CSU alumni discuss their experiences launching businesses post graduation

Christina Vessa

Founders of Stuff’n Mallows celebrate breaking the world record for most people simultaneously eating smores in April. (Photo Credit: Christina Vessa).

Editor’s note: It was previously misstated that the CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge had replaced the Venture Accelerator Program. The Collegian regrets its error.

Chocolate chip-stuffed marshmallows and frozen vegetable cubes are only two products of the expanding businesses started by Colorado State University graduates from the College of Business.

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Funding, structural framework and support have helped bridge the gap between ideas and reality for college entrepreneurs through programs such as the CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge and the Venture Accelerator program. CSU is a 50/50 partner in the Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge, which is an entrepreneurial business pitch competition. The Venture Accelerator program provides students with training, mentoring and advising for their ventures in order to familiarize them with the entrepreneurial environment.

One of the first groups to enter the program in 2013 was Stuff’n Mallows, a unique marshmallow company founded by three CSU graduates who were looking to create the perfect s’more.

Through this program, the Stuff’n Mallows crew worked step-by-step in developing the framework for their business. Pitching their idea to local CEOs in a workshop environment was one of the most helpful aspects of the program, said Paul Jenkins, co-founder of Stuff’n Mallows.

“We didn’t know anything about financing,” Jenkins said. “We didn’t know anything about pricing. Since it was such a new program, we didn’t know what to expect. We wore suits and ties and roasted marshmallows in front of them.”

Upon completing the Venture Accelerator Program in 2013, Stuff’n Mallows won second place. The business received $5,000 in start-up capital and an office space, which allowed them to launch and begin expanding in the Fort Collins area.

Purenfusion was founded by another graduate who participated in the Venture Accelerator program, Nick Quaintance. He said the program and entrepreneurial classes in the College of Business allowed him to progressively launch his idea.

“Right as we decided to give this an honest effort, I got into the Venture Accelerator program and from there, I started building the business from the ground up,” Quaintance said. “That was the time when I realized this had potential as a business.”

Purenfusion currently has two flavors of products. (Photo Credit: Purenfusion.com).
Purenfusion currently has two flavors of products. (Photo Courtesy: Purenfusion.com).

Since Americans are now prioritizing making healthy food choices, Purenfusion offers a new take on eating vegetables, said Quaintance. He said his goal is to make eating vegetables as convenient as possible through frozen, pureed vegetable cubes that can be incorporated into smoothies and meals. The product is fresh, organic and locally sourced from places including Fossil Creek Farms and Happy Heart Farm.

Quaintance said testing his minimum viable product at the Opera Galleria Winter Farmers’ Market allowed him to gauge a response from potential customers.

“We started with the minimum product, just to see the response,” Quaintance said. “We didn’t want to invest more time and effort if we didn’t get that initial verification. We used the winter market as our testing grounds and found out that people are actively looking for a product like this.”

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The process of upgrading design packaging and promotion came next for Quaintance and his sister, Alexa Croft. Now they are working toward expanding in the area.

Both Stuff’n Mallows and Purenfusion began with an idea and progressively launched with help from resources within the College of Business.

“You can make a product as perfect as you want in your head, but until you get it out there and in front of strangers’ eyes and get their feedback on it, you are not able to refine it again and again into something that is better suited for the random person,” Quaintance said.

Purenfusion can be found at the Opera Galleria Winter Farmers’ Market, the Fort Collins Food Co-Operative and Mugs Coffee Lounge. Stuff’n Mallows can be found in 500 stores around Colorado.

“It is important to look back at the reason why you started,” Quaintance said. “Always be willing to adjust and refine your product even more.”

The bigger a business grows, the more work that comes along with it, said Jenkins. He said the success of Stuff’n Mallows has motivated him to learn how to saturate the market and establish a brand identity.

“Something as simple as a chocolate chip-stuffed marshmallow, you can make a whole business around it,” said James Schrack, co-founder of Stuff’n Mallows. “The most rewarding part to me is that we actually made something. It doesn’t have to be how people say it should be. You can pave your own path.”

The Venture Accelerator Program gave these CSU graduates the resources necessary to launch their businesses on a small scale, then progressively move toward larger goals.

“Me and my dad used to make these by the campfire,” said Tyler Krenzelok, co-founder of Stuff’n Mallows. “Now we are caught up in the big picture of where we have to go. But if you take the smaller picture and look at where we started and how far we have come, it is so rewarding to me. It is not easy, but the entrepreneur dream can be there. You gotta work your butt off to get it, but you can have an idea (succeed) and its pretty cool.”

Collegian Reporter Christina Vessa can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @ChrissyVessa.