By age four the average child is just learning how to handle a spoon and fork. By the time she turned four, Remmi Smith was already in the kitchen cooking alongside her mother. By the time she was seven Remmi could make a full meal on her own.
From that point on, faster than you can microwave a burrito, she wracked up a string of accomplishments: she became an Internet sensation for her cooking videos; a cable TV host; an award-winning cookbook author; and student ambassador for food service company Sodexo, where she gives the company's 500 executive chefs a kid's perspective on nutrition.
Remmi, now all of 15, is bringing her boundless energy and passion for food to what she calls "a literally enormous problem": battling childhood obesity by encouraging kids to snack smarter. It almost seems inevitable that her CHEF (Cook Healthy Exercise Frequently) Program won first place at Get Started Tulsa, the latest in a nationwide series of "Shark Tank"-like competitions at which local entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of experts.
"She has remarkable poise and confidence for a high school student," said Ken Kraft, a judge and vice president of marketing for Cox Business, one of the event's sponsors. "She really shined in the Q & A, and she was passionate, but measured, with a fact-based business plan. It's remarkable that someone so young is focusing on a way to address a problem that affects people in her own demographic."
A No-Calorie Surprise in Every Box
Remmi's Get Started presentation stressed two points: By 2018, Oklahoma is expected to have the highest level of obesity in the country, according to a study by Emory University. The percentage of obese adults in the state is projected to rise from 44.3% in 2013 to 56.1% in two years. The problem is just as pressing for children, and parents are challenged to find healthy, convenient snacks that fit into ever-more-busy lifestyles.
Remmi and her sister pondered those issues and came up with a fun, interactive way to address them. The CHEF Club includes a monthly subscription that provides members with a box of healthy snacks to eat throughout the month, a recipe card from Remmi's cookbook, and a health-related "surprise" from a sponsor, such as a jump rope.
"We knew we wanted to include an exercise component," Remmi said. "I just love running because I wake up with so much energy that I have to do something with it."
Club members will also receive a monthly video newsletter with healthy tips, as well as a cooking demonstration that encourages them to have fun in the kitchen.
Remmi plans to partner with food manufacturers to provide different non-perishable items that can be left in the car, an acknowledgement of how much time parents spend taxiing their kids from soccer to ballet to school.
Get Started Tulsa had a record 70 entrepreneurs submit proposals. The other four finalists offered a wide range of innovative ideas, from a carbonated cold-brew coffee to a new way to detect sleep apnea to a plan to providetransitional employment and housing for women with prior felony records.
"Because Tulsa is such a big oil-and-gas town, I expected a lot of entries related to that industry, but there weren't any -- the ideas were astoundingly far-ranging," Kraft said. "It shows the spirit of entrepreneurism is alive and well all across the country."
Remmi found the Get Started event invigorating, and validating. "Before the presentation, you sit at tables where people can come up and talk to you," she said. "People told me how much they liked the idea and gave me lots of suggestions on how to make the snack box better and told me I should look to introduce them to after-school programs. There was so much strong feedback it really validated the concept for me."
For winning Get Started Tulsa, Remmi will receive a prize package valued at more than $10,000. "I didn't think I would win, but I knew it be super fun and a great opportunity," she said. "When I won, it was a good shock moment. My mouth literally would not work."
But that didn't last long, since Remmi travels the country, speaking to young people about entrepreneurialism and healthy eating. Just like her Twitter feed, her normal speaking pattern is filled with exclamation points.
"My mom says I don't get nervous when I speak in public; she gets nervous for me," she said. "I love talking to people, I love food facts, and I love smiling teeth! And I'd love nothing more than to help people see how much fun healthy cooking and healthy eating can be."