It takes grit to get a small business off the ground. But what if you are doing that while balancing a career in tech? Well, a small but mighty group of entrepreneurs are doing just that. In the process, they are evolving the Atlanta tech scene and launching some rather sweet (and savory) treats.
We spoke to a few leaders who have one foot in tech and one foot in the food/beverage world. And we think their stories just might inspire your next business venture:
When we met with the team behind Eat Unrestricted at Tech Square, it was clear that Dianna King could very easily be the face of Georgia Tech. Not only is the electric engineering graduate currently in a full-time job as a research engineer and project manager at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and a past Create-X participant, she is also back in school working towards her MBA at Scheller College of Business.
That would be more than enough work for the soon-to-be “Double Jacket.” But King is also busy building Eat Unrestricted, a vegan cheese company with a unique twist.
Unlike most vegan options, Eat Unrestricted is nut free, soy free, and gluten free..making it an allergy-safe option for those looking for a cheese alternative. She spent years experimenting with the cheese recipe from her own kitchen while sharing meals with friends and loved ones.
It’s a passion project for King, who started following a vegan diet back in 2016. That transition wasn’t the easiest, so she looked to make the dinner table more inclusive and flavorful.
Joining King in the journey to build Eat Unrestricted is another Georgia Tech graduate, Eric Thompson. Thompson is also currently assistant director at the Spelman College Innovation Lab, where he helps create the next generation of college entrepreneurs on campus. As a strategic advisor (or Chief Tasting Officer, as he likes to call it), he works to grow Eat Unrestricted as a go-to consumer brand.
The CPG space is certainly different from building something in tech, and working with manufacturers and shipping realities is a “dog eat dog world”,” said Thompson. On top of shipping orders, building the brand online, working with manufacturers, and selling at farmers markets, the team has to spend hours washing dishes after an already long day.
Those in Atlanta can find the Eat Unrestricted team at the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market, place an order online, or search some speciality stores around the country.
Atlantans will likely know Aubrey Lenyard for his work at ATDC. As the leader of Community Engagement Manager at the main startup incubator in the State of Georgia, Lenyard is always cooking up what’s new and what’s next for the local startup scene.
But he’s also busy building AubSauce, an artisan barbecue sauce brand that brings serious flavor. The small-batch sauce brand got off the ground as a bit of a challenge for Lenyard.
“It started out of a conversation I had with one of my good friends, Donna Hill. She’s a foodie’s foodie and always enjoys culinary delights, something we both have in common. She had been searching for a peach-infused barbecue sauce recipe to pair with a pork loin she planned to cook. As the conversation continued, it morphed into a challenge for me to use my creativity to cook up my own gourmet barbecue sauce. Since I thrive on challenges and love to push the creativity side of my brain, I was determined to come up with a great recipe,” he told Hypepotamus.
Drawing culinary inspiration from time spent with his grandmother growing up, Lenyard has grown AubSauce into a full line with several unique flavors, including Spicy Peach, Fiery Mango Pineapple, Strawberry Balsamic and Rosemary, and Original Barbecue.
“As the Sauce Boss, the nickname Frank Tighe, former Lead EIR gave me, I create art in the kitchen with Pots, Pans, Tomato sauce, herbs and spices,” he added. “In the spring, I plan to launch AubSpice, a new line of barbecue rubs and seasonings. I’m having a ball playing in the kitchen coming up with flavor combinations that I hope will please the palate.”
We asked Lenyard how he juggles the expansion of AubSauce while managing ATDC’s sponsorships, partnerships, and mentor relationships. He said he is inspired by spending all day surrounded by the city’s upcoming tech leaders.
“I’m surrounded by coworkers and founders who have all done what I am doing. Putting in an 8 or 9-hour day at work in a community of entrepreneurs actually fuels me and inspires me to push through with AubSauce. While I’m extremely busy with my work at ATDC, I’m doubly rewarded doing what I am passionate about at work and having that work energize me in following my AubSauce dream,” he said.
Jaisa Gooden serves as the vice president of startup banking for Silicon Valley Bank and is a board member for Startup Atlanta. But she’s also busy helping to grow Juiceheads, an Atlanta-based smoothie bar with organic fruit and vegetables.
“Juiceheads started in 2015 with a vision to be a leading haven for wellness serving organic plant based juices and smoothies. I’ve been involved since inception because it is a family run business in partnership with my parents and brother,” Gooden told Hypepotamus. “We are unique because everything is made to order and sourced with quality as the top priority. We are family owned and centered in serving our community.”
Juggling all her roles in the startup ecosystem at a time is a difficult task. But Gooden has some advice for keeping multiple ventures going at the same time. She told Hypepotamus that she often invites local founders into the Juiceheads lounge area as a “remote work hideaway” and a place for collaboration.
“Find synergies between your passions relevant to your professional endeavors,” she said. “Keep people around you who share your pursuits and can provide insight from experience. Create clear goals and action plans around what you want to accomplish. Pay close attention to how you spend your time to make sure it aligns.”