An empty jar of peanut butter on a rainy afternoon turned into quite an entrepreneurial success.
Keeley Tillotson shared her business story last week at the second annual Entrepreneur Fair that was held in the Community Building at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. When she and her college roommate, Erica Welsh, both sophomores at the University of Oregon, ran out of peanut butter, they opted to make their own rather than ride their bikes in the rain to the store.
Luckily they had a bag of peanuts, a food processor and, according to them, “two squirrely little minds.” So after they had whipped up the peanut butter, they began to add ingredients that they like with peanut butter. Into the processor went cinnamon, raisins, chocolate chips, coffee and coconut. There was extensive sampling after each mixing.
Eventually, family and friends tasted the different recipes, and they were well received. That led to a website, orders and sales of jars of the different flavors.
In about 15 months, Tillotson and Welsh, the co-founders of Wild Friends Nut Butter, have expanded their business from home sales to distribution to almost 900 stores nationwide. The two were also featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” and their short road to success has been detailed in several major publications.
Organizers of the Entrepreneur Fair invited Tillotson and Nikos Ridge of Ninkasi Brewing of Eugene to be the featured speakers at the event, which attracted about 160 people. Ninkasi was founded in 2006 and has expanded from one beer to several that are distributed to a half dozen Western states and British Columbia.
The hope was that these two stories of fledging small businesses becoming steady successes would inspire others to develop or expand on their business ideas.
“I tell people to start now, don’t wait for the perfect business plan,” Tillotson said. “When you’re small and learning, you can make mistakes, and you’re not hurt by them. People get worried they’re not going to do it right, that they’ll make mistakes. But if you start small, you can deal with the mistakes.”
Tillotson added that another key to being successful in a startup is picking the right partner if a partnership is desired.
“You need to complement each other,” she said. “Erica and I have totally different skill sets. That’s worked for us.”
In addition to inspiration, visitors to the fair were able to glean information from 11 seminars and 20 vendors.
Audrey Skullee of Roseburg said she attended two seminars and was most intrigued by the one about attracting customers with mobile marketing.
“I keep getting little tips, but to be able to talk to (presentor) Trevor Mauch in-depth about marketing and have him explain ‘the whys’ about it was really helpful,” Skullee said. “Just like the Wild Friends story, I’m learning as I’m going.”
Tim Allen and Rick Coen, both Roseburg businessmen, said they are hopeful the fair will help or inspire those who already have a small business or who are considering a venture.
“I don’t think most entrepreneurs are aware of the magnitude of what’s available to help them, at a low or no cost,” Allen said. “To have all these people and services together in one spot for a day is good for those interested in starting a new business.”
• News-Review Features Editor Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.