January 17, 2012

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Gary L. Crocker

Gary L. Crocker doesn’t gripe about his days as a broke, Harvard Business Sch...Read More

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Unexpected Neighbors

Fun, Unusual and Innovative Companies in Your Backyard

Peri Kinder

January 17, 2012

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Utah. Technology, adventure, quirky cuisine—our state has it all. You may be surprised, in fact, at the depth and variety of businesses that call Utah home. Read on to discover enterprising business people who are developing new ideas and products or soaring with tried-and-true offerings. The Candwich Man Can How do you get the attention of national TV personalities like Jay Leno or Stephen Colbert? Create a product that is unique, attention-grabbing and packaged in a 24-ounce beverage container. That’s exactly what Mark Kirkland, president of Sandy-based Mark One Foods, has done with his Candwich product. Perfect for students, office employees, construction workers, campers or anyone on the go, the Candwich is a nutritious and delicious sandwich sealed in a container a little bigger than your average soda can. Pop the top, pull out the ingredients, make a sandwich—and enjoy. “Kids will try anything. They just jump in and try it,” Kirkland says. “This is the ‘follow your kid’ example.” Candwich comes in a variety of options including peanut butter and jelly, pepperoni pizza pockets, BBQ beef or chicken, bacon and cheddar, French toast and cinnamon rolls. Future endeavors could include cookies, trail mix and ramen noodles. The unusual concept quickly caught the attention of the media, and the Candwhich has been talked about on “The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show” and “The Colbert Report.” As soon as the product rolled out in August, samples were sent directly to the shows’ producers. Kirkland isn’t surprised by the attention; he suspected the uniqueness of the product would raise a few eyebrows. Along with creating a fun food product, Kirkland is concerned about the quality of the foods he uses. Bread is baked at the Rocky Mountain Bakery, the high-grade chicken breast is lean and, due to technology developed by the military, the food has an extended shelf life and stays fresh unrefrigerated for at least a year. “It has to be the best ingredients,” Kirkland says. “[People] will buy it once because it’s neat, but if it isn’t tasty, they won’t be back.” With an innovative marketing strategy, Kirkland hopes to sell the product in vending machines across the country, as well as in grocery club stores (like Costco) and even places like Home Depot, where people can buy a case for emergencies like hurricanes, earthquakes or flooding. He says throwing a few Candwiches in a 72-hour kit makes for fast, nutritious, inexpensive meals. The Candwhich was supposed to roll out five years ago, but financial setbacks and investor struggles delayed the process. However, things are back on track and Kirkland has had requests from Croatia, Korea, Japan and other countries that hope to distribute his product. He’s been interviewed by Australian TV more than once, and worldwide interest in the Candwich is growing. At some point, Mark One Foods hopes to hire nearly 100 employees to create and assemble the Candwich products. “It’s a new company. We’re based here in Utah. We hope to create a lot of jobs and make good food,” Kirkland says. That’s Using Your Noodlestorm How does a motorcycle rental shop in the U.S. attract European tourists coming to America? Where does a company start when they need to design a tracking system for their products? Where do county officials turn when they want to develop a better plan for vetting their employees? The answer to all these questions is “contact Noodlestorm.” The catchphrase for the dilemma-solving website Noodlestorm is “The Brightest Minds Solving the World’s Problems.” That’s exactly what Noodlestorm founder and Murray-based entrepreneur Daniel Butt had in mind when he first created the interactive website where people submit their problems, and college students develop a solution. Not only have Utah colleges and universities jumped on board to let graduate students solve real-world business problems, but professors and students from all over the country have become involved with Noodlestorm including Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell and Vanderbilt universities. “This is crowdsourcing. It’s like brainstorming but online,” Butt says. “You get multiple solutions for your problem.” The site launched in April of this year, and students have worked with dozens of companies to create solutions to everyday business problems. Students get real-world consulting experience in their chosen discipline and companies have access to the latest scientific research, communication and human resource developments. Often, professors will go online and select a problem for the class to solve. All problems submitted are kept completely confidential and can only be discussed in the classroom. Solutions are peer-reviewed and rated on a scale of one to five. The service is free (for now), but Butt hopes to be able to reach a point where he can start charging for the service. “The main function is to become an online business-to-business workplace. We intend to open this up so clients can choose who they want to solve their problems,” Butt says, adding that Noodlestorm has had some decent growth during the summer and he expects it to pick up now that school has started again. No problem is too small or too large for the students to tackle. Just register at www.noodlestorm.com, submit your problem on the site with enough documents to explain the situation, set a deadline for the project—and wait for solutions to come in. More than one solution could be presented, so companies can choose the one that best suits their needs. Butt says he developed the site after consulting on a marketing research project during his last semester at the University of Utah. Additionally, he spent time as a senior manager at a commercial real estate brokerage and wasted a lot of time and money doing outsourcing for an ad campaign. “It seemed I was wasting more of my time than I needed to and thought, ‘There has to be a better way,’” he says. “And that’s what business school is all about. Business students study business problems during class.” It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane—It’s Super Fly Many companies are struggling in the turbulent economy, but Super Fly, Inc. is soaring above the turmoil, recording an increase of 25 percent during the last two years. Super Fly, located in Draper, is the No. 1 source of paragliding equipment and lessons in the United States. “People who have lost their jobs and received a nice severance package can finally take the time to do something they’ve always wanted,” says Jeff Farrell, owner of Super Fly. “They won’t buy a new house or a new car, but they’ll buy a glider.” Whether a customer wants to purchase paragliding equipment, take a tandem ride or learn how to paraglide, Super Fly can do it. The company has set itself apart from the competition by offering top-quality products, developing a fantastic safety record and offering a variety of paragliding opportunities for beginners or advanced flyers. A great option for novices, tandem flights put customers in the air with an experienced instructor. And with its excellent safety record, Farrell says there’s no other establishment in the country as vigilant about safety as his pilots. Super Fly is also considered to be the nation’s premiere importer for paragliding equipment, bringing in products from Advance, Gin and Nova suppliers. Each glider is personally tested by the employees at Super Fly to guarantee quality and safety. Farrell first started Super Fly by turning his hobby into a business in 1998 with partner Chris Sontacroce. He says the Draper location is a unique place to fly, as the Utah and Salt Lake valleys form an hourglass shape with the Point of the Mountain (where paragliders congregate) right at the center. Because of this formation, wind conditions allow flying in both the afternoon and the morning. “There’s nowhere else in the country that can say that,” Farrell says. “I’ve been flying for 23 years and [have] well over 3,000 hours.” For a truly unique experience, Super Fly offers paragliding tours at different locations including Texas, Mexico and Slovenia for experienced or even beginning flyers. The group flies to specific mountains and uses the time for air-to-air coaching using helmet radios and GPS systems. The company also offers a complete service center for glider inspection and repairs. “No paragliding equipment is manufactured in the U.S. We import everything,” Farrell says. “We’re the largest importer and distributor for paragliding gear in the country.” Team Super Fly boasts 14 competition pilots who compete in paragliding competitions every year. In the last 10 years, the team has won the U.S. National Championships seven times. Farrell handpicks each pilot for the team, choosing the best flyers to represent the company. The economy may have hit the rocks, but that seems reason enough to find your wings. “People think paragliding is stressful but it’s actually very relaxing,” Farrell says. “Your mind is playing a three-dimensional chess game and you’re having a constant dialogue with yourself.” Check it Out What do the Smithsonian, Disney, Nike, the U.S. Census Bureau and 4,000 public libraries have in common? They all utilize integrated library systems, patron discovery tools or productivity enhancements designed by SirsiDynix. The company’s mission is to provide state-of-the-art digital technology to libraries of all kinds. When SirsiDynix was acquired by Vista Equity Partners in 2007, Matt Hawkins was brought on as COO with a mandate to make the business grow and improve how the company served its customers around the world. Hawkins convinced the VEP team that Utah was a great place to locate a tech business and, based on Utah’s well-trained university graduates, VEP agreed. SirsiDynix now employs almost 400 people at its headquarters in Provo. From corporate libraries to public, university or school libraries, SirsiDynix creates tools for cataloging, tracking, managing and analyzing library content. The company’s software enables patrons and employees to access information immediately. “The mission of SirsiDynix is really to help every type of library be successful in serving their communities,” Hawkins says. “It’s a fun little company and we’re doing some really compelling things right now.” The Salt Lake County library system uses the SirsiDynix system, which allows patrons to request, search for, download and research specific materials in the library. Hawkins says since the arrival of the Internet, library usage has increased every year and libraries need to think about how that affects the communities they serve. “It was a misnomer to think that with the advent of the Internet, people would be able to find information without going to the library,” he says. “But libraries were among the first to offer free wireless service and offered services that were very Internet friendly.” With libraries reemerging as a community center for information and resources, the cataloging system developed by SirsiDynix can help them organize collections as well as offer online courses related to job skills or training. “We have digitization of every form of content. Ebooks, newspapers and music are all available online,” Hawkins says. “Online public access to content is really exciting. Libraries are going to continue to adapt and continue to provide great service. What we plan to do is provide great technology to help them do that.” In a recent development, SirsiDynix teamed up with the state of Ohio to create INFOhio, a statewide virtual library offering electronic resources for schools, parents, students and teachers in grades K-12. “The site is visually and aesthetically pleasing and presents material in a way that you’re learning without knowing you’re learning,” Hawkins says. SirsiDynix currently serves libraries in 23,000 physical locations all around the globe, including prestigious institutions in Europe, Australia and China. With a call center open 24/7 and employees who collectively speak five languages, customer service is a high priority. “We’ve had a great experience and look forward to great technology in the future,” Hawkins says. “Everything we’re doing is focused on helping to grow the business.”
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