Nuts for Business: 11-month MBA Grad Wins Bard Center Entrepreneurship Award
By Shayne Clark, March 2010
If every business owner had the same drive for social responsibility as Olomomo Nut Company founder Justin Perkins, the world would be a better place. A native of Boulder, Perkins started his business in an effort to provide a healthy alternative to snacks currently found in places like coffee shops. His story of success is an inspiring one.
After his life-changing experience of attempting to attract artists to Africa to bring awareness to the issues of indigenous groups, Perkins decided to attend the Business School’s 11-Month MBA program (‘03). “That experience really inspired me to come back and learn how to start a sustainable organization and run a business,” Perkins explains. Eager to get into the market and launch his efforts, the 11-Month MBA program suited him perfectly. “I think the value of the program is you quickly see how everything in a business fits together.”
Getting a master’s degree helped Perkins see situations from a new perspective. While working in Washington, D.C., he happened upon a man roasting and selling nuts at a farmers market. Keen on the idea and exercising his entrepreneurial spirit, Perkins began looking for ways to start a similar business back in Colorado.
“I signed up for the farmers markets before I even had the product developed, but I came up with my first flavor two weeks before the first market.” After one year of direct sales at a handful of farmers markets, Olomomo sold nearly 10,000 bags of artisan kettle-roasted nuts.
In June of 2009, Perkins won $10,000 when he took first place in the Bard Center for Entrepreneurship’s eighth annual business plan competition. Having first been a part of the contest while in graduate school, Perkins paid close attention to who won and why. Running a business he was completely devoted to helped him win the award. “I think the difference is having a little skin in it … this [project] was something that I had already put a year of sweat into.”
Winning the Bard Center award has allowed him to recoup some of his start-up costs and begin to push his product into the wholesale market. Olomomo recently secured a distribution deal to sell its products in 25 coffee shops, bars, cafes and natural food stores. In addition, Justin continues to look at online opportunities, currently distributing product through the online farmers market, Foodzie.com. He also continues trying to find a way to package his product sustainably.
And, like any good businessman, he has a plan for his success: “I am hoping to build the high-end national all-natural nut brand – like Celestial Seasonings was to Lipton back in the day. I want to be that guy in the nut industry.”