Start Me Up
Meet seven Puget Sound entrepreneurs who are blazing new paths, from bitcoin to ice pops.
Rachel Conners ’15
JOB: Founder of Bakerita.com, a blog specializing in gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and dairy-free treats.
IN BUSINESS SINCE: 2010
INSTA-WORTHY: Rachel (@bakeritablog) tempts more than 174,000 Instagram followers with her mouthwatering confections.
FAVORITE CLASSES: Rachel credits classes with Professors Lynnette Claire, Lisa Johnson, and Kate Stirling with giving her the confidence and practical knowledge to go full time after graduation. “Economics of Happiness with Kate Stirling changed the way I view money. It allowed me to give myself permission to go after what I love, and let wealth follow,” she says. “I still have many of the books we read in the class and refer back to them even today.”
SIGNATURE TASTES: Among Rachel’s favorite recipes—and the most popular on the blog—are her Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies (which she developed while living with friends and sorority sisters in a house on North Washington her senior year at Puget Sound) and Ultimate Gluten-Free Fudge Brownies. ”There is something so satisfying about taking classic favorites and adjusting them to fit into my diet, while staying just as delicious as the versions we all grew up with.”
BEST PART OF HER WORK: Hearing from readers who can finally have dessert again, after years of food allergies, food sensitivities, or autoimmune disorders. “I’ve had readers tell me that my recipes are the first desserts that they’ve been able to eat since implementing ‘x’ dietary restriction that give them the same satisfaction as the traditional versions they’re used to.”
TO THE HEIGHTS: Rachel has a book coming out with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Bakerita: 100+ No-Fuss Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Refined Sugar-Free Recipes for the Modern Baker. “It still feels surreal,” she says. Look for the book in March 2020.
*Image courtesy of Rachel Conners ’15
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Billy Smith ’07
JOB: Founder and CEO of Bilio, an Oakland-based company specializing in industrial design, product development, and design for manufacturing. Clients have included Allbirds, Casper, Hewlett Packard, Logitech, and Google, among others.
IN BUSINESS SINCE: 2015
PREVIOUS VENTURES: In college, Billy started Sukräfte, a business where he would repurpose materials like wetsuits and vintage fabrics into custom bags. Inspired by an invention of their grandfather’s, he and his brother later founded Sporting-Sails, an outdoor-product company specializing in sails that can be used for skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, and surfing.
OTHER GIGS: While at Puget Sound, Billy drove down to California on holidays and breaks for job interviews; he landed a job with Patagonia as a product developer. After that, he was recruited by Apple to lead a team designing soft goods such as Apple Watch bands, iPad covers, and iPhone cases.
NO SEW: Bilio aims to prove current design models outdated and eschews superfluous features like zippers and seams. “I take offense to seams—I think seams are a way to cut corners,” he says. “Sewing is as Jurassic as gunpowder. I see a great opportunity to improve products through better materials, textile design, and manufacturing processes.”
PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Bilio has created the Bilio Bag, a handbag that’s knit to shape from yarn blends using a flatbed knitting machine—the same kind Nike and Adidas have used to make footwear. The process involves no cutting of the fabric (thus no waste) and no sewing. The Bilio Bag is set to launch in early 2020.
*Image courtesy of Billy Smith ’07
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Scott Silver ’74 and Todd Silver ’75
JOB: Partners in JL Darling Corp. of Tacoma, makers of Rite in the Rain, waterproof writing paper used by geologists, surveyors, backpackers, the military, and anyone else who wants to write outdoors without worry.
IN BUSINESS SINCE: The company’s roots go back to 1916; the Silver brothers have been in charge since 1977.
SOUND ROOTS: Scott and Todd’s parents, Lloyd ’49 and Mary Agnes Gallagher ’48, are Loggers and were presidents of their respective fraternity and sorority. Todd is named after Todd Hall, the campus dorm where his father lived.
SUSTAINABLE VALUES: The company spent years developing an environmentally responsible water-based paper coating. Their eco-friendly paper is also recyclable.
GLOBETROTTING: Rite in the Rain products have been used by legendary rock climber Conrad Anker (an avid fan of the company) on the summit of Everest, by National Geographic and Discovery Channel explorers, by Iditarod mushers, and at the Olympic Games. They have traveled to the Amazon, Easter Island, Australia, Alaska, Antarctica, and Africa. ”Only wish we could have gone to some of those places along with the products,” says Scott.
MOST CREATIVE USE: Last year, men who were surveying a remote Alaskan lake got trapped by inclement weather and fashioned a lean-to shingled with sheets of Rite in the Rain paper to keep the moisture out. They stayed in it for nearly a week.
*Image courtesy of riteintherain.com
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Megan Janes ’12
JOB: Founder of Seattle Pops. The business, which started out at seven farmers markets and opened a brick-and-mortar location in Wallingford in 2017, makes frozen pops using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients.
IN BUSINESS SINCE: 2013
INSPIRATION: A friend took Megan to a shop called Steel City Pops while she was living in Birmingham, Ala. Megan glimpsed the production process and was smitten with the delicious frozen pops, quality ingredients, and fun atmosphere.
LOGGER HELP: Megan has twice sought help from classes taught by business prof Lynnette Claire. A 2013 class did market research on Seattle neighborhoods that led to the decision to start with farmers markets before opening a store. Students in 2017 recommended an app for business communications. “We use it every day,” Megan says.
A FAMILY AFFAIR: Megan’s whole family is involved in Seattle Pops: Dave, her dad, helps formulate recipes; Lindsey ’09, her sister, is in charge of kitchen production; Suzie, her wife, manages the farmers markets; and Melody Carlisle, her mom, handles catering and administrative work.
GIVING BACK: Inspired by the Puget Sound athletic department’s food drive, Seattle Pops works with softball teams to collect nonperishables for the FamilyWorks food bank. Seattle Pops also sells Christmas trees to raise money for the Salvation Army’s Adopt-a-Family program.
FAVORITE FLAVOR: Available flavors range from the traditional (Very Strawberry) to the unconventional (Spicy Mango Chile). Megan has a soft spot for Cinnamon Horchata.
*Image courtesy of Megan Janes ’12
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Nicolas Cary ’07
JOB: Co-founder and president of Blockchain.com, a platform that includes a wallet for bitcoin, ethereum, bitcoin cash, USD PAX, and stellar lumens, as well as a service for verifying transactions. In August, with promotional help from William Shatner, the company launched the world’s fastest trading platform for digital assets, called The PIT.
IN BUSINESS SINCE: 2011
FAMOUS FUNDERS: Blockchain.com has raised more than $75 million from investors including Richard Branson and Google Ventures.
MEDIA APPEARANCES: The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, WIRED, CNN, and more.
MAKING HISTORY: Nicolas made the first-ever bitcoin donation (valued at $10,000) to an American college or university to Puget Sound in 2014.
CLASS REUNION: The former Sigma Chi president still meets up with friends from his Puget Sound days for a trip each year. “Making long-term, lifelong friends takes time, but it’s worth every effort,” he says. “It gives you a sense of confidence as you navigate the world, and my friends can hold me accountable.” Fraternity brother Erik Voorhees ’07, CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange ShapeShift.com, raved about bitcoin on a 2012 fishing trip and recommended Nicolas as CEO for Blockchain. Nicolas also counts Jesse Proudman ’07 (below) among his closest friends.
CHARITY WORK: Nicolas co-founded SkysTheLimit.org, a nonprofit that provides support to underrepresented young entrepreneurs, with friends Bo Ghirardelli ’07 and Joel Higa ’07. SkysTheLimit.org has raised $4 million to date.
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Jesse Proudman ’07
JOB: CEO and founder of Strix Leviathan, an investment management platform for cryptocurrencies. The company is named for Strix, a mythological owl that is “always watching, always listening,” and Leviathan, an eight-legged sea monster that exemplifies “intelligent multitasking.”
IN BUSINESS SINCE: 2018
AWARDS: 2014 GeekWire Young Entrepreneur of the Year; 2013 Puget Sound Business Journal 40 Under 40.
FIRST GIG: Launched his first tech company, a web-development firm, at age 13. He started by building a website for his dentist in order to afford a Sony Walkman CD player.
DORM ROOM TO BOARDROOM: In his first year at Puget Sound, Jesse started a cloud-hosting company called Blue Box in his room in Todd/Phibbs Hall. He sold Blue Box to IBM in June 2015. “As a young entrepreneur, often it was challenging to be taken seriously,” Jesse says. “Puget Sound did a really good job building the self-awareness and self-confidence I needed to interact in the professional world.”
HOBBIES: Jesse has an affinity for boating, which he turned to as a way to manage stress. “Being on the water provided me with a sense of peace and allowed me to shut my brain off,” he says. He’s also a self-described race car fanatic and has participated in the Lotus Cup and 25 Hours of Thunderhill races.
*Image courtesy of strixleviathon.com
By Julianne Bell ’13
Published Oct. 29, 2019