Started a Company at... 18&19
Keeley Tillotson and Erika Welsh
Founders, Wild Squirrel Nut Butter
Their Snack Attack
Last January University of Oregon athletes Keeley Tillotson (right, triathlon) and Erika Welsh (crew) were munching on ants on a log—i.e., celery topped with peanut butter and raisins—when they ran out of peanut butter. Rather than bike to the store, they whipped some up in Welsh's Cuisinart (trail mix was another favorite snack, so they had peanuts on hand). "It sounds ridiculous, but we'd never eaten peanut butter that tasted so much like peanuts," says Tillotson. "It was so fresh!" Next, they tried mixing in cinnamon, coffee, and sunflower seeds—and shared their bounty with friends. Eventually, to cover costs, they created a rudimentary Web site and started charging $4 a jar. They named their operation Wild Squirrel in honor of Welsh's childhood nickname (coined because she liked to snack).
Their Big Break
On a whim, the pair sent a sample to food blogger Kath Younger, whose glowing review ("SO blew my socks off") spurred hundreds of orders. They bought two more Cuisinarts and started listening to NPR's From Scratch business podcasts. Eventually they raised $50,000 from family and friends to hire a "co-packer" to produce enough jars to sell to stores. Now their concoctions, from Curious Cocoa-Nut (coconut and chocolate) to Pretzel Pizazz (honey and pretzels) are available throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The co-CEOs—currently taking online courses, living with their parents, and pouring profits back into their business—believe their youth has made all the difference. "We never assume we can't do something," Tillotson says. "We just try it." —Courtney Rubin