Features, Profiles

Fonte Engineers New Dessert Experience with ColdSnap

Four years ago, Matt Fonte was going through his nightly routine of putting his two daughters to bed while they talked of the various gadgets they planned to invent, prompting his younger daughter to ask if they could make an ice cream machine for their very own home. Fonte, BC ’94, however, explained to his daughter that ice cream machines are not common household items. 

“My daughters seemed disappointed … so we wrote the idea in their invention journal,” Fonte said. “We signed it and then the next day I went into work, and I started asking my engineer friends, ‘Do you think we could freeze six ounces of ice cream in a minute?’”

This question became the basis of ColdSnap—Fonte’s latest startup, in which he engineered a machine that provides single servings of ice cream, frozen coffee, and frozen cocktails in about a minute. 

Growing up, Fonte had a knack for entrepreneurship, constantly brainstorming ideas for new inventions. One of his earlier concepts was a fogless mirror for shaving, according to Fonte’s childhood friend Erik Skulte.

“[He put] copper strips on the back of mirrors and [attached] it to a battery to make an electric current to keep the mirror fogless,” Skulte, who also serves as ColdSnap’s senior program manager, said. “He actually contacted a friend’s father who is a patent attorney [to see if] there’s a patent on the fogless mirror”

Skulte said this idea, along with Fonte’s determination to execute it, was a clear sign of what was to come from Fonte.  

“Even at a young age, he showed a very strong entrepreneurial spirit,” Skulte said. “I think that was an early indication that he had the mindset of ‘behind every problem is a solution.’”

When deciding what to pursue in college, Fonte said he was interested in both business and engineering, but he decided to study finance at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.

“I think my studies really gave me a sense of how much I enjoyed my organizational classes and how to handle money and account for money,” Fonte said. “And I was surrounded with people that were caring and helped support me, and I thought it was a good foundation for starting my career.”

Fonte continued to build his technical engineering skills while working at his father’s manufacturing plant throughout college. At the plant, he said he learned about forming metals and different mechanical properties of material metals, which motivated him to further his education at Tufts University, where he received a masters and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. For 11 years, he worked at his father’s plant during the daytime and spent nights and weekends taking classes.

After receiving his graduate degree, his father sold the manufacturing plant and gave Fonte the money to start Mx Orthopedics—a manufacturing business that specialized in orthopedic implants. But instead of using common metals found in orthopedic implants, Fonte said he used a nickel titanium alloy called nitinol. Because it is a malleable “shape memory metal,” nitinol returns to its original shape when heated up

“The idea was that a surgeon could stretch an implant over a fracture so [that when] the staple or the screw or the plate or the wire is released from the delivery device, it can pull the bone fragments together, and that would keep constant compression at the bone site and the patient would heal faster,” Fonte said. 

After running Mx Orthopedics for almost five years, Fonte decided to sell the business and start working on Coldsnap. Inspired by his daughters’ idea, Fonte invested in kick starting ColdSnap. He started with one question: Do you think we could freeze six ounces of ice cream in a minute?

“And everybody said, ‘I don’t think so. If you could, somebody would have already done it by now,’” Fonte said. “But I wasn’t sure about that because there are Cuisinart machines that could freeze a quart and a half over 45 minutes, and if you break it down on a per-ounce basis, you would think you’d be able to freeze six ounces in a minute.”

Skulte explained how Fonte’s fierce desire to see his ideas through and determine what is truly possible is what makes him such a successful entrepreneur. 

“[Fonte’s] the perfect storm of being very hard working, very entrepreneurial, willing to try things out, and willing to fail,” Skulte said. 

To put his idea to the test, Fonte had a friend help him create a computational model to examine the plausibility of the concept. By calculating the power in an average kitchen wall outlet and the freezing point of the dairy in six ounces of ice cream, they determined it was possible to freeze six ounces of ice cream in just a minute.

“So armed with that information, I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m gonna try [it],’” Fonte said. “So I made a prototype in my garage using a drill in a small compressor, and I saw that I could freeze ice cream. The first batch of six ounces took seven or eight minutes, but I at least had the notion that this is possible. I still had to figure out how to make it more efficient and go faster, but the concept was there.”

Fonte then said he started filing patents, asking first his brother and then his friend Robert Devaney, who he started Mx with to join him. They started forming a team, adding four or five engineers who helped make prototypes of the product, Fonte said.

For the first year and a half of ColdSnap, the team worked out of a small office above a pizza shop in Lexington, Mass. Fonte said they soon realized they would need to build machines to fill and sterilize the ice cream pods, so they moved to a larger manufacturing facility. During this period of expansion, Fonte said ColdSnap leaned on friends and family for financial support.

“As we kept advancing the technology over the last three years, we’ve had to go back to friends and family and ask for more money to finance the research, the development, innovation, pay the salaries … and at this point, [we’ve raised several] rounds of capital from friends and family and have [over 50] people in ColdSnap, and … we’re growing quickly,” Fonte said. “So it’s been an exciting process over the last three years.”

To operate ColdSnap, consumers insert a single-serve pod—either for ice cream, a frozen cocktail, or frozen coffee—into the machine. Coldsnap then scans the QR code on the pod, notifying the machine how much to freeze based on the inserted product, and within one to two minutes, the sweet treat is ready.

Along with having a user-friendly design and offering a variety of products and flavors, Fonte said ColdSnap prioritizes sustainability. The company intentionally used aluminum cans that were 70 to 80 percent recycled material to prevent increasing plastic waste, he said.

“In addition to that, we’ve chosen to use a refrigerant that has no depleting ozone characteristics,” Fonte said. “So in the unlikely event that our refrigeration system leaks, there is no harm to the environment.”

Fonte also noted that the reduced production time cuts down ColdSnap’s carbon footprint. The instant nature of the product reduces carbon emissions associated with making ice cream by approximately 50 to 70 percent.

“Ice cream today is frozen in the factory, and it’s shipped frozen in trucks and brought to the grocery store and kept frozen in the grocery store,” he said. “So, what we’re offering is a different way of looking at it—just freeze the product when you need it.”

In reflecting on ColdSnap’s evolution, Fonte said that personally, he is glad he can show his children how to turn their ideas into something bigger. 

“I love the fact that I can take my family here and my children here and they can see that you can start off with an idea and an invention journal and turn it into a company and a product,” Fonte said. “And now we have over 50 employees that work here and their livelihood is, you know, based on working and helping to get [ColdSnap] to market.”

ColdSnap is set to enter the commercial market in early 2023. For now, Fonte said he is focusing his efforts on selling to larger organizations, such as office buildings and school cafeterias, to test the product’s approval rate. Then, he plans to sell to individual consumers.

“Over the course of the next six or eight months, we’ll get a consumption rate,” Fonte said. “How many pods a day are we selling per machine at which location? … We’ll kind of have an idea [of] which flavors people like and if the machines are performing as we expect.”

Fonte said his time at BC was crucial to his success, as it armed him with the practical skills he needed to enter the business world. He also emphasized how BC shaped who he is as a person in a larger sense, helping him to navigate his career and find something he is truly passionate about.  

“And so those fundamental courses that I took really prepared me in the business world,” Fonte said. “But more broadly than that, I think … I matured as a person at BC.”

For BC students navigating the first steps of their careers, Fonte advises following what you love and gravitating to a field you enjoy.

“I would tell a young person don’t worry about your career unnecessarily, but focus on getting into something that you enjoy and do it well, and it won’t seem like work because it won’t be work,” Fonte said.

October 19, 2022
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