Rachel Irons is the owner of Founding Foods, a producer of sweet and savory vegan meal bars and wild boar jerky in Boulder, Colorado. Founding Foods is the winner of the very first $10,000 Nav “Legitify Your Business” Grant.
Rachel’s submission stood out to the Nav selection committee for a number of reasons — her business had a unique challenge and clear plan for how the extra capital could help. You can read her full Facebook post for her submission to the grant here.
The Nav small business grant will be reopening for applications on June 15 with some updates and additional prizes for runners-up. If you’re a small business owner interested in applying, you can visit the grant page after June 15 for details on applying.
We got the chance to sit down with Rachel and learn more about the origins of Founding Foods, the great work they’re doing to help the environment and educate customers about sustainable food sources, and their plans moving forward.
Why did you start the Founding Foods?
I had this idea that if you can have a successful business there’s a lot of interesting and effective ways you can have a positive impact on the world around you. It’s almost limitless, from who you hire, where you source form, the product you’re actually making, the relationship you have with your customers and the education component that can be found there. I found that to be really attractive.
How have you been able to find opportunities to educate?
We do a lot of education at farmers markets and events like that, because you’re talking to every single customer. We also do a lot of demos as well at stores. Most of our interaction with our customer base right now is person-to-person, so I make sure every person who works with me knows that education is really important. So every person that comes up to look at the (wild boar) jerky we talk about how it’s an invasive species and that’s the whole reason we’re doing this.
How did you get the money to start the company?
Very bare bones. I saved up a couple thousand dollars just from working and have just been funding it myself. It pays for itself now, we’re about breaking even, but I’m pretty good at being thrifty. I also have a lot of amazing friends who have been volunteering their time, which helps a lot.
So you’re a vegetarian, how did you go from making vegan meal bars to including wild boar jerky?
The original thought for the company was to be a meal supply service for backpackers, because I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and made all of our food for that. We had a lot of time to talk while we were hiking and were thinking through it all, and bars seemed like a really easy thing to start with. I had made bars for us and knew how to make them, and we thought savory bars would be great, because when you’re hiking you want savory stuff and you’re sick of sweet things all the time and there aren’t many good options out there.
In terms of the meat, I’m a vegetarian, I have been for ten years, but I recognize that a lot of people want to eat meat, and are going to eat meant. And I, in good conscience, couldn’t make a meat product from a factory or farm-raised animal. I had learned about invasive species in college with lionfish in the Caribbean, which are edible, and there’s been a lot of success controlling them in those areas by getting people to eat them. So that just seemed like the perfect solution to provide meat to people who want to eat it in a very environmentally friendly way.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
Money’s definitely an issue, there’s never extra and that’s tough. But also having to do everything. I do have people who help out, but I have to wear a lot of hats and I’m not good at everything and you have to be good at a lot of things. The biggest challenge recently has been that we’ve been kind of stuck in this place where we want to expand and we have demand but don’t have the capital we need to get there, so we’re trying to make as much as we can, but we’re always just barely keeping up.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
I would say people’s reactions to the food that we make. The way a lot of people respond to the way it tastes and the way it makes them feel is exactly what I intended it to do, which is really cool to hear.
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting the company?
Maybe just not thinking things through enough, but I feel like that’s also kind of a good thing. There is some benefit to being kind of naïve about things, because you’re less scared about it, but there are definitely some things that could’ve been better planned out and executed.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Just jump into it, go for it. I think a lot of people overthink it. You should think it through, but if you think about it too much you’re probably never going to do it. I had no idea what I was doing when I started but you figure it out as you go along.
What are your plans with the $10,000 from the grant?
We’re going to use it to do the first round with a larger co-packer who will actually make the jerky for us so we’ll be able to sell it in stores. We can’t do that right now because we don’t have a USDA-certified kitchen, so it’s going to be a huge step forward for us. We’ll also, obviously, be able to do a lot bigger quantities. Right now we can do 80 pounds at a time, they’ll be doing 2,000 pounds at a time. So, it’s a huge jump and really the only way we can scale it from this point.
Where do you see Founding Foods 5 years from now?
Five years from now I’d love to be a national brand. With the jerky, there’s something called a mobile slaughter unit, and it’s basically a slaughterhouse in a trailer. I imagine having caravans that include a mobile slaughter unit, a jerky-making trailer, and a trapping trailer, and these could travel them around the South and trap boar process them into jerky and send them out from there, and it’d be very localized and effective.
What could your business do with $10,000? Check out Nav's "Legitify Your Small Business" Grant now to find out how your business could win interest-free financing.