Saturday, September 18, 2021

Poole College students turn a passion for produce into big business

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But as any entrepreneur can tell you, starting a new business isn’t for the faint of heart. Hear more from Kornegay about launching Ripe Revival, navigating a company in the midst of a global pandemic, and a few lessons learned along the way… Brother and sister duo Will Kornegay and Laura Hearns, both graduates of the Poole College of Management, are making waves in the food industry by combining two of their passions – reducing farm excess and fighting hunger with their company Ripe Revival. How? By taking excess fruits and vegetables from farms that would typically go to waste because they are misshapen or oddly sized and using a proprietary technology that concentrates healthy proteins and fruit compounds and modifies proteins so as not to trigger allergic reactions – all to create protein-packed fruit gummies.

Laura and I both worked in the fresh produce industry – actually as competitors – for nearly a decade. We worked for two of the largest sweet potato grower, packer, shipper and processor operations in the country. There we were exposed to immense amounts of experience across the supply chain from the farm to the consumer. Both operations, being so large, were able to experience economies of scale that allowed them to use nearly 100% of their own crops in a very efficient manner.   

How did you come up with the idea of Ripe Revival?

They were included in the statistic reporting that up to 40% of U.S. farmers’ crops are lost or left in the field each year due to odd shape, size or other cosmetic defects that make them “unmarketable.” At the same time, one in eight individuals in the U.S. have experienced, or are experiencing, food insecurity – with difficulty finding access to fresh, healthy and nutritious foods.

During our years in the industry, however, we began to see many smaller farmers and family operations that did not have the same luxury and were unable to utilize all of their crops, which severely impacted their efficiency and profitability. They were included in the statistic reporting that up to 40% of U.S. farmers’ crops are lost or left in the field each year due to odd shape, size or other cosmetic defects that make them “unmarketable.” At the same time, one in eight individuals in the U.S. have experienced, or are experiencing, food insecurity – with difficulty finding access to fresh, healthy and nutritious foods.   

Our desire was to take our experience and knowledge gleaned from working at large farm operations and find ways to incorporate those principles into a business model where we can make an impact on smaller operations – with a unilateral movement to impact waste and hunger as a community centered on bridging the gap between excess and access. 

With a mission to accomplish all this through better-for-you functional foods, we launched Ripe Revival with a line of patented protein gummies that utilize upcycled produce as key ingredients. We received an award from the Kroger Foundation, which allowed us to scale our business while also integrating new strategies into the mix.

Starting a business from the ground up is very difficult and takes a lot of patience and persistence! There are so many things I could share, as starting a business comes with both tangible and intangible elements that impact success and survival. I believe the two most difficult variables to manage when starting a business, however, are funding and time.

What was the hardest part of starting a company from the ground up?

I believe the two most difficult variables to manage when starting a business, however, are funding and time.

It costs quite a bit of money to start a CPG (consumer packaged good) business or food manufacturing business. Aside from the legal process of establishing the business, we had to invest a significant amount of capital into research and development, equipment and infrastructure, and packaging and inventory – just to name a few. Managing runway on the road to profitability can be very overwhelming and difficult and requires a lot of hard work and strategic planning. 

Additionally, the most valuable resource we have is time. There is never enough time in the day to get everything done, and it can be daunting to start a business knowing that this will be the case for quite a while. Learning to allocate time while also maintaining a healthy work/life balance is very difficult – especially with as much risk on the line as we have. 

What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you got started?

There are many things that we have learned over the past two years that would have made life much easier had we known them when we first started the business! For starters, knowing that an international pandemic would rock our world a few short months into launching would have been a huge bonus! On a more serious note, I think the reality of unexpected challenges is one of the more critical things that entrepreneurs face when starting a business. There are many unknowns, especially in innovative areas like the ones we are working to address, so taking all experiences, learning from them, and applying them to the future is very important. This goes for good and bad experiences alike. There is much to be learned from both – and we know first-hand that in order to keep pushing forward you have to take that mentality. Learning is how you continue to evolve and adapt your business to consumer demands, industry trends and transitions, supply chain management, and ultimately business development. 

What resources do you find most helpful in running a business?

For starters, founders must understand that they cannot do all things.

For starters, founders must understand that they cannot do all things. No matter how much we want to be able to do so, it is not physically or emotionally possible. We’ve learned the importance of knowing when to outsource or rely on others for things that may or may not be worth spending our own time on. Take technology – there are so many resources surrounding e-commerce and social media management. Investments in software and marketing professionals have also proven to be very helpful in our journey.   

What part of running Ripe Revival has been most challenging? Most rewarding?

There are also great resources to be found and utilized in organizations whose primary goal is to help small businesses. We have leaned directly on organizations like the SBA (Small Business Administration), the SBDTC (Small Business Technology and Development Center),  state and local economic development teams, and both public and private schools or universities. These organizations exist to help, and they offer many programs that small businesses can benefit greatly from. Lastly, there are many opportunities for grants and funding at both the local and national levels. We’ve been very fortunate to have found support from organizations like NC IDEA and The Kroger Foundation that have invested in our team and our mission.

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