Emily Kaufman was a Brooklyn blogger working an assignment for a gluten-free food website when she came across a Spanish company that made GlutenTox, an easy-to-use test kids for gluten in foods.
Like any good blogger, Kaufman searched for a link that people could use to buy a kit for themselves, but had no luck. So she wrote the manufacturer, Biomedal, and Kaufman quickly learned the company did not have U.S. distribution.
“The wheels started turning,” says the 27 year-old Kaufman, who was diagnosed with Celiac disease and has been gluten-free since 2002.
By January, 2011, Kaufman had founded Emport LLC, moving from Brooklyn back to Pittsburgh, where she attended the University of Pittsburgh, to distribute GlutenTox.
What was the biggest challenge in getting Emport off the ground?
Landing the first few commercial clients was tough. The product itself was virtually unheard of when I first brought it to the US, and even the product category (user-friendly gluten analysis kits) was barely on the radar. Professional manufacturers of gluten-free food were rightfully cautious. They stake their brand reputations on providing safe food, and for all they knew I was selling snake oil. It took a little while to connect with key people in the field, people who were interested in looking at our data and applying the test to their own practices.
In retrospect it’s funny, because the first day that the website went up — at that point I only had one product, GlutenTox Home — two orders came through. I figured the hard work was done and all I really needed to do was make the website look nicer. I couldn’t have been more wrong; the hard work was just starting.
How is Emport growing?
We had three full quarters in 2011; if I compare those to the first three quarters of 2012, revenue nearly tripled and profit margins remained relatively stable. We also launched GlutenTox Pro, which is now our best-selling test kit and is sold by Biomedal’s other distributors around the world. And we’ve taken on a second product line, OleoTest, which helps restaurants track the lifespan of the oil in their deep fryers by detecting polar compounds. Hopefully in January or February we’ll bring on a new employee to help with fulfillment and administrative tasks.
How can we stimulate small business to be an engine for job creation?
There are a dizzying amount of rules and forms and fees and taxes, all of which need to be filed and paid to different branches of government. It’s very easy to feel like you’re missing something, forgetting to file or register something — and very hard to tell if you’ve actually done everything you’re supposed to do. And once you hire someone (other than yourself) the paperwork just quadruples. It can be daunting enough to keep small businesses from creating proper, trackable jobs, especially in their earliest stages when there isn’t enough money to hire someone to manage it.
What key partnerships in your region or state have helped Emport grow?
Well, at the moment we’re trying to take advantage of some matching state funding that will help us grow sales in Canada — a chance meeting with someone at the Pittsburgh Technology Council happened to be very helpful for us.
What advantages do being in Pittsburgh hold for entrepreneurs?
Pittsburgh is a nice balance of town and city: I can walk to my office, the mailman and the Fedex team all know me. At the same time, there are lots of other people doing interesting, creative, business-minded things — and plenty of places to go and things to do when it’s time to get away from the office for a while.
Plus, because costs are lower, the barrier for entry for a new business is lower. If I had tried to start Emport in a more expensive city I would have needed to find outside funding to get started with, and then I’d be leveraged in a way I really wanted to avoid.
Where does your region need to improve in terms of support for entrepreneurs?
There are a good number of resources aimed at the tech community, and also (it seems) for artisans. Those of us who don’t fall into either category can get a bit lost in the shuffle.
— by Joe Petrucci
5139 Penn Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15224