College of Business > News & Events > Halperin Fund Invests in Snack Bar Startup

DePaul's Halperin Emerging Company Fund Invests in Fast-Growing Snack Bar Startup Mooski

​​​​​​​​​​​​​A jaunty cartoon graphic displaying Mooski bars in an alpine setting

If you know where to look, you'll find evidence of the Halperin Emerging Company Fund across Chicago.

On State Street, a stunning visual display of DePaul basketball players is projected onto empty storefronts. Those displays were created by Visual Feeder: the brainchild of DePaul alumna Yaxi Yang and the first company that the then-newly created Halperin fund invested in. The fund's mission: support early-stage companies that promise to drive growth and create jobs —and use dividends from its investments to directly support the next generation of DePaul entrepreneurs.

Now, you can find the latest evidence of the fund's impact in the refrigerators at Foxtrot market: A premium, chocolate-covered oat bar called Mooski. 

Mooski bars are, by all accounts, delicious. (The preteen daughter of a Coleman Entrepreneurship staff member has even been known to opt for a Mooski bar over a fresh-baked cookie.) Available in three flavors, the bars are coated in chocolate and filled with a soft, chewy, oat based center: a recipe inspired by muesli, a popular form of overnight oats in Switzerland, where co-founder Robert Broome’s family is from.  

Mooski, which Broome initially launched in southern California, is also the latest entrant to a fast-growing — and fast-changing — marketplace. 

“Granola bars are a three-billion-dollar industry,” said Broome. “But for many years, they’ve all had the same kind of formulation. They’re all shelf-stable. They tend to be dry and stale. Most recipes are made up of 40% syrups. At Mooski, we’re creating something fresher.”    

Mooski's story isn't just the tale of a delicious new snack, or even of the fast-growing marketplace it was born into. It's a story about the power of Chicago's entrepreneurial ecosystem — and about the value of DePaul connections within that ecosystem.

Mooski’s Origin Story 

A graphic advertising Mooski as the first fresh granola bar
Mooski bars may be a Swiss-inspired product launched in California. The company’s roots, however, are planted firmly in Chicago.  

Broome got his start at RXBAR: a locally-founded startup that had since been sold to Kellogg’s. RXBAR is also where he met Mooski’s first employee, Head of Finance and Supply Chain Chelsea Sherman.  

And when Mooski outgrew its small-scale production model after just a few years in existence? Chicago was where they ended up.  

Thanks to a connection from an advisor, Mooski found a manufacturer in the city who could scale up production by an order of magnitude. It was enough to support a national launch, landing Mooski on the shelves of Fresh Thyme and Foxtrot locations nationwide.  

“We’ve gone from a regional, Southern California brand to a company with Midwest roots and a national reach,” said Broome. “By getting into local retailers like Foxtrot Market, we want the Chicago community to know Mooski’s made in Chicago and it’s sold in Chicago.” 

At the same time, the founders were making another key Chicago connection: Jared Smith — co-founder of RXBAR and an alumnus of DePaul. It was an investment from Smith that helped the company go national. Now, Smith serves as a key advisor to the company. 

“Mooski brings novelty with a new product form in the refrigerated bar space which is a fast-growing set,” Smith said in an article about his investment. “Owning the space and being first to market with a fresher granola bar alternative is a large untapped opportunity. Robert and Chelsea are a perfect combination, front-end and back-end focused, and have a long-lasting relationship built on integrity and humility.” 

The Halperin Fund and an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem 

Students lean in intently over a table
Students workshop pitch ideas at a Coleman Entrepreneurship Center event
Around the time that Smith joined on as an investor, the company began to seek out an additional source of funding, and with it another connection to Chicago: The Halperin Emerging Company Fund at Driehaus’ Coleman Entrepreneurship Center.  

Nick O’Brien, now an MBA graduate from DePaul, occupied one of two seats on the investment committee reserved for current students. As he explained it, the fund seeks to invest in companies that will benefit the DePaul and Chicago communities writ large: whether through direct connections to DePaul or simply by enriching Chicago's entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Mooski stood out to the investment committee, O’Brien says, for the same qualities that garnered Smith’s praise.  

“They’ve got a really strong team of founders,” O’Brien said. “There’s a lot of potential for scalability. And anyone can understand it. Anyone can go out to stores and try it. There’s a simplicity to that.” 

For his part, Broome sees the Halperin fund as “arguably Mooski’s most strategic investor.” The reason? 

“In terms of connections,” Broome said. “DePaul is unmatched.”  

An investor who sat in on one of Mooski’s first pitches to the fund has since chosen to invest their own money. It’s the first such connection, Broome hopes, of many.  

"It’s about getting to tap into the entire DePaul network: whether they want to invest, or they know packaging suppliers, or they know digital marketing agencies,” Broome said. 

"We don’t just see this as a financial investment,” echoed Emily Doyle, who oversees the Halperin fund as Director of Emerging Company Programs at the Coleman center. “We see it as an investment in our network. Our students can go on to intern at these companies. Our alumni can learn from these founders.

"The Halperin fund exists to not only invest financially in early stage companies," she said, "but also to help support these founders by leveraging the DePaul network and CEC programs.”  ​

A Front-Row Seat to the Entrepreneurial Process

For Nick O’Brien, meanwhile, being involved in the Halperin fund has already yielded insights he couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.  

“It’s really rare – and really tough – to get real-world experience in venture capital,” he said. “Through participating in the investment committee, I got a substantial amount of real-world experience. I was involved in several investments and learned what unique factors VCs typically look for in early-stage startups.” 

It was precisely this kind of opportunity, O’Brien said, that led him to pursue his MBA – and to pursue it at DePaul.  

“My end goal is to start a company,” he said. “DePaul stuck out to me because it has such a strong entrepreneurship program.”  

The Halperin fund, O’Brien says, shows aspiring founders like him what’s possible.  

“For current students and alumni who are thinking about starting a company, the fund shows them that there is an opportunity for support from DePaul,” he said. “It makes the funding process a little less intimidating. It shows you that you can do this. 

“I’m really excited to see the growth of the fund,” he added. “And, one day, I hope to come back full circle: to be on the other side of the table, pitching a company of my own.”