The past two-and-a-half years have been a roller-coaster ride for the founders of VAE Labs, but today the pre-revenue CPG company has some good news: a $2 million seed round that will help boost its sprayable caffeine device into the commercial market.
Draper Associates led the investment and was joined by Midnight Venture Partners and Cartograph Ventures. The new capital gives VAE Labs an $8.5 million post-money valuation, according to co-founder Orri Bogdan.
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Bogdan, Chaim Weinerman and Mohand Khouider, based out of Canada, created VAE Energy Spray a few years ago. Bogdan touts the device as “delivering a cup of coffee’s worth of energy in just three sprays.”
The trio, who were studying neuroscience chemistry at the time, got the idea for the spray after realizing their usual way of caffeinating themselves to study during college was not the healthiest: they found out their preferred coffee brands — the ones they were consuming multiple times on a daily basis — were delivering double the caffeine and about 30 grams of sugar in each cup.
“We found ourselves in this really bad cycle of getting way too over-caffeinated, only to completely crash,” Bogdan told TechCrunch. “We were just kind of done with feeling so terrible all the time.”
Creating a spray
In their search for alternative energy drinks and supplements, it was difficult to find something that not only didn’t have the sugar and chemicals, but was also convenient to carry. That’s when they got the idea for an energy spray.
Bogdan said they liked the idea for two reasons: one, caffeine can be absorbed a lot faster, about five times faster actually, through the tongue, and second, delivery of caffeine by a small, portable bottle would make it more effective.
“If we could find a way to make it taste good, we felt like we had the potential to disrupt the entire energy drink market and really the caffeine market as a whole,” he added.
But what happened instead was that Bogdan and his founders “hit a wall pretty quickly” during their research when they tried figuring out how to develop a caffeine device that was both portable and powerful, saying “it was actually pretty much impossible.”
Bogdan explained caffeine wasn’t soluble enough in water to be effective in small volumes, which took away their small and portable idea. So they tapped into their neuroscience chemistry studies and went back to the drawing board for two years.
What emerged was “patent-pending hyper-soluble caffeine technology,” that enables VAE Labs to “significantly increase solubility of caffeine and liquid,” Bogdan said. Each spray contains 20 milligrams of caffeine, so it only takes three sprays to equal a coffee.
“We’re able to pack over 10 times as much caffeine as our competitor in every spray,” he added. “and with our technology and portability, we feel it is the best energy supplement on the market since it’s the fastest-acting and most convenient.”
You might be asking yourself how caffeine might be considered healthy, and when asked to explain, Bogdan said that the VAE Energy Spray, which comes in icy mint and mango flavors, has zero calories and its core ingredients are based on the key ingredients of matcha, using amino acids L-theanine and L-tyrosine.
He went on to say that those ingredients “have some really synergistic effects with caffeine,” so that instead of the typical boost of energy and a big crash later, there is more focused energy due to the L-tyrosine, which helps with focus, and L-theanine, which helps with the negative effects of caffeine.
VAE Labs is not the only one with this vision: Pzaz created a breath spray with zero calories and caffeine, also.
Creating a movement
In 2020, VAE Labs launched its device in an Indiegogo campaign, going after $10,000 — and ended up raising over $55,000, Bogdan said. However, they ran into some problems, as many early companies do: they had to change manufacturers, which delayed the campaign for a full year. and then COVID hit.
So in the summer of 2021, when VAE Labs was finally able to send out its bottles, it began getting comments from customers that bottles were leaking and defective.
“It was a huge disaster and wasn’t the best background to try and raise money on,” Bogdan recalled. “and at the time, we had no money to redo the run, nor to have a fix ready.”
The company decided to take the time to rethink its entire approach with the bottle and the actual formula inside. Ultimately, that took VAE Labs into 2022, and then into 2023, but now the company has a new bottle and formula, and with the $2.1 million in venture capital, is in a position to offer those early Indiegogo investors free replacements, he said.
It is slated to have its first run of 10,000 units for direct-to-consumer this month and launch it by early March. The bottles will be sold for $9.99 and each bottle will have 36 sprays, which is the equivalent of 12 cups of coffee. Bogdan said the DTC experience will test branding, messaging and price-points as it works on launching into retail later this summer. VAE Labs already has a distributor lined up in New York.
In addition, the company is developing its next-generation bottle and is hiring some in-house content creators to market on TikTok.
Up next, VAE Labs plans to use a portion of its funds to continue innovating on its spray technology so that it can expand into supplements at large, like CBD, THC, melatonin, vitamins and eventually medicine, Bogdan said.
“Our goal was really never to just disrupt the caffeine market, which is obviously a really big and fun market to play in, but to create the most effective, convenient and healthy way to take all supplements,” he added. “What excites us about the future is that we realized, after working on our first products, that our technology can advance much further and eventually apply to other supplements as well — whether that’s fast-tracking melatonin to get better quality of sleep, CBD for instant relaxation or just vitamins for general health.”