Health and Convenience a Priority to U-M Student Entrepreneur
By Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern
“My vision was always clear of what I wanted the product to be, but the path to get there never was.”
Meet Ellis Fried– Founder/CEO of proteinbits™.
The idea to create a convenient, healthy snack came to Fried when he found himself in a protein bind: eating half of a protein bar, of which he didn’t understand the ingredients, and throwing away the rest. So, this University of Michigan student set out to solve the problem of waste and convenience of nutritious food. In ENTR 411, Entrepreneurship Practicum, Ellis developed an idea to stop the waste and increase nutrition– a bite-sized protein snack!
In February of 2016, Ellis began making homemade protein bars from his kitchen, working with multiple forms of protein to make health snacks and their labels more approachable. Within a few months, Fried moved from his own kitchen to a commercial kitchen.
This was the beginning of proteinbits™. With a professional chef by his side, Ellis aimed to create healthy, convenient, bite-sized snacks for those looking for a quick source of protein. Unlike most protein drinks or snacks, proteinbits™ production starts with ingredients, giving the highest quality protein variety, and ends with the nutrition facts; this insures the highest quality and healthiest ingredients for consumers. With a $1k JumpStart Grant from CFE, Fried began doing test runs and creating a variety of prototypes.
“I’ve pursued this venture all by myself, running absolutely everything. But my friends, family, and advisors have been so helpful. I have met with an advisor from either ZLI or CFE every week since proteinbits™ came to be,” says Fried on proteinbits™ rise to success.
Once he came upon a recipe that not only tasted good, but also provided customers with a high-quality, high-protein snack, Fried set out to secure labeling, packaging, and an LLC. While businesses and legal processing went on, proteinbits™ was booming on social media. Instagrammers from around the world were spreading the word about the latest and greatest, bite-size protein snack. With hundreds upon hundreds of orders flooding in, the market was validated, and Ellis moved from his home kitchen to a local commercial kitchen.
In high-demand, Fried pushed on as a one-man-band, accumulating orders and securing legal needs. But going into the summer was difficult. Ellis had accepted an internship at JP Morgan, where the hours were strenuous. Working anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day, Ellis spent any spare seconds looking for a co-packer.
“I had about 20 minutes a day to grab lunch, and a couple of bathroom breaks. If I was not working, I was on the phone- leaving voicemails or sending emails- desperately trying to find a co-packer that would help with baking, packaging, and shipping,” said Fried.
By the end of the summer, Ellis had secured a co-packing deal with a plant in Chicago to do all of the necessary production steps. Since then, proteinbits™ have been sold in a variety of local stores and restaurants such as Beyond Juicery + Eatery (all five locations), Replenish, Eat Folklore, Salads UP, MVMNT Spin Studio, and a variety of other small retailers across Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit.
More recently, proteinbits™ has been successful with the Dare to Dream Grant through the Ross School of Business, winning $1,500 to develop branding and increasing inventory, as well as being a finalist in the recent Accelerate Michigan Competition. In addition, the proteinbits™ Campus Ambassador program has grown to 50 students, building a marketing forum across Michigan and other universities around the nation.
Today, Fried is committed to meeting all FDA and MDA regulations, in regards to approving labels and nutrition facts, as well as building out the proteinbits™ online store and website. In addition, proteinbits™ has been accepted into the newest TechArb cohort, along with 11 other student startup teams. In the next six to eight weeks, proteinbits™ hopes to reopen their online store and gain traction in larger retail locations. After graduation, Fried will be pursuing proteinbits full-time.
“The most difficult part of this process has been learning all the ins and outs of the industry. Every day there are new steps to take, more changes to make, and exciting connections to pursue. Some days are really hard when you don’t receive the email you want. But new meetings and new opportunities keep me progressing,” says Fried. “Balance and organization are key– especially as a student entrepreneur.”
As a current TA for ENTR 411, Fried’s best advice for student entrepreneurs is this:
“Define goals for yourself on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis; that’s so important! Trying to complete 10-100 tasks each day isn’t efficient. You need to set goals to make meaningful movement within your venture.”
Learn more at www.proteinbits.com! If you’re inspired by Ellis’s story, sign up for one of our ENTR classes for Winter 2017. In addition, if you’re interested in joining the proteinbits™ Campus Ambassador Program– email firstname.lastname@example.org.