Gumball machine sparks idea for fitness buffs’ Ryze Nutrition business

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Business ideas can come from almost anywhere, and that was the case for Thomas McKay when he forgot his preworkout supplement.

“I was at a store and was going to go to the gym afterwards, but realized I had left my supplements at home,” McKay said. “I walked past a gumball machine and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to dispense supplements in a gumball?’”

Excited about the idea, McKay called Jacob Langer, a good friend whom he had worked out with before moving to La Crosse.  Langer, a mixed martial arts competitor and boxer from Marinette, is a believer in the use of supplements and immediately got on board with the idea.

The research began.

McKay and Langer talked to gym owners and fitness buffs. They crowdsourced for ideas to test the viability of the concept. They asked gym owners if they would allow a machine; they asked customers if they would be interested in purchasing a gumball before working out. 

At the same time, they researched the density of supplements to see what it would take to get the product inside of a gumball and how effective it would be. Then they took the next step.

“We purchased 800 gumballs to start refining the process,” McKay said. “We used 1-inch gumballs and mixed the supplement with water to inject it into the gumball.”

Since large gumballs are hollow inside, they had success in coming up with a product that could be used prior to a workout to increase nitroxide in a person’s body to improve blood flow and reduce fatigue. 

“You want instant energy, and we can do that,” McKay said.

The pair has bigger plans that include after-workout gumballs, and gumballs that will utilize other substances such as amino acids — supplements that are sports-specific. They have named the business Ryze Nutrition.

“We’ve both had several obstacles to overcome in our lives and we believe it’s a fitting name for our innovative product,” McKay said.

They will need that perspective over the next months as the finalize their business plan, including the challenges of putting together financial scenarios, figuring out financing, making a distribution and manufacturing plan, and beginning to market the business.

They are headed in the right direction as they plan to seek additional advice before moving forward. They have been directed to the Green Bay SCORE chapter’s national website, www.score.org, for business plan templates and will be presenting at One Million Cups in December.

Ryan Kauth, a community organizer for One Million Cups Green Bay (1MCGB), said that two entrepreneurs present each month to share their startup stories.

“It’s not a pitch,” Kauth said. “In fact, in a way it’s ‘anti-pitch’ because we want entrepreneurs who are afraid to present or pitch in public to apply. 1MC provides presentation coaching materials, and each presenter is assigned a coach/mentor from the 1MCGB community prior to their presentation. At the end of their presentation, we ask the presenter, ‘What can we do as a community to help you?’”

McKay and Langer will be able to ask for specific help and will be provided with connections to local resources like SCORE, the Startup Hub and potential investors. There will be one to two dozen community members in attendance (held the second Wednesday of each month at Urban Hub in downtown Green Bay), and meetings are open to all.

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With the business still in its early stages, making connections will be an important part of the process. They plan to sell the gumballs for $1 each, but need to get their production cost down to 37 cents. There is also an issue with shelf life, and lining up gyms willing to give them space for machines. 

But the owners they have talked to so far believe, like they do, in the benefits of supplements in furthering athletic progress and have been excited about the business. 

McKay said: “Eating healthy is fantastic, but if you are going that extra mile with training, supplements will supplement that process. It helps you recover and reach your goals faster.”

And McKay and Langer are hoping that customers will see the benefits that they have personally experienced and that they can deliver those supplements in an easy to use, chewable form.  They have looked at the competition and believe they’ve found a niche in the huge nutritional supplement market (estimated at more than $31 billion in the United States). Most importantly, they are ready for the challenges ahead.

“Jake is in tune with the fitness community and has the ability to see opportunity in every situation,” McKay said. “I’m more of a numbers and science guy, and I’m really hard on myself. If I know something is a good idea, I am convinced to go forward, but also humble enough to listen to criticism. The worst response in business is to say that this is the way it has always been done and not be open to change and listening to suggestions.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.

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