Bell makes it happen at HaloVino

Founder does it all for startup firm

Jessica Bell

Leadership: Jessica Bell, founder and president. She also founded My Wine School.

Headquarters: Whitefish Bay

What it does: Shatterproof, stackable stemless wine tumblers

Founded: 2016

Employees: 1

Next goals: Get a utility patent and build a production mold

Funding: Raised $27,000 via Kickstarter; Currently raising $400,000 seed round

By next year, Walmart will be selling Milwaukee startup HaloVino’s shatterproof reusable wine tumblers, and they are already in use at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and Miller Park.

The company is in the midst of raising its second round of funding, a $400,000 seed round of which $250,000 is already committed. It has design patents in more than a dozen countries, and has sold about 100,000 tumblers.

Jessica Bell
Credit: Paul Gaertner

But it has just one full-time employee: founder Jessica Bell. She’s the delivery person, salesperson, product developer and accountant, all rolled into one.

“I’m in a conundrum where I’m not big enough to hire anyone, but I’m small enough that I’m drowning,” Bell said.

Summer is the busy season. Earlier this month, Bell was making an early morning delivery of 1,000 tumblers to the Wine Pavilion at Wisconsin State Fair Park, where she expected to do about $15,000 in sales during the State Fair’s 10-day run, on her way to Madison to make a pitch to investors as she completed gener8tor’s gBeta program.

“It really helped me take the concepts to the next level and become more familiar with the capital fundraising landscape,” she said.

Bell spent a year-and-a-half developing the plastic tumblers, which are the same shape as a stemless wine glass, and are stackable and dishwasher safe. The tumblers come in two pieces that are snapped together by the user, and the “halo” joint forms a hand rest. They’re sold wholesale at $1 per tumbler, several dollars less than competitors.

“A lot of people don’t know that the actual glass shape makes your wine taste better,” she said.

Formerly an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, Bell spent time as a sommelier and previously founded Milwaukee-based My Wine School, which offered in-person and online wine tasting classes. She noticed at concerts, festivals, on airplanes and at stadiums, wine was being served in regular plastic cups.

“Become an expert in something and the ideas will come,” she said. “There’s just a huge industry of people drinking wine in non-glass settings.”

HaloVino, which is manufactured at Sussex IM, is now sold in 30 locations in Wisconsin. Bell is starting to develop complementary products and expand into other states.

HaloVino is still waiting on its utility patent, which will be key for its investors. To get started, Bell raised $27,000 on Kickstarter in fall 2015 and rolled the product out in summer 2016.

Once the seed round is raised, Bell can have a production mold created to produce four glasses at a time, significantly improving its margins. And she’ll be able to hire a few employees.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.