Greg Bergman, director of the North Central Minnesota Small Business Development Center at Central Lakes College, Brainerd, is the author of an article published in the 2012 Spring/Summer issue of Community College Entrepreneurship magazine. The feature relates development of a successful Pierz-based business which drew upon the expertise of SBDC counselors and others to assist with a sunflower oil processing operation. "Future Looks Sunny for Minnesota Entrepreneur Team" tells of the work by entrepreneurs Tom and Jenni Smude, who recently received a $298,500 grant from the USDA to be used for planning and marketing. Smude's Natural Sunflower Oil is produced from high oleic sunflower seeds and provides healthy cooking oil with zero trans-fat, high in "good" monounsaturated fat, and low in polyunsaturated fat. "The oil is really catching on with consumers," writes Greg (center with Tom Smude and SBDC consultant Julie Anderholm).By Greg Bergman, in Community College Entrepreneur:
Even though Tom and Jenni Smude conceded 2011 was a bad year for sunflowers, they felt they were at a breakthrough point for Smude 's Natural Sunflower Oil. Smude's instincts were right: They have just been awarded a $298,500 USDA Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grant to be used for planning
Smude Farms sells premium cold pressed sunflower oil with exceptional quality and flavor. They use high oleic sunflower seeds to provide healthy cooking oil with zero trans-fat, high in "good" monounsaturated fat, and low in polyunsaturated fat; the oil is really catching on with consumers.
Not only do the sunflower seeds provide healthy oil for human consumption, the shells are recycled for use as animal bedding while other by-products of the production cycle are used as a feed ingredient for Smude's 400 Black Angus cattle; nothing is wasted.Early support for their sunflower oil production facility came from the North Central Minnesota Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The SBDC is one of the entrepreneur development programs in the Business and Industry Center at Central Lakes College. Early in their work for the business the center provided assistance with an initial business plan as well as financial analysis and projections to obtain financing. The owners then asked for additional assistance from the SBDC to prepare a feasibility study to obtain a USDA grant. The grant would be used to increase sales, enter new markets, and find ways to make the bottling process more efficient.
SBDC consultants assisted Tom and Jenni with key parts of the feasibility study and grant application, saving the company thousands of dollars in consulting fees. They also worked with regional and local economic development organizations, such as Community Development of Morrison County and the Initiative Foundation, to secure funding for completing the technical parts of he feasibility analysis.
"The SBDC was a valuable part of the team that helped us obtain the critical funding we need to expand our business," said Jenni Smude. "Without their assistance we may not have been able to move forward with our USDA grant project."
The Smudes are proud of their Minnesota grown product. No matter how much business grows, the Smudes know it wouldn't have happened without the grass-roots support from the community and regional resources such as the SBDC. "It's all about community pride," Tom said. "Whether people know me or not, they know where my product comes from. That means something, both to us and our customers."
Tom and Jenni are working to become the country's first national distributor of natural, food-grade, cold-pressed sunflower oil. They are considering a partnership with Super Valu to distribute sunflower oil from Pennsylvania to Montana. If they are successful, Smude's Natural Sunflower Oil's next stop will be the east coast. Other future plans include working to gain additional access to markets like restaurants, movie theaters and specialty stores.
With two children, a farm, a full-time job, a separate day-job and other side businesses, it's hard to figure out where Tom and Jenni find the time to oversee a blossoming sunflower oil business. "I want to take the risk. Let's do it," Tom said. "I believe in this product and I know others do too."