frothy, creamy perfection. Still homemade, but far simpler: “as grandmas the world over have told us: homemade is best. . . Our mylks are ready in a couple of shakes—and totally grandma-approved,” the company says. And until you’re ready to sign up for the long-term, you can try out a starter kit with a mylk of choice and a reusable glass shake-to-make milli bottle.
Those reusable bottles are just one of many ways Milli Mylk focuses on the environment. Additionally, the packaging that the mix comes in is backyard-compostable, and customers are encouraged to recycle the shipping box. A Life Cycle Assessment with sustainability group Seaborne even found that “compared to refrigerated alternative milks distributed in the grocery store, we emit 3X less carbon given our sustainable production and shipping practices.” The company is also working with Seaborne to implement more sustainable business practices, offset its carbon footprint, and become carbon neutral by next year. As it reads on Milli’s website, “we’ve poured our hearts into doing the right thing, and we think it’s a difference you can taste.”