Ari Tolwin, a 6’4” Orthodox Jew who grew up and attended yeshiva in Detroit before going on to an MBA at Duke University, recently landed a $2 million Shark Tank deal with Mark Cuban.
Tolwin is the son of an outreach rabbi who parlayed his unique background into college business school and has since become a successful entrepreneur.
The deal with billionaire Cuban, who is also Jewish and came from a similar modest background, is for Tolwin’s "food tech" company NuMilk that makes plant-based milk kiosks.
NuMilk bills itself as “Plant-based milk made by you: Make delicious, nutritious and pure plant-based milks, lattes and protein shakes at the push of a button.”
Tolwin told website Jew in the City that he and partner Joe Savino happened upon the idea after a conversation about their shared love for the peanut butter grinders at Whole Foods. They realized that there wasn’t something similar for plant-based milk, which is an increasingly popular alternative to traditional dairy milk. They also realized that there were limited options in the market for non-dairy milk drinkers.
“Plant-based milk is unique for a few reasons…the ingredients are shelf stable. The second thing is that it’s mostly water,” he told Jew in the City.
They lucked into a German company who built a prototype for only $10,000. Eventually, after re-designing the machine several times, they hit upon a concept that worked. One of their investors encouraged them to audition for an open casting for Shark Tank.
“We asked for a million dollars for five percent, and ended up with two million for ten percent,” he said.
Cuban was also their first choice for investor.
“To see a machine that works well, delivers, is cost effective and makes something that doesn’t exist in a market that’s big and growing very quickly, that’s what got them excited,” he added.
NuMilk’s store machines do not have a kosher certification, but don’t need one as their ingredients are all raw and plant-based. When their home counter machine is released in the near future, that version's milk packets will have kosher certifications.
During his appearance on Shark Tank, Tolwin explained, "We built a custom machine for grocery stores where shoppers can make pure, dairy-free milk at the push of a button. The milk has a 7-to-10 day shelf-life and it has to stay in the fridge."
On average, each store kiosk makes $50,000 in revenue per year. They hope with the help of Cuban’s investment, they can reduce manufacturing costs per machine from $30,000 to $15,000, as well as expanding their product line, according to CNBC.
In the summer of 2022, Numilk is planning to produce a smaller, home version that sits on the counter, retailing for $199.
Tolwin told Jew in the City that he brings Judaism to his work.
“I bring a lot of Tanach stories, even in secular context, in a lot of our conversations with investors and everyone else. I think of Chush ben Dan, I think of Nachshon ben Aminadav as a little bit of inspiration. Aharon Avinu making shalom…(doing) what Hashem told him to do. The (lesson) is that everyone wants to put their mark on stuff, and the answer is, just do it,” he said.