StoriesStartups6 May 20245 min

#StartitStories: Spice up your cup: Burni’s X Nespresso

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Mid-summer 2023, Tomorrowland is just hours away. Right now, Love Tomorrow occupies the field and tent. 17 startups, each linked to a sustainable development goal SDG, are mingling with corporates and showcasing their latest inventions. Among them, the Burni team.

Standing at a coffee stand where a pedal-powered machine lets the barista churn out sustainable brews, co-founders Lars Vanlommel and Michaël Schellemans have something extra up their sleeve.

Lars says, “It started out as a joke, really. A year earlier, we were on holiday in Mexico. Living the good life except for the fact that the local coffee tasted subtle-bordering-on-weak, leading us to try and improve the taste by mixing in local spices and peppers. This sparked an idea: does a spiced topping for coffee exist already? Would it work in Europe? After some research we found and ordered a US brand coffee topping, but we weren’t really sold on the flavor. Other options were mostly sugary liquors and syrups that were chock full of calories and so sweet they ruined the taste of the coffee. It was a Eureka moment: “we can do better than this!”

A spice revolution

The team dove into an extensive scientific research track to try and find usable, tasty ingredients that would be healthy, too. The outcome: Burni. One spray transforms your coffee but adds less than 4 calories. The mix of Mexican spices, agave syrup and cinnamon not only wake your tastebuds but give you a better wakefulness.

Michaël states, “On average, people drink 2,5 cups of coffee per day. We want to give a new dimension and encourage them to skip boredom. Gitta de Boer from CHALO is one of our role models. She transformed CHALO into the market leader when it comes to chai.

We want to do something similar, creating a health-driven brand rather than being one of many. Spicy toppings for coffee did not yet exist in Europe. We want to help give meaning and support people in breaking out of the mold, giving them a moment of pampering away from the daily grind. Our customers range in age from 17 to 55.”

  • Burni is a small spray bottle (100ml)

  • Keeps for up to 1 year without refrigeration

  • Fully vegan, in a sustainable packaging with air pressure system

  • Can be used in coffee, tea, chai, chocolate drinks, cocktails and even food

  • Available for purchase online and at select coffee bars, concept stores, lunch bars and bakeries

Copyright Jelle Jansegers Photography 23 07 27 Love Tomorrow Conference 3647 270723 0056

Picked up by Nespresso

At Love Tomorrow, one of the people in line for a coffee is the Head of Marketing at Nespresso, one of the corporates invited by Start it Ventures.

Michaël explains, “I noticed someone was studying our bottles and taking pictures. We wanted to organize a meeting on the spot and, after some initial reluctance, were invited to Nespresso’s HQ a few weeks later to come and pitch. It was a surreal experience: entering a massive office in Brussels, pitching to a conference room filled with around 30 marketing people who were all very enthused and offered many tips. To make it even better, we got invited to showcase Burni at Nespresso’s booth during Horeca Expo, the leading event for the Belgian hospitality sector."

Burni Beacon 2

The Start it experience

“I’m thrilled to transition into full time dedication to Burni. Balancing a startup with a day job was incredibly demanding: working late nights and having entire weekends consumed with organizing tasks. Starting my own business is something I’d wanted for years. I love the autonomy, I love that I’m constantly learning and discovering new things.

There is so much I have learned with the startup. You have to be incredibly self-starting, it is a constant challenge to sift through the thousands that are heading your way and to tackle whatever is most important – even if you don’t like doing it, it still needs to be done.

If we hadn’t been selected by Start it? Honestly, I sometimes wonder if we’d still exist. After the extensive Start it training, I also took part in the Market Me-program, an intense sales course geared towards somewhat larger companies. The courses were really relevant and also being able to network and soundboard with other entrepreneurs was very helpful. Many things are logical at their core, in a way you’ve simply never considered. It really transformed my sales approach.

In terms of what we got out of the Start it program, I’d rank business coaching first, followed by the network and then training and extra’s.”

The Burni Cappuccino

1 espresso shot
1 dash of steamed milk
1 dash of milk (any type you prefer)
1 teaspoon of Burni

How to make your drink

1. Brew a fresh espresso shot
2. Steam a small amount of milk
3. Add a teaspoon of Burni (or steam the Burni with the milk for a more subtle flavor effect)
4. Pour the steamed milk and a dash of regular milk into the espresso
5. Stir gently to combine
6. Enjoy!

Burni 2 scaled

Key learnings

Michael remarks, “You’ll often have a very good gut feeling about something but then later on, it turns out to be not so easy to materialize. These are the three key learnings I’d advise any startup to take into consideration:”

1. Run a thorough and objective market research

Your friends and family aren’t neutral sources. 99% positive reactions won’t translate to the wider market. Right now, I’m redoing my homework on the research front. There is a massive gap between someone reacting positively and actually paying for your product.

2. Do not continuously adapt your strategy “because expert X said so”

It’s great to involve experts but when they all say something else, things become complex and you start to have doubts. It can be better to figure things out yourself - analysis paralysis is bad but constant course correction can be even worse. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t constantly be trying to improve. We’ve come a long way since our first Instagram posts.

3. Don't let multiple rejections demotivate or deter you

Probably a common lesson in entrepreneurship; you will inevitably face setbacks and rejections along the way. When faced with a series of rejections in a short period, it can lead to doubts. My advice is to proactively address this and not let it affect your motivation.

Plans for the future

Right now, the Burni team is developing a new flavour with the intent to solve a big problem: replace milk and sugar with a tasty liquid. This one won’t be spicy at all; the team is aiming for a gentle, creamy flavour. They’ve found a first investor already and will pitch again later this year.

Burni 7 scaled e1691751355952

Talks are also ongoing with an Austrian franchise carrying specialized coffeestations. They’ve developed a coffeemaker to sell to large organisations like hospitals and universities, projecting a <1 year ROI.

Taste enhancer for chemo patients

Six months ago, the team discovered their product can add to the quality of life of people with cancer. Michael Sels, head dietician at UZA, found that many patients undergoing chemotherapy abandoned their coffee as they no longer enjoyed the taste. 98% of patients found that adding Burni to their coffee let them enjoy it once again.

With the support of Kom op tegen Kanker and together with Plantijn and UZA, Burni is participating in a large-scale research track to see how taste can benefit these patients, especially their appetite. In addition, Burni co-founders Lars and Michael will be running a marathon in April to raise funds for the KWF Cancer Fund, supporting cancer research.

Network, network, network

“Will you see us again at Love Tomorrow? We’d love to come, it was a great experience. Especially networking with others, hearing their insights and points of view, letting them taste our product. The attendees are entrepreneurs themselves asking very poignant questions and giving many tips and references on others we should talk to.

Burni love tomorrow

I’ve been to many events in my past life as a supply chain manager, but always experienced the atmosphere to be more closed off. The Love Tomorrow even has a warm, welcoming atmosphere where people start to talk spontaneously with each other”, Michael responds.