Ease your jet lag with some lighter Friday fare
Today’s itinerary: Pennsylvania’s Crayola company going strong; meet an ice cream entrepreneur; help for Grand Rapids artisans; kombucha; and stress-relief technology.
August 30, 2019
The life of an American crayon
Photo courtesy needpix.com
Who knew that colored wax sticks would have such staying power? Well, actually, everyone who ever held one in their sticky little hand did. Who doesn't love a crayon?
Crayola was just featured as one of the select international brands that have thrived and stayed relevant for more than a century by CNN's 100 Club. Crayola, which has called Lehigh Valley, PA, its home since the turn of the century, invented the crayon.
Since the first box of Crayola rolled off the assembly line in 1903 in Lehigh Valley, Crayola has inspired creativity in children, offering them a way to express what they’re thinking. The Crayola brand has since grown into a portfolio of innovative art tools, crafting activities, and creative toys that give kids the power to express what inspires them.
CEO Smith Holland says that the company “has a timeless mission and as long as we adjust to that, we will continue to thrive.” Crayola, LLC claims the Crayola brand has 99% name recognition in US consumer households and says its products are marketed and sold in more than 80 countries.
One thing that keeps the company relevant is its devoted customer base. When the company announced it was retiring “burnt sienna” from its repertoire, consumers voted to “Save the Shade.”
Unfortunately, Maize wasn’t as lucky. We hope it got a gold watch.
Ice cream shop finds fame in KC
Ice cream shops are known for their variety of flavors, sometimes more than Baskin-Robbins’ famed 31, updated by such modern icons as Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s. But they’re also increasingly known for the diversity of their owners.
Kansas City, MO, entrepreneur José Luis Valdez is one such ice cream emperor. Valdez earned a write-up recently in the Kansas City Business Journal after his chain of shops was chosen as one of 12 featured in a New York Times piece celebrating ice cream’s international community of flavors around the United States.
Valdez, a native of Guerrero, Mexico, who sold his country’s version of Popsicles (known as paletas) as a boy, brought paletas and other Mexican ice cream treats to Kansas City after relocating from Chicago 15 years ago. Like many immigrant business people, Valdez told the Journal he worked hard and passionately for his American dream.
Four Paleterias Tropicana stores now dot Kansas City, with another in Wichita, offering up Valdez’s homemade, slow-churned ice cream as well as other Mexican staples, such as tortas and tacos.
Pack Elephant helps Grand Rapids artisans
Talk about your win-win.
In Grand Rapids, MI, and Austin, TX, two entrepreneurs have parlayed a novel concept into a business that helps small-batch makers, while providing unique gift-giving options for those who want to support their community’s talent.
Launched in 2018, the startup—Pack Elephant—was co-founded by longtime friends Winsome Kirton and Seghen Aklilu.
They’ve leveraged their advertising and retail expertise to provide local artisans with access to “high volume sales and premium marketing through the vehicle of corporate gifting.”
How does it work? Pack Elephant curates locally crafted products to create theme-based gift packs, such as the Pick-Me-Up Pack, which includes a coffee blend, dark chocolate, honey sticks, and a leather-stitched mug wrap.
Customers can either select a pack or build their own. Pack Elephant also shares profiles of those who produce the items, so purchasers can "meet [their] community makers."
Although currently serving Grand Rapids and Austin, Pack Elephant plans to add cities throughout the Midwest in the years to come.
Stop stressing about stress
Stress is said to be a contributing cause—and sometimes the main defining characteristic—of many diseases and illnesses. So what if an augmented and virtual reality platform, powered by a brain-computer interface through devices such as smartwatches, could result in marked decreases in anxiety?
That’s the premise behind Healium, virtual stress-relief technology created by StoryUP, a Missouri-based startup selected from thousands of applicants from more than 100 countries to present at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the Netherlands this summer, as reported by Silicon Prairie News.
The platform uses patent-pending technology that enables users to control virtual worlds with brain and heart rate patterns, creating an interaction with their personal biometric data that can reduce moderate anxiety in as little as four minutes, according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
“Great companies can grow anywhere and to be able to represent the Midwest in the Netherlands on a global stage was a phenomenal experience for our company,” Sarah Hill, CEO of StoryUP, told SPN.
Physicians and veterinarians team up
Image by Ulrike Mai
Veterinarians often rely on human disease research to help them better understand similar diseases in animals. Now that process is being reversed, with physicians turning to veterinary knowledge to help them treat their human patients.
One program designed to facilitate this type of collaboration is being launched at the Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM), which has received a five-year $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Lauren Trepanier, professor and assistant dean for clinical and translational research in the SVM, is the principal investigator on the grant.
“Our goal is to leverage the skills of veterinary specialists and bring them into research teams, helping physicians and PhD researchers see that many of the diseases they study also occur in animals, and what veterinarians know about these diseases in animals can help advance treatment in people,” she said.
The grant will also help clinical veterinarians develop their research skills and become “veterinary clinician-scientists”—a hybrid role that allows vets to perform clinical work as well as conducting medical research.
The combination of research and clinical medicine is also a two-way street—that’s where the term “translational” comes in. Research discoveries translate into clinical results that in turn, may translate into further research discoveries.
Brewing up a storm of kombucha
Kombucha. You love it. You hate it. Or maybe you’re not sure what it is. But Lisa Bledsoe has been banking on the “love it” crowd, and her business has taken off like a rocket.
Bledsoe, owner of Scoby Master’s Tea-Biotics, located in Lenexa, began brewing kombucha as a hobby in 2010. Now she operates a production facility that houses gleaming rows of stainless steel fermenters, along with a storefront and a taproom. There, customers can sample from among 24 flavors, with rotating selections and popular standbys, such as hibiscus-watermelon, chai-apple, lime-turmeric, and pineapple-jalapeño.
Kombucha (aka “booch”) is said to confer a host of health benefits, from detoxification to increased energy to improved digestion. And Bledsoe is committed to producing carefully brewed small-batch kombucha, which by all accounts is quite tasty.
Tea-Biotics is available in more than 100 retail locations around Kansas City, but this year, it has been trying out some new markets. A funding round that raised $1.2 million in two weeks and a multi-state distribution deal with Hy-Vee have helped broaden the product’s reach.
The company also has a roster of corporate clients, like Sporting Kansas City, St. Luke’s Health System, Cerner, and Hallmark, which offer Tea-Biotics on tap for employees. Even the Kansas City Chiefs are fans of the beverage. “They actually put a kegerator in the team hotel for the eight home games a year,” Bledsoe said, and 25 kegs have been sent to the Chiefs training camp.
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