Starting a salsa company from scratch whetted Patrick Schwager’s appetite for entrepreneurship.
Chief Executive Officer, Aunt Nee's Fresh Foods
University of Michigan-Dearborn, Alumnus
I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who had a traditional start to their career in launching and managing companies. With that said, I really had no clue where I wanted to go in college, and on a whim in 2008, I pieced together a business plan for what would eventually become Aunt Nee’s Fresh Foods, LLC for a class project. My goal was to hand it off to my parents so they could have a proper guide on how to grow a successful company with their dry mix salsa idea. All things considered though, at the age of 22, I knew absolutely nothing about running a successful business.
Fast forward to 2009, my parents lost their jobs, my internship ran up and I found myself going on job interviews and talking more about Aunt Nee’s than I did about whatever position I was interviewing for. I declined an offer and so began my crash course in startups. I gathered all of my resources from UM-D undergrad, took a look at the company bank account (something around $80), called up Carlos who would later become my business partner, and said “I’m gonna go sell some salsa today, you wanna roll with?”
That summer we landed 2 major accounts – Bed Bath & Beyond and Walgreen’s, along with 30 local markets to get us started. When Aunt Nee’s would sell, we’d offer two things – the best salsa you’ve never heard of and the best damn high five you’ll ever get.
It’s 2012, we’ve made a lot great strides personally and professionally, and our business has grown far beyond what we ever thought: 400+ accounts in 23 states and a team of 11. Sales for 2008 were just under 1,000 units and we should close 2012 with approximately 70,000 sold.
What are your current projects?
Carlos and I continue to work with Aunt Nee’s, but also spend a good chunk of time helping young entrepreneurs grow their ideas. This year we’ll be launching a couple of new business concepts here in Michigan which we are more than stoked about.
What are your future goals?
I’d like to continue doing this for as long as I can. Working with passionate, creative individuals on new ideas and bringing them to market is a rush I just can’t find anywhere else. Overall though, I’d like to have at least three successful businesses under my belt by the time I am 30.
What inspired you to promote entrepreneurship?
The fact that the job market in Michigan is pretty slim, but the support you receive from major companies around here is near impossible to find elsewhere. You can go to New York or L.A. and be a little fish in a massive pond, or you can come to Detroit, be a little fish in a little pond, and receive guidance from wealthy executives who want to see you create jobs within the state.
What’s unique about the opportunities you’ve had at the University of Michigan-Dearborn?
Small class sizes, sharp faculty and networking…seriously, you could fall into a job there.
Where will you be in ten years?
Right here in Detroit, rebuilding the city that my grandfather used to speak so highly of.
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