Running a booming small business can be a hard nut to crack, but two Marion High School students recently earned some entrepreneurial success with their industrious idea.
“Nothin’ But Nut,” the not-so-nutty brainchild of Marissa Jacobson and Colin Williams, placed second of nine teams and received the overall people’s choice award last week in the Marion/Hillsboro E-Community County Youth Entrepreneurial Challenge at Marion Community Building.
“We provide delicious seasoned and flavored nuts,” Jacobson said.
The diligent duo make and sell candied, honey-roasted, and chocolate-covered almonds, cashews, and pecans that are “healthy, tasty, mess-free, and super convenient for customers.”
Nevertheless, their business didn’t germinate overnight. Having started Nothin’ But Nut last year with a third partner, who decided to resign this year, Jacobson and Williams originally knew that they wanted to provide a product that was unique from past high school businesses.
“High school students were our target market,” Jacobson said. “And we wanted to get people’s attention. What better way to do that than with food.”
Williams spoke on their rationale.
“Food products are consumable; thus, our customer base is ever-present,” he said.
To make their product more appealing to customers, Jacobson said they also wanted to sell something students could eat in between classes or on the go at school.
“We realized we could open a unique business by specializing in nuts,” Williams said.
The biggest problem they faced was start-up money for which they turned to a local bank for a business loan.
“They had put a lot of thought into their business plan, which is something we don’t even see with people who have multimillion dollar ideas,” Todd Heitschmidt, president of Central National Bank, said. “They weren’t trying to make a living, but it was a catchy idea for what they were trying to do.”
Calling it a “huge success,” Heitschmidt said Nothin’ But Nut paid back their $225 loan in full last year without having to request any further loans.
He also commended MHS business teacher Megan Thomas for her work with students. She teaches applied business development, the class in which Jacobson and Williams came up with Nothin’ But Nut.
“We had checklists that they have to go through every couple months,” she said. “We look at the competition, the marketing plan, operating plan, how they’re going to back the loan, and their projected financials.”
In securing a nut supplier, there also was question of flavors, which Jacobson and Williams tested several recipes, some of which they scrapped, including one with Cajun seasoning.
“When we first started out, we tried selling peanuts, but the bag we bought tasted like dirt,” Jacobson said. “I tried to cook them in salt to make them better but it just wasn’t possible. We decided to split our losses on that bag and ditched the idea of peanuts all together.”
Paired with Internet searches, they also employed a school-wide survey as part of their market research in which they gave student options to pick from and asked for flavor suggestions people would buy, some of which Jacobson said were “pretty wild.”
Jacobson utilized her baking experience to help lock in flavor options.
“I’m not really a nut person in general, but when I tasted their flavors I liked them,” Thomas said. “Their product was packaged nicely in a cellophane cone with some ribbon and their business card tied on so it wasn’t just a consumable, it was also a good gift idea.”
Thomas said the duo also competed in the county entrepreneurship challenge and the state challenge last year, which may have given them some advantage.
“They are two very different people but they were able to recognize each other’s strengths to make their business work,” Thomas said.
For the competition, teams presented business plans, two-minute elevator pitches, and demonstrated products in exhibit spaces to three judges and the public, Randy Collett, director of economic development for Marion, said.
Jonathan Hinerman and Nathan Simhiser of Hillsboro High School took first place with their business “Arrow Grilling.” They received $750 and an automatic berth to the state competition in Hays April 24. They also received $100 for winning the product people’s choice award.
Jacobson and Williams places second and were awarded $500 along with $200 for overall people’s choice award.
Ava Wiesbeck, Megan Bechtold, and Faith Dalke of HHS took third with “Aura” and were awarded $250.
Avery Unruh and Collin Brown of HHS won $100 for getting the people’s choice for their elevator pitch.
Dillon Deines, Cole Methvin, Greg Oborny, and Hannah Peterson of Centre High School won the $100 people’s choice award for the Cougar Custom Signs tabletop display.