Blogs

A Dream Driven to Reality

In 2012, David Walker Esq. was working as a successful business attorney in the Atlanta area, but one day, he decided to pinpoint for himself his ultimate life goal. After a period of personal evaluation and analysis, Mr. Walker came to the conclusion that his ultimate dream is to one day own an NFL Superbowl championship trophy. However, as someone who can no longer play or coach in the NFL, Mr. Walker decided to set his sights on owning his own NFL team. With an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Mr. Walker began to explore opportunities in various industries which he felt could help him scale himself and his capital to the point of one day purchasing an NFL team.

After reaching out to one of his clients that sells equipment to beverage companies, Mr. Walker found himself intrigued with the mechanics and principles of the bottled water industry. Soon with an offer to develop a brand and distribute 100,000 cases of water, Mr. Walker collaborated with a salesman who specialized in beverage sales. In 2014, StarWalker Industries opened its door and began manufacturing and selling a brand of purified and spring water known as Integrity. Then in 2017, StarWalker Industries released its second brand of bottled water, Positivity Alkaline Water. With a 9.5 PH alkaline level, this premium brand of bottled water is geared towards those trying to achieve higher alkaline diets.

While StarWalker Industries continues to grow their two brands of bottled water, they have also pursued creative endeavors to build their own manufacturing plants and help streamline the manufacturing process. Mr. Walker noted that his model behind StarWalker Industries centers on reducing the amount of shipping involved in the bottled water process by establishing small, local, and efficient manufacturing sites in the cities where their products are sold. Compared to the industry standard of large manufacturing sites producing products and distributing around the country, Mr. Walker’s model mirrors that of the craft beer industry focusing on local economies and work forces while reducing shipping cost and transportation emissions.

A supplementary focus of StarWalker Industries is their availability and dedication towards recycling. Whereas plastic water bottles could be recycled into a subsequent generation of water bottles after use, traditional recycling plants will instead manufacture the plastic bottles into either furniture or clothing. By opening their own local recycling facilities, StarWalker water bottles are received and recycled into their water bottle manufacturing process known as closed loop recycling. It was through this process of trying to secure funding for his manufacturing and recycling plant that Mr. Walker first came into contact with Jennifer Pasley and the Atlanta MBDA Centers.

Mr. Walker noted that Jennifer immediately began setting up meetings for Mr. Walker with fundraising specialist, marketing agencies, and realtors. Mr. Walker spoke that it was through this partnership that he was really able to develop a game plan for how he would secure the resources necessary to make his plants a reality.

“I think the Atlanta MBDA Centers is a fantastic organization for any sort of company, especially if they are getting into manufacturing. The resources are all sort of lining up. For me, I have nothing but wonderful things to say, and I look forward to working with them further in the future.” David Walker

By the end of March 2021 StarWalker Industries will be launching on an equity-based, crowd funding platform to build StarWalker’s first recycling and manufacturing plant in Atlanta. They are also currently in discussion with the Cities of Atlanta and Flint Michigan to further develop their manufacturing potential. To learn more about StarWalker Industries, please visit their website.

Mr. Walker is also one of the Atlanta MBDA Centers’ clients who was recently accepted into the Ernst and Young Accelerator Program. This online program assists entrepreneurs in launching their own products and learning more from industry professionals.

Feeding a Million People by 2030

How does one get into the grub business? For Akissi Stokes, entrepreneur and Atlanta MBDA Business Center client, it was the combination of her ample background in business, childhood experience on her grandfather’s farm, and her travels to areas suffering from food insecurity that led her to seek out alternative and sustainable nutrition solutions. After initially looking for ways to add low-cost and sustainable protein additives to easy-to-make meals, Ms. Stokes soon discovered the international use of bugs as protein rich entities. Although Ms. Stokes initially considered farming crickets, a handful of experimental trials soon led her and her partner to begin working with grubs.

Although Ms. Stokes originally sought out to tackle food insecurity with her grub-based protein additives, she soon began to explore the benefits of expanding her product and its low-cost entry to larger aspects of the supply chain. With this in mind, WUNDERgrubs was established in 2016 as a social franchise which offer a high-quality, alternative protein used as an input for food, feed, fertilizer and manufacturing by-products, and for the first several years in business, WUNDERgrubs focused on rebranding bugs and insects as a nutritional product opposed to the general view of pests.

By 2019, WUNDERgrubs had been producing chocolate chip cookies supplemented with a grounded grub protein powder to help change public perception of insect-based protein, but the company was looking for an opportunity to pivot as a supplier. Returning to the initial emphasis to eliminate food-insecurity, WUNDERgrubs began exploring ways to develop and farm their product that could then be incorporated into a plethora of foods and recipes. By 2020 and the unforeseen Covid-19 pandemic, WUNDERgrubs’ influence stood out as a nutritional alternative when global supply chains were shut down in a matter of months. Today, WUNDERgrubs continues to distribute their protein powders, but they are also establishing public containers and grub hatcheries throughout Atlanta to showcase the resiliency and stability of their grub farming solutions as well as partnering with local bakers to incorporate their product.

Ms. Stokes noted that she first came into contact with the Atlanta MBDA Centers in 2018 after sitting on a panel with program manager, Brandy Nagel. After speaking with Brandy on a follow up phone call, Ms. Stokes registered WUNDERgrubs as an Atlanta MBDA Business Center client and immediately began engaging with the programs and seminars offered by our group.

“There is an intentionality behind the people who are hired at the Centers. There is an incredible breadth of background and expertise amongst the people. It’s important as an entrepreneur to know that the people you are using for business know certain things about your industry. It saves you a lot of time and frustration, and it helps that when you’re sitting down with your business plans and goals that they’re able to understand you.” Akissi Stokes

After the various relationships built through the Atlanta MDBA Centers and connections with Georgia Tech, WUNDERgrubs was soon introduced to the Capstone program at Georgia Tech. Through this program, WUNDERgrubs was assigned a group of graduating Georgia Tech seniors in the Computer Science program to help them develop an application for the company to collect data. WUNDERgrubs will also be returning as a Capstone sponsor this year in search for a social innovation capstone team.

The next few years are looking bright for WUNDERgrubs. As they continue to grow, Ms. Stokes noted that they are focusing on establishing a greater number of holder farms, focusing on rural areas in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as well as in Ghana and Nigeria. WUNDERgrubs is also positioning themselves to influence the classification of the insect industry in Georgia. At this time, micro-livestock is not classified by the state of Georgia, so federal funding and agricultural relief aid, such as the ones distributed for the covid-19 pandemic, are not accessible for companies such as WUNDERgrubs. In addition to regional development and policy work, Ms. Stokes also noted that they hope to continue to expand their product options and retail space.

All in all, WUNDERgrubs’ goal is to influence – influence policy, health trends, and market perception towards the future of protein rich insect supplements. To learn more about WUNDERgrubs, make sure to visit their website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

 

What’s a Capstone Project? And Why Should You Apply?

Over the course of our student worker series, we have focused exclusively on the best practices for hiring students through building internship programs and attending career fairs. Whether you have already executed these steps or are working with your team on the foundational stages, there also exists other opportunities for your company to engage with undergraduate talent.

The Georgia Tech Senior Design Capstone Project is an opportunity for companies to sponsor graduating Georgia Tech students to execute a specific research and design project for your group. Utilizing the skills these seniors have acquired over their time at Georgia Tech, the applications for these projects will directly benefit a specific need for your company. For a quick overview, please watch the video embedded below.

What is the Capstone Course?

Participants present their projects.

Since its inception, Georgia Tech has focused on providing its students with an applicable and industry focused education so that graduates would be extremely prepared for the workforce. Through this philosophy stems the culminating senior capstone project. In Capstone program, students have the ability to tackle “real-world, open-ended, interdisciplinary challenges proposed by industrial and research project sectors.” Companies, like yours, provide a sponsorship to Georgia Tech and in return receive a student group ready and willing to solve your proposed problem through an engineering design process.

Focusing on business principles, research, and design, these student groups are mentored by academic professionals over the course of the semester, will work directly with your company (and upon your requests can perform actual site visits to further understand the work), and on average will contribute over 500-man hours to your specific project. Your group will not only receive exceptional work from students eager to capitalize on their undergraduate experience, but these provided solutions will also remain as your company’s intellectual property for your own further development.

How Do I Participate?

To propose a project for the Georgia Tech Capstone Program, your business will act as a sponsor for the program, donating a minimum of $10,000 to help cover course expenses, team presentations and reports, and material and services costs for prototype fabrication. Sponsors will also submit their proposed project to the Capstone project portal listing their pitch, contact information, and any desired skills or considerations. After this information is received, students will form groups and begin bidding their ideas on the proposed projects. Once a proposed solution is accepted, your business and the GT student team will work closely to execute your proposed research and design problem.

To propose a project to the Capstone program, click here. To learn more about these opportunities make sure to visit the Capstone website or email capstone@gatech.edu.