Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Category - Industry

Tech, foodies and makers converge into a Perfect Oregon cupcake

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Can technology merge successfully with the foodie and maker movements to create a transformative consumer product that changes the way we work in our kitchens?  The Perfect Company is working to do just that.

We recently visited the test kitchen of Perfect Company to bake some gluten-free and vegan cupcakes using their Perfect Bake product, featuring many Oregon-based ingredients, with head of recipe development Matthew Barbee, and COO and co-founder Miriam Kim.

IMG_4602Perfect’s business is to design and develop smart products for the smart home. Through their cool products–such as the Perfect Bake and Perfect Drink, their aim is to bring  “perfection to your kitchen as well as your lifestyle”.  The products merge a simple and elegant scale with a smartphone or iPad app, and walks you through every step of the baking or drink-making process, measuring each ingredient by weight and (literally) telling you when to stop as you put them into the bowl or glass.

It’s also a product and company that’s caught the attention of Oregon angel investors – in November of 2015, the Oregon Angel Fund led a $4 Million investment round which will help the company expand its marketing reach and create new products, including the Perfect Blend, launching later this year.

perfect coverWhile making the peanut butter frosting for our cupcakes, we also chatted with Miriam Kim about the Perfect Company story, their innovative food & beverage products and technologies, and how they were able to go from idea to production of their first Perfect product in just 10 months (you don’t want to miss that part).

And oh yes, the cupcakes were delicious.

You can find Perfect on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter

Here’s the interview:

And, here’s a list of the Oregon-based products we used in the cupcakes:

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Bob’s Red Mill Flours

Holy Kakow Cacao Powder

Jacobsen Salt

So Delicious Almond and Coconut Milk

Ristretto Roasters Coffee

Aunt Patty’s Coconut Oil

Singing Dog Vanilla

Oregon Olive Mill Olive Oil

Phoenix Egg Farm

Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters

(full disclosure: Terry is an investor in the 2015 Oregon Angel Fund, which has invested in the Perfect Company)

 

 

Orchestra Software Brews up an ERP solution for craft beverages

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The craft beer industry is booming, with existing breweries growing rapidly, and new ones opening at a rapid pace.

But this growth brings great challenges. From inventory management to purchasing and receiving, and production to quality control, the actual operations side of a brewery is not an easy job.

And is often the case, these kind of challenges open the door to new business opportunities. Brad Windecker saw an opportunity to help these brewery founders, and built OrchestratedBEER, an all-in-one brewery management software solution, to help these brewery founders manage operations and growth so they can concentrate on doing the thing they love to do – make great beer.

Identifying an opportunity

Before founding Orchestra, Brad was an implementation consultant, helping small and mid-sized companies implement ERP (enterprise resource planning) software – a job that requires the consultant to understand everything about a company, from their workflows, to the reports they need, all the way down to the structure of their general ledger.

“ Every time I completed a project, it occurred to me that we should target other similar companies and leverage the expertise we had gained from the implementation process. I especially thought that solution would fit one of Oregon’s favorite industries, Craft Breweries.”

However, the owners of the consulting business didn’t recognize the opportunity. So, when the recession hit in 2008 and his employer was bought out, Brad decided to leave and start Orchestra in Beaverton. The goal was to create an ERP company that focused on specific industries, enabling his team to build in best practices and turn as much of the traditional services component of ERP projects into software that worked out of the box.

This meant the company would need to have a hyper focus on each target industry, learn everything about it, and then work all of that knowledge into the product.

Listening to customers - 2But what that really means is it all comes down to one simple concept – listen to the customer.

“ We had a relentless focus on understanding what the first customers needed, so we could make sure that we worked all that knowledge into the solution. We looked at every spreadsheet that our customers were using, how they used whiteboards in the brewery, how they used Quickbooks, and studied their workflows. In the early days, there were many revisions of how we suggested people use our software, many versions of reports they needed, and so on. As we gained more customers, we fine tuned all the features and functions into the solution that customers see today.”

Listen to the customer.

It really is a simple concept, but the dedication Brad and his team put towards listening to the customer, and then responding, quickly helped their growth tremendously.

“ It showed our customers and prospects that we were focused on the industry and committed to making the product into the solution they needed. In a small community like craft beer, it was vital that we walk the talk and prove that we were in it for the long term and dedicated to the success of the industry.”

One of the biggest hurdles the Orchestra team encountered early on was the difference in how each brewery handled their TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) reporting process. Every brewery has to file the Brewer’s Report of Operations to the TTB, but every customer in the early days seemed to think about it differently. It took Orchestra almost 2 years to have enough customers to fully understand how to build a solution that handled every customer and all the infinite permutations of how beer moves around a brewery.

“ It’s easy to say you have TTB Reporting, but it’s really hard to get it right 100% of the time for all breweries, which we can now say with confidence.”

Another hurdle the team encountered was that they weren’t replacing a proven system; they were replacing spreadsheets, whiteboards, Quickbooks, and homegrown databases that breweries had all developed themselves to try and keep track of their business. This meant that every customer Orchestra encountered had different systems and processes that had to be replaced.

“ As we were building out our solution, this was hard to deal with. Today, OrchestratedBEER handles it all and we know exactly how to get customers off those legacy tools, but back in 2011, it wasn’t so clear.”

Early Wins and Growth

Oregon is craft beer spoiled (not that any of us are complaining).

Given that there are 200+ breweries located here, it would have made sense for a new Oregon company offering a software solution for the craft beer industry to build its client base in its home state.

But that wasn’t the path that Orchestra traveled. They didn’t target a specific geographic area, but instead targeted the industry.

“ Our first client was Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, we landed Schlafly in St. Louis and Firestone Walker in California. The first customers found us at the Craft Brewers Conference, the big industry trade show for the craft beer industry. When we started exhibiting there, we were one of the few tech companies; we were surrounded by bottling lines, valve manufacturers and malt suppliers. That initial presence in the industry, combined with strong SEO on our website, drove traffic to us. The early success solidified our strategy of using inbound marketing, which we still rely on today.”Early Wins & Growth - OBeer customer map

But in an industry and community as tightly knit as craft beer, once a solution is being used with good results, word of mouth marketing takes over.

“ Once we had started solving the problems of the first few customers and had established ourselves as a company dedicated to the industry long term, things started to move fast. When you combine a great product that solves a problem, dedication to the industry and the customers’ success, and great marketing, you end up with great word of mouth and high traffic to your website. We also made sure that anyone that was interested in our solution could see everything we had without having to call us and get a custom demo. In other words, we made it as easy as possible for customers to decide that our solution would be a good fit for them.”

One of the main pain points Orchestra is looking to solve is to bring all operations and finance information into one place. Having multiple systems for different areas of the business is what causes most of the challenges in running a growing company, and you simply can’t get the data you need to understand your business when data is in many different systems.

Many businesses rely heavily on web based tools, with Quickbooks and Dropbox folders full of spreadsheets. Pain points addressed - fast track implementationBringing all the aspects of the business into one application that has been tailored to the industry solves this problem.

“ More specifically, all breweries, from the smallest startup to the largest craft breweries in the country, have challenges understanding their cost and margins. Orchestrated helps breweries of any size see all the cost components that go into a beer, from the malt to the label on the bottle, and all the labor and overhead involved, to see a true cost. Without having all the financial and logistics information in one place, this is almost impossible, but we’ve made it easy and provided the reporting out of the box to show the data to customers in a brewery specific format.”

Recently, Orchestra has seen the effects of the recent brewery M&A activity with some of their smaller clients merging with larger players. These mergers lead to additional high-end needs like multi-location production, consolidated reporting, and system integration needs.

“ From the brand new breweries being set up from day one to be multi-site conglomerates to the growing mergers and acquisitions space, our solution helps them see a big picture of what’s happening across their sites and brands.”

Evolving the solution for other opportunities

The Orchestra team has seen a rapid user adoption rate within the craft beer vertical, to the tune of 207% sales growth over the past three years. This rapid rise has landed them on the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in America list for the second consecutive year.

But the myriad of challenges in the beverage industry are not solely limited to breweries.

OrchestratedSPIRITS - distilleries face the same challenges as breweries“ Yes, manufacturing liquids poses many challenges that are faced by distilleries, brewers, and others. It’s critical that in a complex business like these, finance/accounting is in the same system as inventory, logistics, QC, and production. The main problem we solve is eliminating the silos of information and bringing everything into one application. This allows data to flow between the areas of the business and provides a single source of the truth. This challenge and solution exists in both beer and spirits. Distilleries also deal with the dreaded TTB and have similar reporting demands. Our systems handle all of the needs of a distillery to automate their TTB Reporting.”

Challenge equals opportunity, and for Brad and his team the opportunity was around launching Orchestrated™SPIRITS – an all-in-one business management software solution that helps you manage every aspect of your distillery, from accounting in the back office to production in the still house.

And Orchestra is not stopping there either.

“We’re in the process of working with a number of wineries already on OrchestratedWINE. We hope to launch the product in 2017, and expect it to be our third main vertical. Our goal is to be the #1 provider of ERP software to the beverage manufacturing market globally. We already have brewery customers in Canada, the UK, and Australia, and expect this global expansion to increase in the coming years and accelerate with the introduction of the winery solution.”

Much like they found in the brewery and spirits industries, there are a number of ‘tools’ wineries use for specific areas of the operation, but there is a huge gap in having an industry specific ERP solution that brings everything together.

Keeping up with the rapidly growing industries they serve is a huge opportunity for Orchestra. Craft breweries are opening up at a record pace and the distillery growth is nearly doubling year over year. There are currently 250 of the 4,000+ breweries in the US using OrchestratedBeer, so there is a huge opportunity to engage and work with many more breweries in the US, and around the world.Orchestrated tradeshow booth at Craft brewers conference

Brad also feels the craft beer industry is hitting a maturity as opposed to a peak.

“You can recognize this in the consolidation happening, investment capital flowing in, breweries starting out day 1 with 100 BBL systems, etc. These are the signs that the industry is no longer just a free for all; it’s now structured, there’s a lot of money at stake, and the growth potential is huge. When you look at the numbers, craft only makes up 20% of all beer consumed in the US. There’s still a lot of macro beer drinkers out there that will shift to local craft beers in the coming years. It’s very feasible that craft doubles in size over the coming decade and grows to 40% of all beer volume in the US, which would be an astounding volume of craft beer.”

And while craft beer is hitting maturity, craft spirit growth resembles craft beer circa 2008, with the number of companies doubling every year and the potential for acceleration as some of the early craft distilleries proving out you can make a big business in the space.

All this growth and client potential does pose challenges to the Orchestra team.

“ The biggest challenge facing us today is staying focused on our core mission. The old adage “you can drown in a sea of opportunity” is a good one, especially when our solution can help solve so many challenges. Orchestra’s place in all this is growth is to constantly listen to what our customers need, and make sure that we provide them solutions with a great experience. We’re now seen as the gold standard of ERP for the beer and spirits industries, so we have a responsibility to provide the industry best practices, benchmarking, and data analysis that is now needed.”

Creating a company culture that stays true to the core mission and the values of the people in the company is something that Brad and his team really focuses on. The values they have instilled into their business are Customer First, Continuous Improvement, Authenticity, Teamwork, and Integrity.

But creating a strong culture is something that took time, about 5 years, to fine tune and nail down.Orchestra Culture - with Beer

“ Our culture also has a lot of standardization; not for the sake of efficiency, but for extreme quality. Like a brewery or distillery that has to standardize their processes to ensure that every batch is high quality and offers the same great experience, we do the same for our people. Every department leader at Orchestra uses the exact same structure to ensure that regardless of what role you are in at Orchestra, your experience of working here is very similar and high quality. For example, every department has daily standups, weekly one-on-ones, monthly reviews, quarterly reviews and annual reviews. For engineers the standup might be scrum and for the consultants it’s the “go-live review”, but in the end, they are all following the same template to ensure that the experience of working at Orchestra is world class. We hire people that live them, and we end up with a culture that can be described as having an obsession with our customers, constant change and improvement, collaboration everywhere, and with really good people that are true to who they are and do the right thing.”

And doing the right thing in a company that focuses on the craft beverage industries means, of course, having good beer on tap in the office and having Friday at 4pm company happy hours.

So what’s currently on tap at Orchestra and the tougher question, what’s Brad’s favorite beer?

“We almost always have a beer from our friends at Buoy Beer in Astoria on tap here, so right now we have Czech Pils. They helped us out in 2015 by providing all the beer for our user conference, and they are active in the tech industry in Oregon, which I appreciate, and they of course have amazing beers. This is like picking a favorite child…I love them all!”

For more information, visit www.orchestrasoftware.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter

Our Vision for the future

Stein Distillery takes the journey from fields to bottle

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There has been a large increase in the number of craft distilleries over the past few years, and new ones can be seen from Ashland to Portland.

But there aren’t many whose roots run three generations deep in Northeast Oregon, and are linked directly to the raw materials that go into making exceptional spirits.

The Stein family settled in Joseph, OR in the late 1890’s and relied on the land and wildlife for survival. They became wheat farmers, and for many decades, the focus was on traditional crop growing and selling.

But the agriculture business is never easy.

Grain prices started to fall and the family was looking for ways to produce crops for alternate means, and with the ability to grow really good wheat, rye, and barley, the idea for a distillery was hatched, and enter Austin and Heather Stein.Combine with Austin

Austin and Heather are 4th generation Steins, both of whom wanted to carry on the hard-working tradition of their families and small town communities whose residents share some core values, and with many of them running family owned businesses.

They both achieved engineering degrees in college, and eventually wanted to use them for the greater good, and as Heather points out, they saw that opportunity present itself in 2005.

“We noticed 2 lots on Joseph’s main street for sale, and decided it was now or never. We had the know-how in the family to distill, to build, to manufacture and to manage. All the pieces were there to run a business. “

As with many small town families, the Steins also had a construction business, which gave them the wherewithal to know how to develop these lots into something that could bring new jobs and resources to the community.

So the plan was launched with the ability to develop the property, and the engineering backgrounds to assist in the distillery setup.

But Heather and Austin were focused on creating craft spirits that were both representative of their family’s farming heritage, and world class in taste from the start. This led them down the knowledge and education path.

“ We went to a distilling class in April 2006, offered by Bavarian Holstein, and learned how to distill using manufactured equipment. We decided to order the equipment after 3-years of obtaining licensing from both state and federal governments. After receiving the equipment in March 2009, it took 4 months to perfect the grain to starch conversion process. Once perfected, we distilled vodka right off the bat and then cordials, and then started distilling and barreling whiskey for aging.”

The ability to distill high quality vodka and cordials from the outset allowed them build the brand. The team did tastings, worked on distribution, and started to create the story around Stein Distillery. A story centered around making high quality spirits from their own grain – truly farm to bottle distilling.

The vodka and cordial sales also brought in much needed revenue to this young craft distillery. But, as Austin states, there was always a goal on producing another product line.

“ The vision has always been aged whiskey. We needed to get unique vodka and cordials to the market first to start making a name for ourselves and bring in revenue. But the ultimate goal was always aged Oregon whiskey made from true-Oregon grain. “23-Bottles Front of Still

In addition, the Steins had the intention to set themselves apart from other micro-distilleries in Oregon, as well as bring back some famous cocktails of yesteryear. To do this, they decided to grow their own rye for use in the vodka, and whiskey as an addition to their family grown wheat.

But the focus on uniqueness didn’t end there. The Steins knew they could distinguish their whiskeys even more by adding another unique grain, and so they started growing barley as well. Even with the ability and knowhow to grow wheat, rye, and barley, they were still in need of one other ingredient, an ingredient they would need to source – corn.

“We knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with Hermiston corn so we decided to source corn from a cousin already growing it in Hermiston. Knowing exactly where the raw material is from and how it is grown, and knowing careful and meticulous Stein hands have been in the process from start to finish, ensures a consistent high quality product to our consumer.”

And getting the product to the consumer started in Joseph and Wallowa County – not necessarily the center of the craft spirits movement. To the Stein’s knowledge, the closest distilleries to theirs would be in the Tri-City area, Spokane or Boise – over 3 hours away. But being the sole distillery in a large area did create opportunities for not only the business, but also the community.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.49.42 PM“ We would say that having the distillery in Joseph has created talk/interest for alternate uses for grain/agriculture in general, as there are still many family farms on the Eastern side of the state. Our distillery has brought additional tourism to Joseph which is a major industry for Wallowa County, and we hope to continue to attract people to this beautiful area.”

With the tasting room thriving, raw materials growing and a mix of products that includes vodka, rye whiskey, whiskey, bourbon, cordials and “steinshine” (based on a family bourbon recipe), one might think that the Stein Distillery would be content.

Not so much. It’s time for expansion.

The distillery is currently in the early stages of designing a barrel aging warehouse to their distillery in Joseph. This will not only allow more space for the barrel products to age, but will also free up manufacturing space to increase production.

In addition to the expansion in Joseph, they recently opened a tasting room in the Progress Ridge are of Beaverton. A move they know helps to build the brand equity in new areas.

“ Having a tasting room allows the consumer to be able to sample the spirit before making the decision to buy. It gives us the opportunity to educate the consumer on how spirits are made, what they should be tasting and why they should care about it. We find consumers are also interested in our story and our supportive of our small family business.”

And this growth has led to some new challenges and opportunities in the business.

“ Being of engineering and manufacturing brains, we are not naturally the first ones to market/advertise/sell but obviously these activities are critical to any business, and so we will be looking to add expertise and opportunity in these areas. These actions will help us continue to move nationally and internationally with our products. Meanwhile, we do foresee the current demand picking up in 2016, therefore expanding our production capability will also be critical.”

With a hard working legacy of 4 generations of Oregonians supporting their efforts, the Stein family is well prepared to weather the entrepreneurial storm, but offer this simple bit of advice for others making the leap.

“Be prepared for a long journey.”

For more information, visit www.steindistillery.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagramRye

From electric vehicles to the internet of herds: The Rogue Rovers story

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Bringing innovations that make sense for farming and ranching is not always an easy thing to do. It’s a market segment that moves on the basis of relationships, as opposed to quick scaling user acquisition platforms and plays.

Rogue Rovers, an Ashland based company, is focused on not only the development of technologies for this massive industry, but also on building solid and long term relationships with the farmers and ranchers whose innate knowledge will be the ultimate driver on how technology can effectively engage and help.p02lfbqp

Connecting the EV market to agriculture

There are two big problems in agriculture today – the ability to gather, and then generate, data. Rogue Rovers was started to address those two big challenges through advanced technology and engineering.

What many people in urban areas take for granted in regards to localized content during their everyday lives, apps for everything and constant connectivity, are not the conditions found in agriculture. Moreover, the specialty farms that are smaller, more specialized and in more varied terrains have an even greater challenge – getting low cost solutions that can help them.

This is where Melissa Brandao, CEO & Founder of Rogue Rovers, saw not only an opportunity, but a way to create a company that focuses on bridging technology with real world agricultural problems.

IMG_7773“ We came together to create an AgTech company that was doing more than just web-based solutions. We wanted to make advanced hardware systems that could solve real world problems, while keeping it simple and low cost.”

Melissa is a self described technologist with a lot of maker mixed in. She started her career at Apple and has spent the past 10 years in the AgTech space. And while a tech evolution from Apple to AgTech may not make sense to some, Melissa’s background is rooted in farm life, as she grew up on one.

This farming background gave her an innate understanding of the challenges and opportunities around farming and agriculture, especially those associated with equipment and processes. Farming is still pretty simple and basic when compared to the fast moving world seen in urban areas.

Enter the development of the FarmDogg, an electric four wheel drive vehicle.

The term “Dogg” is widely used by the Rogue Rovers team and Melissa explains its significance, “ Dogg means Data Generator-Gatherer. We developed our FarmDogg rover as the platform that will replace existing farm equipment because it’s a versatile, fully controllable mobile platform, and can support robotics.”

A data generating electric four wheel drive vehicle.static1.squarespace

If it sounds unique, that is indeed true. But the uniqueness is built on a solid vision about why and how this vehicle will help farmers. Electric propulsion is focused on precision control, which is an essential factor in autonomy and smart vehicles.

The precision control allows for pin-point accuracy in speed control, location and performance, all while having a low decibel level that allows you to hear your surroundings and not spook the animals. The FarmDogg’s data collection is done with delicate sensors and cameras. The smooth motion helps to protect these elements and creates a more stable data collection process. Electric vehicles also have fewer moving parts so the downtime is less than gas powered vehicles, which is an important benefit to farmers in rural areas.

But Melissa didn’t set out to create an EV company in Southern Oregon.

“ I kind of fell into electric vehicles on accident. Up until then I had been working with disruptive technology but it was always software. I spent four years abroad building companies in emerging markets providing market data so capitalism and investor access to markets could work more efficiently in places like Russia and Latin America. Electric vehicles are one of the examples that Chris Christensen sites as a disruptive technology and it was hardware–tangible–I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get into this technology. But as you know the EV industry has had many ups and downs and has yet to gain the market traction to become the norm. I always have been about focusing these technologies on solutions that are a best fit for them. Ag has made sense to me and as I stated earlier there’s a need to move Ag forward in its technology development.”IMG_6723

This need to move Ag technology forward has brought much well deserved attention to what Rogue Rovers is building, including a trip to the White House to participate in the first ever Demo Day at the White House.  From Southern Oregon to the White House. The team at Rogue Rovers had created a product that effectively helped farmers in their day to day work and the pre-orders were coming in.

Everything was going great, so the time was perfect to focus on the next evolution of the company.

Creating a product for the Internet of Herds (IoH)

Rogue Rovers started with the intent to design and manufacture rovers.

But during the process of talking to farmers and ranchers about the FarmDogg, what they began to realize was these folks were struggling to retrieve the most simple ID information off of animals, and that the current retrieval process was both stressful to the rancher as well as the herd. This was especially true on ranches where the animals are free range or pasture raised.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.53.12 PMThe Rogue Rover’s team saw the opportunity to create a product that could directly address a problem in ranching today, and thus was born the HerdDogg.

“ We developed HerdDogg, which is a wearable device for improved accuracy of livestock traceability and biometrics. The HerdDogg eco-system is made up from three parts: the DoggTag, the DoggBone and HerdDogg.io.The DoggTag is an ear tag designed for generating biometrics from livestock and herd animals. The DoggBone, is a small multi-pairing device that reads data from the DoggTags with an estimated range of 30 feet. It connects, transmits and stores the data using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). When the DoggBone is near a cell phone or laptop it can then transmit the data to the cloud at <HerdDogg.io. HerdDogg.io is your dashboard access to all your herd’s data available from anywhere on mobile or computer. “

One of the key features is that ranchers can put the DoggBone anywhere they want to collect data; the watering trough, a favorite tree, on your own herd dog, or even just in your pocket. The Bone is going to collect data as often as the rancher is near the herd, but because it’s using Bluetooth instead of RF or other more expensive and complex protocols, Rogue Rovers can keep it simple and low cost.

David ‘Duppy’ Proctor, the CTO of Rogue Rovers, explains how the tech is similar to some well-known wearables.doggbone.doggtag.noAGM

“ The Bone is constantly collecting herd data. The data collected includes temperature (ambient and animal), light, activity via an accelerometer and relative location – it’s like a fitbit for cows”

But the data collected goes far beyond the number of steps a cow takes in a day. The data received by the rancher is both beneficial and actionable. Cows that are sick get lethargic, and the via the dashboard, the rancher can identify potential sick cows. How quickly an animal lays down after they eat is relative to the quality of food they ingested.

The Bone’s constant gathering of data is also allowing ranchers to evolve how they breed the cows. The current method is to use tail chalk, which is a process of putting chalk on females and the chalk rubs off once the female is mounted. The Bone allows ranchers to see which cows are fidgety at night, a sign that they are in heat. Once these females are identified, the ranchers know that they have roughly 16 hours to breed them, and once the female is pregnant, this pattern of activity ceases to occur.

The percentage of cows that get pregnant during a breeding season is vital to the profitability of a ranch, and the Bone is helping ranchers increase this percentage via data gathering.Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.53.50 PM

Engaging farmers and ranchers in a collaborative manner is something that Melissa has focused on from the beginning.

“ The truth is that I just really like working with farmers and ranchers. They are the original makers. They’re clever how about to build something, being independent thinkers. Yet hey have an immense responsibility being the growers of our food and I want to help to support them. What is so exciting is to see how many of our engineers are emerging from rural Oregon and how excited they are about supporting the industry in their backyard. Rogue Rovers supports the eco-system of rural makers and engineers. The farmer’s daughters and sons today are tech savy but when it comes to applying that to the family farm–there’s still a long way to go. That’s where Rogue Rovers wants to operate.”

It is an operation that is looking to make the Rogue Valley home base for a flexible and sustainable business that is internally focused on implementing ideas and processes more similar to Silicon Valley, and putting those to work in rural areas of Oregon.

Melissa is keenly aware that creating a company for the long haul starts with creating a team that can deliver on the initial mission and goals.

IMG_5770 copy“ My team is fantastic collection of people that I have worked with, and people that have come to us. Our CTO David “Duppy” Proctor I have known since I was in elementary school. He’s a brilliant hardware technologist. I knew he was the right guy for the job but it took some convincing for him to consider doing tech outside of the consumer products and gadgets that he was used to. Now he’s completely converted. He just as happy to go out and work on site with our farmers and ranchers and get some dirt on his boots. We all like that–that’s really the best part of the job.  Our firmware engineer was referred to us by one of his partners and our web developer contacted us looking for an internship and on it goes. “

On it goes indeed. Rogue Rovers was recently featured on the show America’s Greatest Makers to pitch HerdDogg. And even though the team still believes in EV’s as a platform, they are just as excited about being the cornerstone technology around the Internet of Herds, which they all really believe is the future of Ag.

And even though the future of Ag may sound like something reserved for farmers and ranchers, there are applications some of us may see and use in the near future. The DoggBone can also generate SMS alerts, and yes, be connected to social media. So if you go in on say ¼ cow with some other folks, you can now keep track of said cow via a mobile device and possibly see some tweets about its daily activities.

Welcome to the future of ag.

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For more information, visit www.roguerovers.com. You can also follow them on twitter and instagram.

 

The ripples of design: The Soul River Runs Deep story

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Chad Brown’s journey has been a winding one.

It’s a journey that has taken him from Texas to Iraq, Somalia to New York City, and Asia to Portland. But more than the journey itself, the company he’s founded along that journey, Soul River Runs Deep, is the embodiment of a belief and mission.

“Soul River is about the embodiment of our rivers and our personal relationship in and with nature. Your ‘soul river’ is defined by your interest, passion, and love for anything in Mother Nature that is precious and healing to you.”

The brand is about bridging the gap between two different worlds – urban and nature – and syncing the two worlds as a fusion of humanity, a stand for social justice, equality, artistic expression, and nature.

It’s a brand whose origins have to be traced back along the meandering journey of a creative mind.6-860x514

The evolution of a designer

Chad’s creative tendencies started at a young age, and through a simple gesture by his mom.  She would give him a poster board from the grocery store and he would draw characters from his picture books in ink.

Simple? Yes.

But that gesture allowed Chad to evolve into an expressive and artistic person.

“As a youth, I was immersed in various extracurricular art programs within the community, public school system, and even the Art Institute of Dallas to study commercial art. Like many young, starving student artists, I needed to pay for my books, the classes, my supplies, and just school in general. That’s when I dropped out to go into the Navy.”

Chad’s time in the Navy included serving in the Operation Desert Storm Campaign in Kuwait and the Operation Restore Hope Campaign in Somalia. But even during those campaigns, he’d find opportunities to design through projects like a “how-to” manual for the command, which served as an aid for Navy and Army on-load and off-load transportation.

Once Chad left the Navy, he returned to school and completed his BFA in Communication Design at The Intercontinental University in Atlanta, Georgia. He stayed in Atlanta for a year freelancing and working as a young designer for Upscale Magazine.

“I knew that I had potential to go further but, like many artists, my strong suit was not sitting down and American-Lemon-Tie-Reversedfilling out paper applications for days. I remember sending my application into the Pratt Institute along with a cover letter that was written on a torn up fast food bag. I figured If these people know how to see beyond words on a paper, they will accept me.”

To Chad’s surprise, the administrators at Pratt believed in his potential and looked past his fast food bag cover letter and accepted him into the program. The Institute is based in Brooklyn, and while the New York City pace can sometimes swallow up people, Chad relished it.

“Living and studying in NYC inspired edginess, raw talent, and authentic perspective for me. At the time, I had never felt more expressive and true to myself. I graduated with a Masters of Science in Communication Design and the world was my oyster.”

But as he opened up that oyster, Chad quickly realized that the being a designer in NYC is not for the faint of heart. It was tough, hard and highly competitive. He worked for various agencies and design firms doing typography design, packaging design, identity development, fashion, and photography. But the agency world was not one he’d linger in too long and a moment that changed many people’s lives forever, played a role in his.

“After the Twin Towers came under attack on September 11, 2001, the economy went ballistic and, like many others, I lost my job. Actually, it was on that exact day when I was let go. I needed to survive in New York City and freelance was my only option. I came to realize, however, that I much preferred living and thriving as opposed to surviving. Surviving was symbolic to the struggle. I knew I could do better than struggle!

“Stepping out independently was, is and always has been in my DNA. I’m not one to follow the masses nor really work for the man. I’ve always been able to adapt to those environments but being so much of a creative, I tend to conceptualize and design really well independently.”

And working independently was something Chad relished at. He started as primarily a freelancer and evolved into more of a consultant, working with a broad mix of clients, including working and collaborating with Russell Simmons and his business Phat Farm. Chad was brought on to develop and design their running shoe launch.

Eventually, Chad’s freelance career took him overseas to do do design consulting and branding development in Japan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, as well as throughout the US, including Los Angeles. During this time he wore many creative hats; from art directing, to working with photographers in front of the camera, to being the photographer shooting fashion ads, as well as working on high concept campaigns bringing “big ideas” to life.

“I helped launch the TIVO campaign in Los Angeles through Campbell Ewald West. Opportunities like these gave me more confidence in knowing I could take on the world of freelance. I was eventually hired to rebrand for Epic, a leading international garment fashion house in Hong Kong. As Asia’s industry leaders and one of the world’s leading garment manufacturers in the fashion industry, Epic boasts clients with internationally recognized names such as GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch, Costco, Levi’s, Hollister, Sears, and H&M, to name a few.

“My role was not just to rebrand, but to recreate the image of the company with a fresh appeal to European, North American and Australian clients with executive buying powers. I hired a team and conceptualized the branding, photography, and video. We shot film and photography in three different countries and ultimately delivered a successful outcome”

Life was going good for Chad. But life is not always a straight path with a defined ending. 12115596_1061797197194325_4396068783544269536_n

The soul of a brand

Chad moved to Portland and continued to focus in on his creative work, but there was something that kept pulling him in a different, and sometimes dark direction – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

His once focused journey became more uncharted and riddled with uncertainty, and where he found solace was fly fishing on the beautiful rivers of the Northwest. He was introduced to the sport and he began to learn and love more than just the sport itself. The river became the place where he found the embodiment of hope combined with solace.

The place where a brand vision was hatched.

“One day, I waded out into the river and began casting with my hand half-submerged in the cool water. I felt the current pushing a strong and consistent force against my legs and the sun was beaming warmth overhead and, for a moment, I felt a surge of strength run through me as if my inner-being was re-awakened.  My mind felt clear and my soul inspired. I knew my talents and abilities could be merged with my newfound source of survival to provide exceptional, one-of-a-kind apparel and accessories for clients and customers and a medicine for my soul. Little did I know that it would spread to be much more than that! This was the ultimate conception of Soul River Runs Deep.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.02.32 AMThe brand of Soul River helped Chad merge his passion for design and expression of creativity; it was the celebration of humanity and the desire to want to create a product line that speaks of nature and displays an artistic approach.

And that expression started with the design of the Naiad – a Greek goddess.

The Naiad is the nymph of the rivers – the protector, She lives only in healthy waters and clean environments and represents mother nature as her ambassador of aquatic and natural life amongst the rivers. Many anglers see this symbol as their good luck on the water. This initial design also led to an overall brand direction.

“My artistic process is walking between the natural world and the urban world merged with inspiration from Greek mythology and fantasy and striving to give a different perspective of beauty, nature, and eclectic modernism. Using weighted-line style design and incorporating shapes, space – both positive and negative – intricately to play into an organic and playful art that we know and can identify as well as position a unique breath of fresh air. “

As Chad evolved the brand and the products around it, he experimented in more than just soft goods and attempted to design his own Soul River fly fishing reel, an attempt he emphasizes will never happen again. He sold some of the reels, but realized this was not his best pursuit and use of talent and now the focus is squarely on soft goods. A line that is inspired by, and a merging of,  military style and outdoor urbanism. A combination that defines the brand, and the various brand extensions Chad is working on.

“Design is intrinsic in everything that I do, even if it’s not seen or being worn. In my own space or in the outdoors with youth and vets, it is all connected to the artwork which is expressionistic, building the brand into the deployments of my non-profit, giving experiences that create a lifetime opportunity for veterans and youth.”Image-1

Evolving the brand in Kenton

The growth of Soul River Runs Deep, and a desire to make it more meaningful and approachable, led Chad to open up a small retail location in the vibrant Kenton neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood that is eclectic, but also has a growing local business community that Chad saw an opportunity to be a part of.

The neighborhood is also a less hectic than other areas in Portland, which Chad admits is a positive to him.

“Kenton is a little low key which is actually an advantage for me because 95% of the time I am running the shop solo and have meetings or appointments with clients elsewhere that I have no option to miss. Saturday mornings and holidays bring out shoppers who are strolling by and wanting to engage with shop owners.  The buildings are still original and have character and charm. It’s easy to let your imagination tell stories of Kenton’s history. In addition, the food scene is bustling and tends to have its own heartbeat.”

The Kenton neighborhood also stuck out to Chad because it still holds history, as the gentrification isn’t as rampant as in other neighborhoods and that demographic base is very important to the bridge Chad is hoping to build – an accessible location to the diverse demographic which the brand of Soul River serves.

“The local demographic was important to me for a variety of reasons. I was aiming to be in an ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood, one that was accessible, and one that was familiar for inner-city youth and families to visit. I appreciated that I was twenty feet from the bus and MAX line, making it more accessible for today’s urban youth. If you peek around Kenton, you won’t see any other business like Soul River Runs Deep. If you look at other fly shops, they tend to be close to rivers or on outskirts of towns…not typically in the center of the urban world. Soul River Runs Deep is so much more than a fly shop – we are a haven for new anglers of color and recently returned veterans, a boutique space that anyone can find something uniquely designed and created from Portland, and a unique shopping experience that boasts raw creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.”

Inside the retail location you’ll find more than just Soul River branded products. Chad offers a few fine local goods for customers, and that gives the shop a different and eclectic dynamic for the customer. Soul River is an anthropology mashup between art, design, nature, and fly fishing.

But forging a new retail brand while supporting a growing nonprofit poses many challenges, challenges that many entrepreneurs can relate to.

“At this very moment, the biggest hurdle is the balancing act of running a retail shop, being a creative and doing freelance design work, and directing a grass-roots, new non-profit. It’s incredibly taxing and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for ‘me,’ but I believe that the entrepreneurial path is the right one for me. With that, there are oftentimes no ‘days off.’ I have to be aware of my limits and take care of myself, but at the same time I am always creating concepts, brainstorming, and networking.”

However, in addition to the challenges, there are many opportunities on the horizon for the Soul River brand. The work Chad has done around his nonprofit, Soul River Runs Wild, is well documented. He has bridged a gap between urban teens, the environment, and veterans to being mentors for these inner city youth while teaching them the art of fly fishing.

Chad sees the opportunity to bridge the design world to inner city youth and veterans.

“This is something that I have definitely considered. Right now, I integrate design and photography in secondary and tertiary ways – designing a fly on the vice, providing opportunities for expedition participants to help the videographer. Someday, I do plan to integrate this in a richer way, but not this year.”

Trying to not do everything at once is something Chad is working on doing, and evident in the advice he’d give his former self.

“Focus on one company at a time.”

For now though, Soul River Runs Deep and Soul River Runs Wild continues to build bridges that connect design to the outdoors and inner city youth to veterans, and where success is not solely focused on the bottom line, but on the impact you have on others.

For more information, visit www.soulriverrunsdeep.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo.

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Perfected to your palette: The Time and Oak story

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What’s the difference between top-shelf whiskey and well whiskey?  Tony Peniche, 29-year-old serial entrepreneur, asked himself this question in 2014 while shopping at a local liquor store. Turns out, the answer is quite simple: time and oak. Oak barrels infuse whiskey with unique flavor and incorporate the liquid with rich natural color. And the time for the oak to do its work.

But that “time” part is tricky. It takes years and there’s never been a convenient way for people to age the spirit at home.

Tony began experimenting with Josh Thorne, a 30-year-old Air Force veteran with a background in film, who enjoys home brewing. Josh cut, burned, and cooked a variety of oaks in the hopes of finding the right temperature, and best way to expose the wood’s capillaries while accelerating the aging process. The answer: reverse engineering — aka bring the wood to the bottle. Three months of tweaking the product and hundreds of blind taste tests resulted in a crowd favorite: the Signature Whiskey Element — A Lincoln Log looking product that promised to age a bottle of whiskey in a matter of hours or days — depending on your palette. Plus it would act as a filter removing many of the chemicals and toxins that cause hangovers.

“Our fans have shown us that when you can do it in days instead of years you can get barrel aged taste to things that would have otherwise spoiled. Whether a batched cocktail or spirits such as Pisco you can keep the fresh taste and still get that nice smooth finish from the wood, we think it is really cool seeing how people use the Elements.” says David Jackson, the 32-year-old CEO of Time and Oak, which was officially incorporated on August 6, 2014, two months after its inception, by co-founders David, CEO, Josh, COO, and Tony.

Garnering crowd support for a unique product

Fast-forward three months and queue the Whiskey Element Kickstarter campaign.

“We gave ourselves a really tight timeline because you can dabble on an idea forever,” says David. The campaign launched on October 1, 2014 and was funded in 18 hours. “Hitting our goal on day one. That was our goal — because there’s a lot of proof of concept and we wanted to prove price point and get people excited about the idea.”

David believes crowdfunding is an excellent way to attain free market research — but don’t expect to get rich in the process.

“When you do a Kickstarter there’s no money. You pre-sold stuff. Your first round of deliveries are always more expensive than you can project because you have no economy of scale. You have no reorder potential. You don’t know what your supply chain really is going to look like long term. There are a lot of things you have to pay a hefty premium on getting delivered on schedule.”

IMG_1835Time and Oak asked for $18K and received $200K over the course of the month with the help of WE ARE PDX, a creative marketing agency. While getting 1000% funded may sound like a dream come true, the reality of this is a nightmare.

“It was really when we breached the $100K mark halfway through the campaign — where logistics started to pile up. You have a goal for a reason — it’s what you can reasonably accomplish with a reasonable amount of money,” says David. By the end of the Kickstarter on October 31st, 35,000 Elements had been ordered between the campaign and website. “We were promising things by Christmas. We wanted to honor all those promises but the reality of delivering on those promises became more and more difficult.”

Around the onset of the campaign Time and Oak had been published in Esquire and Popular Mechanics — and was continually being re-blogged.

“I think based on the publications they were reading, people thought they were buying the product,” says David. When people campaign on Kickstarter they’re asking supporters to back an idea or prototype — not a product already being sold. “At the tail end we had 50/50 of the 5,000 backers — those who knew what Kickstarter was and were praising us on hard work and the other 50% wondering why they hadn’t received the product yet. By mid-November we had 875 unopened emails at the beginning of the week. Everything from support emails to ‘where’s my product,’ to ‘can I carry this’ to ‘can I write about you.’ We were working all through Christmas Eve and all through Christmas — literally finishing all the different packages and getting out as many as we could. There was no stopping.”

Notwithstanding the initial boom and complications fulfilling orders on time, Time and Oak has come out ahead.

“We’ve been able to take and build an actual company underneath that.” The company grew 46% in their first year through good old fashion hard work.

Last year they signed a multi-million dollar trade agreement to manufacture all goods in Portland. Everything is locally sourced except for the wood, and each Whiskey Element is laser cut and goes through four points of hand selection.

“It increases our cost but we want the consumer to have that high quality experience.” As to outsourcing the oak, “Your favorite whiskeys are made with very specific regions of oak. And each region tastes different,” says David. “We wanted to have the most traditional taste — that’s what people expect. You put it in and expect it to taste like a good Bourbon.”10665758_934717513224010_7477042485168932444_n

Building a responsible and sustainable business

In the meantime, Project Footprint was born out of the founders’ desire to give back. Their Whiskey Elements make a more efficient use of natural forest resources than most traditional alternatives but they hoped to work on land conservation while allowing people to buy their favorite products. So for every pair of Elements sold a donation is made toward preserving one square foot of land.

Companies often have to sell and explain the value proposition of their product but according to David, the Whiskey Element has sold itself time and time again in taste tests. “I’ve consulted and I’ve grown companies — I’ve never seen something where so many people have an ‘aha’ or get it or love it.” To date they’ve offered around 40,000 blind, Pepsi style taste tests. “You taste it before and after, and the amount of people that are blown away, or say ‘wow’ or love it is huge.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.35.54 AMCelebrities, rappers, and major distillers supported and back the product. John O’Hurley, an actor and TV personality originally from Seinfeld and winner of Dancing with the Stars, fell in love with the product and is now the face of the company. Time and Oak is currently sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is used alongside America’s favorite whiskey, Jim Beam, for before and after taste tests at trade shows, craft fairs, industry events, and Saturday markets. In addition, they reached a deal with Bacardi after their national brand director of whiskey picked David’s $40 bottle over a $250 bottle in a blind taste test.

All that being said, everyone’s palette is different. And Time and Oak is not into telling people how to drink. “I think the hardest thing when you have your own idea is you start building a vision of where you think it should go. With a product like this we have multiple sales channels because of how broadly used a barrel really is. One channel is the consumer — who will chose it, taste it — they’re a great market validation. But if the consumer likes it because they put it in their own bottle why wouldn’t a distillery want to use it and sell it to them direct and get a 10 times rate of return.” Why wouldn’t you want a high end well or house whiskey? Another trend involves barrel-aging cocktails. You can put the Elements in just about anything you would traditionally barrel age. “We just had a restaurant pick us up that’s doing infused balsamic vinegar and olive oil,” says David.

time & oak cocktails006A new use of the product: infusing alcohol with different alcohols. For example, you can put the element in a bottle of scotch for half a day and then move it to a bottle of tequila for half a day — leading to an amazing smoky finish on your tequila.

As for their competition — there is nothing on the market quite like the Whiskey Elements.

“You can get pieces of oak that you put in bottles but they take weeks at a time and leave sediment in the bottle.” Time and Oak recently released the Signature Dark Whiskey Element, which “draws out notes of mellow smoke and charred oak.” They also offer multi-flavor Whiskey Elements and a monthly subscription.

For David there are many perks to being an entrepreneur.

“For me it’s the challenge. There’s something fun about taking something that hasn’t really been done and making it come to life. We failed so many times as part of the process and I wouldn’t look at any of them as failures. You just look at them as learning — the only time you fail is if you stop learning.

The reality — yeah we don’t have a ton of money and we’re not huge and we’re 18 months old. But literally surviving that first year, creating a manufacturing process, developing a supply chain — from my background in consulting I couldn’t be more proud of that. We literally are creating a new industry.” Time and Oak is currently distributing their Whiskey Elements in all 50 states and 23 countries. And they’re projecting 300 percent growth in 2016 through the addition of retail distribution as well as distillery partnerships.

According to David, it’s not about good or bad whiskey — it’s about your whiskey. “Everyone has their own flavor, and if you want to tweak a flavor this is the best product to get that flavor with. And that’s really our core and that’s kinda why I don’t like telling people how to use it other than the power of it. Have you ever seen a piece of wood that goes in a beverage? Taste it regularly. When you fall in love take it out of the bottle. Every time you put one in a bottle you’re truly making a small batch of whiskey — one bottle at a time crafted to your exact flavor.”

For more information, visit www.timeandoak.com, like them on facebook and follow them on instagram and twitter

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With PENSOLE, D’Wayne Edwards Erases Barriers to Training Aspiring Footwear Designers

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D’Wayne Edwards is a footwear designer in Portland. He holds 30 patents and has produced more than 500 designs, mostly sneakers, including those created for star athletes like Carmelo Anthony and Derek Jeter. He is one of a handful of people ever to design an Air Jordan. His cumulative sales total, spanning a 26 year career, adds up to $1 billion.

In 2011 and at the peak of his career, Edwards left his position as design director at Nike’s Jordan Brand, and began training aspiring designers through his PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy in Old Town Portland. It was his personal quest to break down the socioeconomic barriers that have kept many talented artists out of the design business.

The motivations for his mid-stream career change and the launch of PENSOLE come from his own personal experience as a poor black kid from South Los Angeles.

“All young people have to see who they want to become.”

                                                                                                     D’Wayne Edwards

 

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

The roots of an artist

Edwards was the youngest of six children, raised by a single mother in Inglewood, California during the 1980’s. He began drawing sports figures when very young but by age 12, he focused on the shoes because, “they were the most challenging thing to draw.” He had support at home—his mother and brothers were artistic too. But no one believed there was a future for a him in the design industry.

Throughout high school, Edwards continued to draw—always shoes. He had a job at McDonalds and was told he could one day become a store manager and earn a good living–$40K a year. His school guidance counselor suggested he join the military.

Noticing a small ad in the LA Times, Edwards entered a design competition sponsored by Reebok. He submitted a drawing and won. Reebok withheld the prize–a job with the company–because Edwards was only 17. They suggested he come back after he finished college.

Even if he’d had the money to attend, there were no design schools at the time with specific curriculum for footwear design.

After high school Edwards attended Santa Monica Community College, studying business management and advertising. Working at a temp agency, he was assigned to LA Gear as a file clerk. Noticing suggestion boxes placed around the office, Edwards put a hand-drawn sketch of a different sneaker in the box every day, suggesting they hire him. It took six months, but the owner of the company finally called Edwards in and decided to give him a shot.

When Edwards was hired as a designer at LA Gear in 1989, he was 19 years old and one of two African American athletic footwear designers in the US.

Edwards eventually left LA Gear and went on to Nike, and by 2008 Edwards was designing for Jordan. He began reflecting on the industry and his role within it, recalling, “At this time kids are getting killed for shoes that I’ve designed and/or worked on…It was difficult for me…I was making the product–even though I wasn’t the owner of the company–but I was associated with the idea.”

 Photo Credit: Marcus  Yam


Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

Changing the conversation and industry

Sensing a need to find a better path, in 2010 while still at Nike, Edwards taught the first PENSOLE class in partnership with University of Oregon. He asked friends with sneaker websites to post bulletins, getting applicants to submit drawings. Edwards funded the first session, paying for 40 students to attend. In the end, “That just felt better to me than creating new products and new shoes for people. Even though I loved what I did, I found more satisfaction in helping people.” In 2011 Edwards resigned from Nike to devote himself to the academy.

PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy is a lofted, creative-classroom space. It’s modern, bright, and suited to collaboration. The large, high-ceilinged room is defined by a few low walls to allow clusters of students to work. In the foyer, small-scale shoe boxes line the wall, representing students that have been placed with a brand after graduating. On the opposite wall is a suggestion box.

Beside that are photos of students who have arrived late to class and suffered the consequences–10 push-ups for every minute of tardiness. An over-sized, clear vase sits on a shelf nearby, full of pencil shavings accumulated during each month-long, intensive course—mounting evidence of the energy expended during the 14 hour days that students typically work.

The only way to attend PENSOLE is to earn a place in the academy by submitting one drawing of a sneaker, sketched by hand in pencil. Edwards receives an average of 500 drawings during each application period from which he will select 18 -25 students, based solely on their drawing. He makes sure that no two students in any class come from the same place. Selected applicants must be 18 and pay their own way to Portland. But the competitive, merit-based program covers the cost of tuition, housing, and supplies, removing socioeconomic barriers. So far, students from 35 different countries have attended the academy.

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

PENSOLE Academy is a mix of old-school rigor and innovative classroom experience. Edwards insists students use their hands and draw with pencil, a process that helps them tap into their creativity and connect to themselves as individuals. Computers, in his view, are limiting.

Stenciled on the walls and tables are memorable quotes from authors that range from Shakespeare to Bruce Lee. He starts each morning with a quote, a website, and discussion of a historical figure, all aimed at helping students develop their potential. He also assigns daily readings from the classroom library with content ranging from business to motivational topics

“I don’t have a set curriculum,” says Edwards, who doesn’t tolerate laziness. “You can’t skip one day…Part of it is getting [students] to be present so they can understand when they come here they need to be ready to work. The more you can prepare for the unexpected, the better off you’re going to be when it’s time to adapt in the professional environment…We’re training you the way you’re going to work.”

A community of more than 70 adjunct footwear designers, along with Edwards, comprise the faculty. PENSOLE’s materials lab offers the same selections available to major footwear brands. All facets of the business are taught, including consumer profiling, storytelling, terminologies, palette development, strategic thinking, and marketing plans, while at the same time cultivating leadership skills.

Edwards sets a very high standard for students to meet. “I treat them the way they want to become, which is a professional. So if you want to become a professional one day, this is what it’s going to take to get there.”

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

PENSOLE has attracted the attention of top design schools, including The Art Center in Pasadena, California and Parsons The New School for Design, in New York. Edwards established partnerships with these institutions and others, traveling to teach the PENSOLE curriculum at their campuses. These institutions realize that the classic business and dress shoes are designed and manufactured much as they have been for decades,  but the radical innovation in the industry comes from athletic footwear. (Edwards discusses the impact of the sneaker on Science Friday).

The Academy is supported by a network private donations, school scholarships, and corporate sponsors, including adidas, Nike, Foot Locker, ASICS and many others. In exchange, brand partners that sponsor classes may own the student design product, which they can choose to manufacture and sell, compensating the student for their work. (This PENSOLE graduate writes about his days at the academy)

PENSOLE itself is not an accredited institution. Its validation is grounded in results.

To date, 145 PENSOLE graduates have been placed in the footwear design industry, many of them here in Oregon. The list continues to grow, currently including Nike/Jordan, adidas, AND1, North Face, New Balance, Wolverine, Timberland, Keen, Converse, Cole Haan, Under Armour, and Stride Rite.

Still, notwithstanding this early success, many of the barriers Edwards faced as a kid nearly 30 years ago are still deeply entrenched.  Today, fewer than 100 individuals, less than 5% of footwear designers in the US, are people of color. Many of those have been mentored or taught by Edwards. Looking at gender balance within the industry, the figures are similarly alarming. So few females attempt to become footwear designers that Edwards is planning to offer a PENSOLE class just for women.

 Photo Credit: Marcus  Yam


Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

Edwards remains undaunted by the task of changing an industry from within. “PENSOLE was created to service the entire footwear industry, and everything about how we operate is about community.”

In fact, the calendar for 2016 demonstrates how his vision for PENSOLE continues to expand. In addition to teaching 8 class sessions throughout the year, a new partnership was recently announced giving students an opportunity to design footwear for Levi’s. For the first time, PENSOLE will launch its own branded product.

Fans of the immensely popular World Sneaker Championship, founded by Edwards, are already participating in the current 2016 competition that was launched in February. And in responding to requests from teachers and students across the nation, a program for high school students is currently in development, to be partly funded by a community-ownership campaign called SOLEHOLDER.

D’wayne Edwards and PENSOLE will keep knocking down these walls, one by one, driven by the words of Bruce Lee on the school wall:

“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”

Bruce Lee

 

 Thanks to Davia Larson for her contributions to this story.                                                                                                                                             

 

 Photo Credit: Marcus Yam


Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

 

Lumencor shines a transcendent light on a sustainable path to success

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Back in 2007, a fledgling company took the leap and relocated to Oregon from California, bringing with them a revolutionary product idea and a desire to live and work in a state that could provide them with the best chance to see that idea blossom and thrive.

Today, nine years later that company Lumencor Inc. manufactures its innovative light engine in a 30,000 square foot facility in Beaverton, turning the long dominant, mercury-based lamp world on its head, with not only a superior light source, but one that is significantly more energy efficient and better for the environment, because it doesn’t use mercury (or a bunch of other toxic materials) at all.

To fully conceptualize this you need to erase the image of a traditional light bulb out of your mind, because this light engine is not remotely like a bulb. The light engine features “instant on/off excitation” via electronic control so that energy is consumed (and this is the really cool part) only when illumination is needed.

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Recently we visited Lumencor for a chat with one of its co-founders, Claudia Jaffe, to find out more about the company, its technology, and its exciting potential as an enabler for even more impactful discoveries and breakthroughs in the bio-tech and manufacturing arenas.

Jaffe, who earned her doctorate in Bioanalytical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, is an inventor in nearly all of Lumencor’s patents. She is Lumencor’s Executive Vice President and oversees new business development as well as sales and marketing.

Her husband Steve Jaffe is her fellow co-founder and CEO, so the company retains many of the close knit and humanized characteristics of a family-run business, despite its growth to 60 employees (and still growing) scattered around this large facility.

A better match of business, place and capital

We started by asking Jaffe about their move from California to Oregon in 2007, and their subsequent investment by the Oregon Angel Fund (OAF). It was the very first investment by the then fledgling fund.

“We made a conscious decision to leave California and move to Portland. It is recognized as one of three or four top optics centers in the country and it was an entrée to a whole network of talent in the technical community as well as in finance, legal, marketing, all kinds of services that you need to foster and grow your business. (It’s) a place where we could develop hardware with access to optics, electronics, software and mechanics expertise.

(In Oregon) there’s a desire to build the biotech industry and that’s the market we serve. The investment community was a better match for our initial need than in Silicon Valley. That’s how we found Oregon Angel Fund, and Eric Rosenfeld (the co-founder and manager) has been a tremendous supporter since day one, since we first came scouting and met with him.”

Armed with that initial financing, Jaffe and her team went about developing and selling the technology in suburban Portland. But as with any startup and with any new technology, there had to be an underlying problem they were trying to solve. How did they approach this question, and the even more intriguing question – why hadn’t it been solved before?

“We build lighting that solves certain problems that are just fundamental to LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), but we came to this problem with an integrator’s approach to a solution. We said, ‘We’ll build a modular product so that if the customer needs only red and green light, we can satisfy that. Essentially we have a tool box and can pick and choose aspects of the lighting that specifically suit a given application.’

As a business proposition, there has been a big obstacle to solving this problem. Lighting manufacturers like to build a single product, for example a lamp based on a bulb. Then they just find many, many wall sockets in which to plug. That’s not our approach; we’re integrators.

What we do is talk to the customer, typically an equipment manufacturer, like a microscope company. We ask, ‘What are you trying to solve? What is the technical obstacle? What does the instrument look like? What does it need in terms of the color spectrum, spectral purity, brightness, fast switching time?’ It’s all of these technical performance traits that go into tailoring the light to suit the need. We call it “Tailored Illumination” because we offer control over the spectral, spatial and temporal aspects of the light. In the past lighting couldn’t be so carefully controlled in large part because it was mostly in the form of a simple bulb.

87725-5506057So when you say, ‘Why wasn’t this problem solved before?’, I have to answer because there were so many different aspects, both business and technical, that needed a customized solution, one tailored to the equipment manufacturers’ needs; and those needs vary. Today we have over 100 customers – equipment manufacturers, many individual researchers, labs, hospitals, universities. We offer off-the-shelf products for a larger group of customers but for the smaller group with large volume needs, like the equipment manufacturers, we build a unique product for every one of them. Not a lot of manufacturers of hardware want to do that.”

That begged the question – why don’t they?

“They want to build one kind of lamp. Again, I think our novelty is that we’re very solutions-oriented. You hear it all the time, but we truly are. We tailor our products for the equipment needs, the equipment specifications, and we’re very nimble in manufacturing, very modular in manufacturing and we’ve always had that posture. It’s one thing to impose that after you’ve built the first product, but it’s another thing to envision product with that in mind first.”

Jaffe then spoke about this “old” technology, the good old light bulb, and why Lumencor’s solution is better.

“Lamp manufacturers think about a bulb, and that bulb provides white light. It provides a lot of light in spectral regions that aren’t useful.

(So we said), let’s build white light not from one bulb, one source, but from six different colors as six unique sources, as an example. And if you only need three different colors, we’ll just give you those. There’s no wasted light, because the spectrum that is provided is based on the instrument need or the analysis need as the customer defines it.

Further, it’s electronically controlled so it runs off a DC power supply, not (traditional) AC, much quieter. And it’s electronically pulsed, so you can trigger it on or gate it on and off. When it’s off, it’s because the lights are truly off, not because it’s blocked. All that savings in energy and heat and spectral purity, it’s just a completely different posture for how to provide the light.”

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An enabler of transformative discoveries and inventions

With this better light source, Lumencor becomes an enabler of some grander discoveries and inventions. Jaffe elaborated on this, and those things that have made her sit back in her chair and say, “If it wasn’t for us, this wouldn’t have happened”.

“Well, if it wasn’t for us, some of the kinds of experiments that you can do today wouldn’t be happening. We are truly enabling drug discovery, as one example. Let’s say you want to identify drugs that interact with cells in a certain way. What’s the best way to do that? Watch the cells. But for the most part, the biology hasn’t been done that way – historically you would have a sample of tissue and put it on a microscope slide or create a milkshake literally of cells and add things to it and then test that.

But with our products, the light is kinder, gentler, less disruptive to actual real-time cellular function. Because the light can actually probe at video rates, real-time events in cells, you can literally watch cellular events that you didn’t use to be able to. Tumors are cells gone wild, and with our lighting, you can actually watch the cells replicate in real time and do so in the presence and absence of some potential drug. You cannot do that with a simple lamp.

It’s really interrogating the cell of a tissue in a way that allows you to optically discriminate what you couldn’t see just with the naked eye. This is enabled by the process of fluorescence. Its possible to impose fluorescence in cells or in tissues, to label them if you will with light reactive tags, that allow you to discriminate at a molecular level what’s happening to that biology. The quality of the light very much influences how well you can detect those cellular events.”

A commitment to sustainability

The other side benefit of the technology is its sustainability and environmental friendliness, attributes that Jaffe and Lumencor have leveraged into an overall “green” approach that extends all the way to the packing materials and the building it occupies. Jaffe explains,

lumencor“We built this company, used solid-state components and never used mercury in anything that we ever built. We’re lucky, in that our light engines are relatively low power consuming, they don’t generate heat, and they’re all clean tech. We’ve only ever shipped in recyclable materials and it’s a green kind of process and philosophy we use throughout our organization. It’s a value that we have, a value that the whole organization has, and we just are always thinking about that when we start new processes, ‘How can we do it in a way that is consistent with that value?’

But what about the higher costs to live up to this philosophy?

“The money proposition is very short-sighted. I don’t think there’s any question that, in the long term, it is cheaper to do with a “green” solution. Yes, for the initial investment it may be a little more expensive to buy “sustainable” product. But the overall impact has to include costly waste disposal, long term energy consumption, instrument down-time during maintenance, replacement parts. Plus it goes back to how passionate are you about (being green) – is it really a value for you? I have to believe the scientific community that supports life sciences values this too.“

Following your passion

Lastly, nine years on in Oregon, Jaffe offered advice to those folks that that are thinking about taking the kind of big technological leaps that they took, but perhaps are reluctant because it just seems too hard, even though they have a great idea.

“Isn’t that where all the joy and value comes from, doing something that’s hard? And I also think you have got to follow your passion. I have two little girls, they’re 12 and 14, and I tell them that all the time. ‘Figure out what you love to do and then just do a lot of it. Whether it’s mathematics, arts, music or history, whatever it is, if you have passion and volume, you just discover things more deeply and do them more thoroughly. Do it intensely for a long period of time and expertise will come.’ And that’s what brings you to good work, right?

Before this job, I hadn’t worked for any organization, (I had many different jobs), for longer than two years. I’ve been here nine years and I can’t wait to get to work. We have a very respectful work environment, the people are all great and we know we’re doing valuable work. That makes it much easier to be committed.”

The story of Lumencor epitomizes the promise of Oregon entrepreneurship and its unique take on the role of people, place and the environment, as well as the important role of angel funds like OAF, and the other Oregonians who are willing to invest risk capital to help turn that promise into many successes.

It’s a story that shines an altogether different light than what comes out of their Beaverton factory, but it’s a very bright and illuminating light nonetheless.

To learn more about Lumencor, visit its website at lumencor.com.

Crafting from the cauldron: A Q&A with Jim Mills from Caldera Brewing

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Jim Mills is the founder of Caldera Brewing in Ashland, OR. Having been in the business since the late 1990’s, he has been at the forefront of the craft brewing industry’s rise here in Oregon. Jim was nice enough to do a Q&A with Built Oregon on everything from microcanning to sustainability.

What was the original genesis of launching Caldera?

Incorporated in 1996, first brew July 4, 1997, first keg sold August 28, 1997.

Who thought of the name Caldera and what’s the backstory on how it came to be?

I did. It means boiling kettle or cauldron in Spanish. Where all the magic happens in the kettle.

Did you (or any of the other founders)  have a brewery background when you launched the business?

I am the only founder. I have some silent investors that have a small minority share of Caldera. I did learn quite a bit from homebrewing. I honed many of my recipes while homebrewing. I was brewing around 8-10 ten gallon batches per month. When I started working in the brewery at Rogue I learned more commercial techniques (moving liquid with pumps, hooking things up correctly, troubleshooting and fixing broken equipment, yeast management on a much larger scale, etc.). I did glean as much as I could from Rogue as I knew I would start my own brewery someday.

Talk a bit about Ashland – were you all from Ashland originally? Did you always know that Ashland would be home to Caldera?

I moved to Ashland in 1989 to finish college. Knew within 3 weeks that I wanted to live here. Mountains, lakes, rivers, great weather. Outdoor life and a plethora of activities.

What were the first beers you brewed and what were some of the early challenges you faced as you launched a craft brewery?

Pale Ale and Dry hop Red were the first brews I launched. I self distributed for the first 6 years. Was tough doing everything myself. Educated Southern Oregon beer drinkers about craft beers. Was pretty Bud/Coors based back in 97.

What were some of the bumps in the road and early successes as you scaled up your brewery and flagship line of beers?

Ashland Amber was originally trademarked by Rogue. I watched the expiration date like a hawk and when they didn’t renew it, I trademarked it. Only makes sense since Rogue pulled out of Ashland in 1997 before Caldera’s first brew was brewed. Ashland Amber was a hit from the get go. Most bars and restaurants that had draft beer systems put it on tap and soon it became the top selling beer in Ashland. It still is today out of Summit Beverage’s line up of beers they offer. That being said, it seemed like every time I was getting a little ahead, I had to purchase more equipment and take out more loans.

You made the decision in 2005 to can your own beer – what led to the decision to invest in the canning equipment and be a pioneer in the craft beer canning game?

I received a flyer about cans and busted out a calculator and saw they had potential. Numbers made sense. Again educating consumers that good beer could be put in cans was hardest obstacle to overcome. Nobody was canning back then.

How were the cans received both from a public and distributor standpoint?

Everybody thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I knew the benefits of cans outweighed the negatives by a long shot.

The growth you saw led to the new facility being built in Ashland – including a new canning machine. How has the expanded operation allowed you to make more of an impact both to the business itself and also the community from a jobs standpoint?

I had 10 employees before building the new brewery – 18 if you count the Tap House which I started in 2009. I now have 80 employees and a facility where we have some room to breathe. I discouraged the public from visiting the old brewery as it was simply a hazard for people to be walking around with all day fork lift traffic.caldera_new_brewery1

Sustainability seems to be something that is core to your business. How did this become a focus and talk a bit about choosing to do things this way from the start. 

I always laugh that we were green before green was the cool thing to do. It is something dear to my heart. To take care of the planet only makes sense. Growing up I saw how detrimental people treated the planet and it didn’t make sense to me at all. Especially when these people had kids and grandkids. Fresh clean water makes excellent beer (the main reason for choosing Ashland to start Caldera). Also what I didn’t understand growing up was not only the environmental benefit of taking care of the earth, but it also makes huge economic sense. You pay for garbage removal, but do not pay for recycling, so I recycled as much as possible. Also day lighting in any building will cut down on lighting costs. It seems like everything I did that had an environmental impact also had a huge economic impact as well. The two go hand in hand.

Has the massive increase in craft breweries affected your business at all? What are your thoughts on the overall growth of the industry?

It only makes everybody grow. My friends and I that had craft breweries back in the late 90’s always knew we were not competitors, but rather Bud/Coors were our competitors. The massive growth of craft breweries is due to more people discovering/enjoying a good quality beer. This only helps our market share. Plenty to go around for everybody.

In addition to the increased production, the bigger facility also gave you more space to  experiment – talk a bit about how important this is to craft brewers.

We had a small 10 barrel system at our old brewery. I knew that when we built the new brewery, I wanted to set up a 30 barrel system, but also keep the 10 barrel system for one off/pub beers. We brew unique beers for the Tap House and the restaurant at the brewery. Also some distributors get ahold of some of these beers. It keeps the public interested as the public wants new/ experimental beers.IMG_4796

What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities you see on the horizon?

Consolidation has been happening for a few years now with big breweries buying stakes in craft breweries. Also investment firms are getting into the scene. This can create some challenges as these craft breweries have even more of a presence via their distributors. There are many beers on the shelves these days which is a good thing, but also makes it more difficult to stay relevant to your customer base as there a more choices than ever now. On the flip side, there are mrs opportunities to get store placements because craft is widely accepted by the consumers.

If you could go back in time to when this journey started and tell yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?

My motto has been “Never sacrifice quality”. I would never change this, but I would have started the brewery with more money so I could have been where Caldera needed to be equipment wise rather than cash flowing and taking out multiple loans to get to that point. Then again who knows if I could have afforded the bigger payments. Kind of a catch 22.

How do you come up with the names for all the beers, and do you have a couple favorite names?

I think about new beers and names all the time. A couple of my favorites are:

Vas Deferens Ale

Hopportunity Knocks IPA

Hop Hash IPA (I was the first commercial brewer to ever use hop hash)

Mother Pucker Raspberry Sour

For more information, visit www.calderabrewing.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Keeping it simple, genuine, and real: The Brazi Bites story

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Keep it simple, genuine, and real.

This is the mantra that Brazi Bites founders Junea Rocha and her husband Cameron MacMullin live and work by, and, of course, this is the philosophy that lives in the hearts and minds of many Oregonians.

But more than just a mantra, it defines the brand values of a company that is on a journey to bring a little taste of Brazil to the United States. A journey that began when Junea initially made her way to the U.S. through a work exchange program, and has taken the couple from growing local production here in Portland to being in front of the cameras on Shark Tank.

It’s a journey that began with the simple desire to make the distance between Brazil and Portland seem a bit smaller, one tasty bite at a time.cameron   junea profile

Bringing a taste of home to Oregon

“I grew up with Pao de Queijo (pronounced “pow day kayyo”) a popular Brazilian staple, cheese bread. When I met and married my husband Cameron, I moved to Portland to be with him. Soon I  started missing my favorite snack and realized I couldn’t find it here. In 2009, I asked my mother for her recipe. This recipe began several generations ago with my grandmother, who grew up on a farm, with fresh milk, eggs and cheese.”

The first challenge Junea encountered was finding the right cheese.The cheese used in Brazil is called Minas. It is not available in the U.S. Thus, they went about finding a replacement – no easy task.

The process involved testing hundreds of cheeses. Junea and Cameron tried every possible combination, and through trial and error,  found that mild white cheddar with parmesan gives the perfect cheesy bite.

The bread has very few ingredients in it. Along with the cheeses, milk and eggs, Brazi Bites uses tapioca flour from Brazil, safflower oil, water and salt. The bread is naturally free from gluten, soy, and sugar but is loaded with taste.

With the recipe set, it was time to do some market research.

“Our first test of the product was at the Spring Beer and Wine Festival here in Portland. We made a ton of freshly baked product and it sold out half way through the show. We knew then that we had something special.”

But having something special does not always translate into being a successful business.

To get started, the couple took a 12-week course on how to take a family recipe to market, offered at Portland City College. The course covered packaging, regulations, marketing and branding, which gave them a huge leg up.

12249781_1160513880629544_7961723686897027647_n“The recipe-to-market class is unique to Portland as is the support system here. People are very willing to share their expertise and see you succeed. Another thing we found is shared kitchen space. Because it’s so expensive to start, we looked into sharing our overhead at a facility in Tigard. We did that for a year, then moved on to our own location. When we were ready to leave, there was another up and coming company ready to move in. This ecosystem is very important – not only are you sharing costs but knowledge. The mistakes NOT made because of the shared experiences … this is invaluable.”

But even with the knowledge gained and support of the Oregon food ecosystem, success is still hard to come by. Going from markets and shows to grocery freezers many times takes having a key person on your side.

Junea and Cameron found a champion in Denise Breyley, a local forager with Whole Foods. Denise travels the Northwest to find the best new products and produce to bring to Whole Foods, before anyone else sees them.

“Denise saw us at a food event early in our journey. She tasted our bread, loved it and gave us the chance with Whole Foods. We started in the Pearl store and grew from there. She has helped us get Brazi Bites into more stores, more regions of the country, even helped us with better shelf space.”

To honor the invaluable mentoring, Junea and Cameron give in return. It’s a way of recognizing the ecosystem does not thrive without putting in as much as you get out.

“Denise is always doing events for Whole Foods so we support her with product. And, we will meet with younger brands she is working with, to share our knowledge and experience.”

Sounds simple, right? Work hard and focus. Always listen to your customer. Adjust to market conditions, the next obstacle, the next lesson. Give back to the ecosystem that gave so much to you.

It also takes a good team of employees.

“The employees love working here because it’s a family company and they know that Cameron and I have done every single job here. We’ve mixed the dough, swept the floors, checked the freezers and they know this. Working side by side builds mutual respect.”

Success also takes something else – the guts and courage to put it all out there.

In November of last year, the couple went before the Sharks on the hit TV show Shark Tank.

“Shark Tank was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had, nerve wracking but you also know something big is happening. We went on the show with so much gratitude just to be there, that we actually had a blast.”

And of course, the Sharks loved the bread. Junea and Cameron are now negotiating a deal. The details are not ready to be released, but they will be shortly.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 3.29.32 PM

Growing by concentrating on the core

From a simple idea to being under the lights of Shark Tank, The Brazi Bites journey is one that has taken many twists and turns – so what’s next?

Currently Brazi Bites comes in four flavors: the original cheese bread plus Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Garlic Asiago and Nitrate-Free Bacon. That’s it for now for this “take and bake” style snack found in the frozen freezer department of over 1,000 grocery stores.

With the growth comes questions on how to expand and enhance the product line. Whether to add more flavors or brand extensions are questions many founders ask themselves. But to Junea and Cameron, the answers always tie back to being true to what they started. They realize that if you lose your focus, the core brand can go sideways, or worse, downhill altogether.

“We are staying really focused on Brazilian cheese bread, period. Potentially we might do more flavors and more sizes but we want to remain true to the original cheese bread line’” adding

“We work very hard and focus on the quality of our product. It’s a daily fight to make sure you make the best product while you continue to grow.”

Since September of last year, Brazi Bites sales have grown 10-fold per month.

bb pack v1“We don’t want to be another casualty of the food industry. ‘Oh you have the perfect artisanal product, everyone loves you, you have a great family story.’ And then you get so big your quality goes – you’re everywhere, and you have a horrible product because you grew too fast while trying to save another 5 cents.

We want to offer an artisanal product that has national distribution. Sometimes you have to say ‘no.’  We walked away from a lower quality of cheese and tapioca flour and said no to fillers. The margins would go up but the product would suffer.”

It all goes back to the original mantra of simple, genuine and real.

“Our story would not have happened anywhere else in the country, with the exception of maybe Austin, Texas and possibly Denver or New York City “ says Junea. “Because Portland knows about great food and artisanal products, you start your company out at a very high level, otherwise, you will not succeed. People here want the best of the best.”

The end game for Junea and Cameron?

“We want Brazi Bites to be in every freezer in every grocery store all over the country.”
They are well on their way.

For more information, visit www.brazibites.com. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram

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