Katerina Axelsson is on the cusp of helping oenophiles everywhere pick the perfect wine.
The Cal Poly alum is the chief executive officer of The Bottlefly, a startup company that’s developed Wine Finder software for retailers selling wine. The goal is to get retailers, particularly grocers, to install Wine Finders in their stores’ wine aisles. Consumers take a 15-question quiz designed to gauge what they want in a wine, and the finder generates a recommendation based on personal preference, price range or special occasion.
“We’re helping the retailer and ultimately the customer solve the modern stress of too many choices,” she said.
Axelsson, who has a degree in enology, thought of the idea when she was studying chemistry as a student in the wine and viticulture department. She worked in a winery lab, testing for wine quality, and based on what she learned in the lab developed a flavor recommender. She had been accepted into the summer Accelerator program through Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and there teamed up with professors in the university’s computer science department to build on her idea.
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I think that people are starting to understand it’s valuable to have more women in business, but I don’t think we’re there yet.
“We discovered that there was a connection between flavor chemistry and the words people used to describe the flavors they were tasting,” Axelsson said. “The interesting thing is that it wasn’t just about the flavor, it was more emotional. They would use words like outgoing, fun and warm, and giving the wine a personality.”
Axelsson knew she had a sound business idea, as well, and she’s now approaching the $2 million mark in seed funding to move the startup forward. The company, based in SLO with offices in Paso Robles at Baker Labs, is in talks with a national retailer interested in setting up kiosks, and it hopes to launch in California stores soon.
While Axelsson often felt out of place, especially being the only young woman in her summer Accelerator program, she didn’t let that fact stop her from pursuing her goals.
Her advice to other women is to be patient, stay focused and have strong male and female allies.
“I think that people are starting to understand it’s valuable to have more women in business, but I don’t think we’re there yet,” she said. “I would also say: Don’t be afraid to speak up and raise your hand. Everyone has doubts, but don’t apologize too much for what you do.”