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Peoria area startups look to benefit from participation in gBETA Distillery Labs cohort

Distillery Labs gBETA program manager Danielle Scarzello, left, joins Foraged Roots Apothecary founder and CEO Lily Scalf and Galacto Corporation founder and CEO Daniel Mueller in the WCBU studios. Foraged Roots and Galacto are two of the five startups selected for the latest gBETA cohort.
Joe Deacon
Distillery Labs gBETA program manager Danielle Scarzello, left, joins Foraged Roots Apothecary founder and CEO Lily Scalf and Galacto Corporation founder and CEO Daniel Mueller in the WCBU studios. Foraged Roots and Galacto are two of the five startups selected for the latest gBETA cohort.

Five start-up companies from the Greater Peoria region are taking part in the latest gBETA cohort program through Distillery Labs.

The accelerator program provides business founders with entrepreneurial coaching and access to a network of mentors, partners and investors.

WCBU reporter Joe Deacon talks with gBETA Distillery Labs program manager Danielle Scarzello, and two of the participating startup founders, Daniel Mueller of Galacto Corporation and Lily Scalf of Foraged Roots Apothecary, about the cohort and their businesses.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Danielle, I'll start with you. So tell us about the Distillery Labs gBETA spring cohort. What is it and what is its purpose or goal?

Scarzello: Distillery Labs, if you think about a hub-and-spoke model, Distillery Labs is the hub and gBETA is one of the many spokes that Distillery Labs can offer. This spring cohort for gBETA is comprised of five founders who are in startup business phase, most of this group is actually post-revenue. We selected five founders that we felt are the most venture-backable.

How many companies applied for the cohort, and how were these particular startups selected?

Scarzello: We had 30 applications for this cohort, so a very competitive round. We selected these five based on a set of criteria, some of which is internal. But ultimately we were looking for founders that we felt had the most promise, founders that we felt were the most driven, are going to be coachable, easy to work with, and again, venture-backable. That's the key.

Lily, tell us a bit about Foraged Roots Apothecary. What does your company do, and what inspired you to start this business?

Scalf: Absolutely. So my background is actually in fashion. I've been making evening wear for the past 10 years, and in being a part of it, I realized that I didn't really care for a lot of the ways that the fashion industry did things. So I want to be a part of the solution and not the problem. I started playing around with natural dyes to create different colors, things like that, and using natural fabrics. I also teach sewing lessons to kids, so it kind of just encompassed all in one where now we have subscription boxes that are educational based to grow conscious consumers.

What motivated you to pursue the gBETA cohort? How will it help your company grow?

Scalf: I think I always am looking for mentors, always looking for education, ways to learn, and I think gBETA was perfect for that. I was at the start of my business, and it's given me a lot of opportunity for growth.

Daniel, similar questions. What is Galacto Cooperation and what does it aim to accomplish?

Mueller: Have you ever seen “Iron Man?”

I have.

Mueller: So have you ever seen JARVIS?

Yes, indeed.

Mueller: It's very similar to JARVIS. It's basically an advanced form of a speech assistant like Siri or Alexa, except it has a contextual memory. So you're able to leave it on throughout the day, and it's able to give you reminders or answer questions with the power of ChatGPT.

So how did you develop all this?

Mueller: It took about three months, and when I started, it was mostly just a toy; I really just wanted to see if it was possible. Then as I started to build on it and build the memory system, I realized that it could be a lot more.

What benefits will Galacto be able to reap from the gBETA cohort?

Mueller: So many things. They have wonderful resources and mentors. They have workshops, where we're able to work together and talk about many different aspects of entrepreneurship. They can help with pretty much anything.

Danielle, can you tell us a little bit about the other companies chosen for the cohort who weren't able to be with us today?

Scarzello: Absolutely. So I'll try to go in alphabetical order, not in preference – because I love all five founders equally. I kind of think of them as my children a little bit, even though many of them are close to my age, if not a little bit older.

So first, we have Afterfund. Omar Yunus is the founder and he has a co-founder as well, who is London-based. They are a “charitech” company focused on targeting Muslim millennials for this idea of charitable giving, and to encourage the donor to see impactful ways that their donations are being used. Also working with nonprofit organizations and ways that they can help their endowment funds grow.

We also have Rise Up Health & Wellness. Mandy Kroll is the founder, and she works with your DNA to customize a nutrition, diet, exercise and lifestyle plan using your toxin load so that you can understand your health better and optimize it.

Then lastly, we have The Farm Sitter. Chris Youngmark is the founder there. It’s sort of like Uber for farms, where you can connect the “farm sitter” – someone who wants to come in and watch your animals or your farm so that the farmer can get away and enjoy life and have a better quality of life for their family as well.

So you mentioned gBETA is like a spoke of Distillery Labs. Can you kind of explain a little bit more what that is, the difference for the other parts of Distillery Labs?

Scarzello: Absolutely. So Distillery Labs offers gBETA, which is one of the programs. But they also do their own internal programming as well. What that consists of is: happy hours, where we bring entrepreneurs and other startups in the area to connect and mingle. We have Biz Labs, where we have a more centralized focus for startup founders and mentors to connect and work through different business plans and ideation stages.

Then we’re just also a giant connector for everyone. So no matter where you are in your entrepreneurship journey – (from) “napkin ideation stage” is what we lovingly call: “You have a great idea,” all the way to (when) you're actively selling and looking to scale and make more money, and you know you have a big idea that needs more investment dollars behind it.

Daniel or Lily, is there anything more that we haven't discussed that you'd like to add about the gBETA cohort program or about your companies?

Scalf: I would just like to say when it comes to gBETA and Distillery Labs, like Daniel was saying, the best thing about it from whether you’re beginning or in the middle or closer to looking for investment is: it's such a great networking tool, regardless. You meet so many people, so I think it's fantastic and that alone has helped me grow so much in the last month.

Mueller: I agree completely. It's very fast paced. There's about four meetings every week, and so every day or so we get together and talk about different aspects of business and entrepreneurship, and it's a huge benefit.

Danielle, what else would you like people to know about the gBETA cohort?

Scarzello: If you are in the Peoria region and you are wanting to see what these founders do after program – and we also had a fall program, where those five founders will be joining us – we will be presenting our showcase event at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on June 28, starting at 5 p.m. So come out, support your local startup community, and witness a great pitch session.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.