Eddie Sandoval and Kyle Offutt have seen a lot in the last four years building their company, Pinole Blue, and most of it hasn’t been glamorous.
Natural born entrepreneurs and thrifty bootstrappers, the two have grown Pinole Blue from a hand-spun corn grinder in a dorm room at Wichita State to a nationally recognized all-natural food company on the bright lights of Shark Tank.
But their hard work is hardly the most compelling part of their story. Since the first day Sandoval presented his idea to Offutt and his business professor, Kate Kung-McIntyre, he knew philanthropy would be the mission of the business.
“We both know that if it wasn’t for people believing in us, we wouldn’t be here,” said Sandoval.
He received the Linwood Sexton Scholarship in 2013, which covered his tuition, fees and lodging for all four years of college. The scholarship was established in 2000 by alumnus Jim Mann to honor Sexton and recognize his countless contributions to the communities where he lived while doing all he could to support and empower others to achieve their own success.
Sandoval built a strong relationship with Sexton throughout his time at college, and the two would get lunch every few months up until his death Sandoval’s senior year. The scholarship was especially significant to Sandoval as his sister received it ten years before him.
“The Linwood Sexton Scholarship was a huge impact for my family,” said Sandoval. “Not having the financial burden of college was amazing, and I think Linwood would be really proud to see where we’re at today.”
Receiving scholarships allowed both Sandoval and Offutt to take a risk on their company and pursue it full time after graduation without facing a mountain of student debt.
“I could say ‘what do I have to lose right now?’ I would never regret having tried it if it did fail,” emphasized Offutt.
The start of a new venture
In 2017, with the encouragement of Kung-McIntyre, Sandoval and Offutt entered their growing business into the Shocker New Venture Competition. The competition allows students, alumni and community members to pitch an entrepreneurial idea for a chance to win funding. Pinole Blue took first place, securing a $10,000 reward to help build their company.
“That funding allowed us to get machinery, licensing, insurance, inventory and a commercial kitchen to scale production,” said Sandoval. “It was really the seed that got us off the ground.”
Sandoval and Offutt jumped in with both feet, putting everything they earned back into the company. They drove across the country selling the product door-to-door at mom & pop shops and Hispanic grocers, camping in a tent or their car for trade shows.
“These two work really, really, really hard,” Kung-McIntyre emphasized. “Building a company is not easy. It’s not glamorous. They’ve been knocked down a lot and they still keep going, and when they don’t even have two pennies to pay themselves, they still give to philanthropies and donate food.”
Pinole, created from stone-ground corn, originates from the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, who consume the drink for energy on long-distance runs. From the beginning, Sandoval was committed to donating a portion of the company’s earnings back to that community and has built partnerships with female artisans and sponsored runners from the tribe. “We’ve always had an attitude that it wasn’t easy for us, so we want to pass it down the ladder,” said Sandoval. “It’s pretty cool that we have a team who all believe in this.”