Start-up hopes its customers scream

Make-it-yourself ice cream unit delights at NU

By D.C. Denison
Globe Staff / October 1, 2009

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The siren call of “Free ice cream!’’ added an element of chaos to a busy lunchtime in Northeastern University’s Curry Student Center yesterday. A new, fully-automated ice cream machine from Taunton start-up MooBella Inc. was making its Boston debut, and students and staff eagerly lined up for free samples. The ice cream-making unit allows users to select and customize their ice cream order on the spot, using a touch screen. It delivers the personalized confection in 40 seconds. The technology, recently featured at an MIT conference, is impressive enough to have attracted $18 million in funding for the company last month.

Dave Peters, vice president of sales and marketing at MooBella, said that today, the unit will be moved to the student center’s convenience store, where the company will closely monitor sales and usage. After that, MooBella plans to roll out 100 machines across New England; first in colleges, then hospitals, museums, aquariums, and zoos. The company is hoping that customers will be attracted to the on-the-spot customization, which allows for 96 possible combinations of ice cream and mix-ins. The while-you-wait operation also allows the company and retailers to save on refrigeration, storage, and delivery costs. The ingredients can be manufactured and distributed at room temperature.

Early reviews from Northeastern students were positive, although it’s possible the cost - free - swayed opinions.

Freshmen Alithia Berkeley and Samantha Dawber, who enthusiastically dug into their samples (black raspberry with M&M candies and vanilla, respectively) gave two thumbs up.

“It’s rich and creamy,’’ Berkeley said. “And it’s a plus that it’s instant, because ice cream just gets people really, really excited. The fact that you can make it yourself is another positive.’’

“No one ever makes ice cream exactly the way you want it, except you,’’ Dawber agreed.

D.C. Denison can be reached at