A Pasta Empire Built with VFA
Brian Rudolph, 2012 Fellow
Brian caught the entrepreneurial bug during his sophomore year of college when he founded a music company with some friends. The company never became wildly successful, but the results from his first concert changed the way Brian saw business. He saw something that he created positively impact hundreds of people and he was hooked on building things.
The Courage to Start Something of His Own
After college Brian joined the first class of Fellows at Venture for America and spent his Fellowship in Detroit as the first employee at a startup, Quikly. In his first month Brian was responsible for copywriting, analytics, customer service, user growth, and sales. Ultimately, he settled into a role that was a hybrid of sales and product management.
It was both the breadth and depth of his experience at Quikly that helped him feel comfortable starting a business. Because he was the first employee, he learned how to be scrappy and gained an understanding of the business as a whole. He learned the importance of being relentless.
Organizing concerts made me want to start a business, and Venture for America gave me the confidence and skills to actually do it.
Getting Banza Off the Ground
Despite a grueling work schedule, Brian made time for a side project. As a self-proclaimed health nut and a pasta lover, Brian wanted to find a way that he could consume pasta guilt-free while also avoiding gluten and unnecessary carbs. He toyed around in his kitchen with chickpeas, which are high in fiber and protein, and started prototyping chickpea pasta. He named his nascent company Banza. Brian entered Banza into VFA’s crowdfunding competition, the Innovation Fund, to see if there was a market fit for his new pasta. Brian’s experience with crowdfunding for Banza not only validated his idea and gave him some seed money to get off the ground, it caught the attention of some producers at the television show, Restaurant Startup. Brian and his co-founder (and brother!) Scott, went on the show and won funding from famous restaurateur and co-owner of Eataly, Joe Bastianich. The deal also included shelf space in Eataly- their grocery store debut! To top it all off, Banza received $45,000 in seed funding from VFA’s seed fund, the UBS sponsored Venture Catalyst Awards.
Prevailing Despite Adversity
Banza grew rapidly after the Innovation Fund and Restaurant Startup, and with seed funding they began manufacturing pasta in northern Michigan. It wasn’t all smooth sailing – Banza once manufactured over 18,000 lbs of bad product – but through the ups and downs the VFA network and Brian’s fellow Fellows were always there to provide support and encouragement.
Banza was the first Fellow founded company to hire VFA Fellows and continues to take on new Fellows from each class. Today Banza can be found in more than 2,000 grocery stores across the country and has expanded its product offerings to delicious mac & cheese. In 2015 Brian was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in food and drink and Banza was listed as a top 25 invention of 2015 by Time Magazine.
Brian and 2014 Fellow, Avery Hairston, are featured in the documentary Generation Startup, co-directed by academy award winner, Cynthia Wade. Check out the trailer below to get catch a glimpse into what building Banza was really like and keep up to date about screenings near you by signing up for the Generation Startup mailing list.
Oh, and want to get your hands on some Banza? Check out www.eatbanza.com.