When Ali Kaminetsky ’16 made a pitch on the hit show Shark Tank, she surprised the investors — aka “The Sharks” — by packing them lunch. It was a perfect strategy to show off Kaminetsky’s company, Modern Picnic, which makes sophisticated lunch boxes for women. By serving them lunch in Modern Picnic’s most popular product, The Luncher, she allowed them to see the upscale vegan leather lunchboxes up close before deciding whether to invest.  

Ali Kaminetsky stands on the Shark Tank stage displaying her modern picnic productsIn an episode that aired last month, the Shark Tank investors passed on her product, but Kaminetsky, with typical grit, notes the most important lesson she’s learned since starting her own company: “‘No’ just sometimes means ‘maybe later.’” She ought to know: It took her two tries to be chosen to appear on the show.

Such resilience has enabled Kaminetsky to gracefully navigate the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. Since she launched Modern Picnic in May 2018, the company has achieved nearly $10 million in cumulative sales, affirming that a fashionable lunchbox for women was long overdue. She was inspired to create the brand just a few months after graduating from Lehigh and moving to New York for her first job in Macy’s buying and planning program.

Fashion Meets Function
“I was bringing my lunch to work every day, and all the girls in my office were doing it,” she recalls. “But I very quickly realized that I didn’t have a chic, functional, or sustainable way to do so.” An online search for lunch boxes offered no good choices. “I saw options for little kids and men, but none for women who wanted to look good or do good.”

As soon as Kaminetsky came up with the company name, her first step was to secure a website domain name and social media handles — an important strategy for a product that would sell online directly to consumers.  Finding a way to design and manufacture the product came next. She initially used a broker to help navigate overseas manufacturing but has since taken over the task herself.

Pooling All Available Resources
With no marketing budget, Kaminetsky pitched her venture to the media. Since she was creating a new product category with the first women’s lunchbox, she had a newsworthy story to tell. The strategy paid off. To date Modern Picnic has gained more than 400 media hits in places like Forbes, The New York Times, The Today Show, Oprah, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Morning America, and more.

Ali Kaminetsky wears white tennis outfit holding a ball standing outside with friend.Kaminetsky, who majored in supply chain management and marketing with a minor in communications, says she used skills learned at Lehigh in starting the company. “What I do day to day is so applicable to the foundations I learned about shipping, logistics, and support in my classes,” she says. She chose Lehigh when she was recruited for its Division I women’s tennis team, an activity that also developed qualities that positioned her for success. “It taught me things like perseverance, hard work, and resilience and sacrifice,” she says. “It taught me how to be a leader and work well with others.”

During the company’s first two years, she shipped lunchboxes from her parents’ garage at their Connecticut home. When sales topped $1 million, Modern Picnic had outgrown the space. “We absolutely reached a point where it was not scalable,” Kaminetsky says. By 2020, it was time to seek capital from investors — an aspect of business development she previously had not navigated. “I didn’t know the vocabulary, the terminology, really anything,” she recalls.

Always a Student
To prepare for this crucial step, she attended Project Entrepreneur’s Investment Readiness Program. Founded by wealth management firm UBS and the Female Founder Collective, the program gives female entrepreneurs the tools to close the funding gap separating them from their male counterparts.

Ali Kaminetski poses with strawberries in a white kitchen with picnic lunch bag.Using the knowledge that program provided, she called on 1,000 investors and raised $900,000 to take Modern Picnic to the next level. She has continued to grow the brand. In addition to the original lunchbox, The Luncher, the product line includes totes, backpacks, and a Large Luncher. Products are available in vegan leather, croc, and a wicker line. The company’s products now can be purchased in some retail outlets, including The Container Store and Saks Fifth Avenue.

As Modern Picnic approaches its sixth anniversary, Kaminetsky acknowledges that she’s more aware of the challenges of being an entrepreneur than when she took a leap of faith to launch the company at age 22. But she also knows the rewards and what it takes to achieve them. It goes back to her belief that “no” is never a final answer. “If you accept ‘no’ at the first go, you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities,” she says.

Two people smiling and walking down a concrete pathway on campus

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