Y Combinator smart countertop appliance launches Kickstarter.

The Tovala device prepares a piece of salmon to perfection.

It’s been less than a year since David Rabie, MBA ’15, and his automated smart-cooker took home the first place title and a $70,000 prize at the Edward L. Kaplan New Venture Challenge (NVC), but he and his company, now known as Tovala, has seen a world of changes.

They’ve secured a technical cofounder, completely rebranded, closed a $500,000 seed round of funding, started beta testing — and yet, it’s clear that Tovala is just getting started.

Previously known as Maestro, Tovala is a smart counter-top appliance that can bake, broil, steam, and convection heat fresh, pre-made meals. And now, this cross-functional appliance’s team can add two more bullet points to their resume: participation in this winter’s Y Combinator (YC) cohort (“batch”) and the launch of their first Kickstarter campaign.

Y Combinator has made a name for itself in recent years for their impressive track record and unique funding model when it comes to venture capital. They’ve been called everything from a boot camp to the “X factor of tech” to a sleepaway camp for start-ups. But, no matter how you want to think of them, most everyone can agree on one thing — they work. And with alumni like AirBnB, Reddit, and Dropbox, the proof that their unique model works is undeniable.

For Rabie and the Tovala team, their experience at Y Combinator so far has been “way better than anyone could have expected,” Rabie confesses.

Rabie speaks of his team’s time in Y Combinator as something similar to the television show, Silicon Valley. And with up to nine people working and living out of a small three bedroom home in Sunnyvale, California, the similarities are easy to spot. But, the cramped quarters haven’t slowed the team down. Rabie explains, “The team has grown a lot closer. We eat all of our meals together — half of which come from the Tovala. It’s just really fun to be at work. We have a great atmosphere.”

And the best part of it all? Rabie explains that the team has been most pleasantly surprised by the lack of formal programming required by Y Combinator. “There’s very little handholding here,” Rabie notes. “We receive tangible goals and deadlines, but we’re left to our own devices to get the work done. And that’s just what we wanted. It’s fantastic.”

As for the work that they’re getting done, the team has been in hyper drive. Living and working in Silicon Valley has helped the team “eliminate all distractions and work like crazy” to accomplish their goals — which in this case means prepping for the Y Combinator Demo Day at the end of this month and preparing to launch their Kickstarter campaign — which is now officially live.

Tovala app in action

The Kickstarter campaign will sell 500 Tovalas for $199; 1,000 will be available at $239; and the rest will be priced at $279. And in a move that has become somewhat rare in the crowdfunding world, the Tovala team is utilizing Kickstarter strictly as a sales platform. Rabie explains the team’s thought behind this move, “We’re not ‘raising money’ on Kickstarter. We’ve already raised our institutional funding, so we want to treat our campaign the way that we believe it was originally meant to be used — as a sales platform for early adopters. Our focus right now is to start selling Tovalas.

And if you’re wondering, after all is said and done, do the Tovala meals taste good? The Polsky staff can assure you that they are delicious, and Chicago Inno agrees.

Check back regularly for more updates on this NVC and soon-to-be YC alum.

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