Nik Ingersoll (’11, marketing) grew up among the corn and wheat fields in western Nebraska and he fell back on his agricultural background when he co-founded a company to market an organic snack. But it was another agricultural product, bananas, that helped him and fellow SDSU alumnus, Matt Clifford (’09, finance), to engineer a successful product launch that has seen their Barnana snacks sold in over 2,500 retail outlets throughout the U.S.
The origin of Barnana’s product, a chewy snack made from dehydrated bananas, had a simple beginning over 30 years ago. An architect in near Curitiba, Brazil took home a broken skylight and found that in a matter of hours, all the grass underneath it had dried up and died. So he put freshly sliced bananas under the skylight which produced a chewy snack that didn’t need refrigeration and stayed fresh for months.
"Carefully evaluate a million ideas before you settle on one and jump into it." - Nik Ingersoll
When his son, Caue Suplicy, came to the U.S. in 2001 as a professional triathlete, he brought the snack with him and it became a huge hit with other athletes looking for an easy source of quick energy. The idea for building a business around the product started when Ingersoll met Suplicy at an American Marketing Association meeting in 2010 while he was a student at SDSU. They both had other businesses they were working on, so the two decided to embark on Barnana as a side project.
But it was Barnana that seemed to have the most promise as a sustainable business and Ingersoll and Suplicy began working out of a friend’s office a couple days a week to move it forward. Through that friend, that the pair met Clifford and the three of them decided to stop working on their other entrepreneurial projects, pool their resources and skill sets and concentrate on growing Barnana on a full-time basis.
In August of 2012, the trio had a product that was ready to be sold in retail outlets. Ingersoll became the chief marketing officer handling all the branding, communications and marketing strategy and Clifford emerged as the chief operations officer where he works with the suppliers, manufacturers and retail outlets to supply the product.
"Be prepared to be broke and suffer a little bit at first, but when you succeed it is one of the best feelings and most fun experiences you can ever have."
The company, which re-located their headquarters from La Jolla, California to Santa Monica in 2014, now employs 17 part-and full-time employees and sells Barnana snacks in original, chocolate, coconut and peanut butter flavors. The 3.5-ounce packages retail for about $4.99 each and can be purchased online or at Whole Foods, Safeway and other retailers throughout the U.S. and Japan. And it just keeps getting better: Ingersoll and Clifford are currently in the process of preparing a product launch strategy for Costco stores.
Ingersoll has some advice for SDSU students considering starting their own companies: “Carefully evaluate a million ideas before you settle on one and jump into it,” he said. “Be prepared to be broke and suffer a little bit at first, but when you succeed it is one of the best feelings and most fun experiences you can ever have. Lastly, be careful when you seek advice from mentors and others – people can pull you in a thousand different directions if you let them.”