One of SKU’s most famous brands is EPIC Provisions – the innovative Track 1 brand started by endurance athletes Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest.
When they started SKU – formerly known as Incubation Station – they had a vegan protein-bar company called Thunderbird. Facing health problems, a holistic health practitioner encouraged to add meat to their diet. By the time they had finished the accelerator, they pivoted their business to EPIC – a protein bar that combined meat, fruit, and nuts. (Thunderbird lives on as a beloved brand).
They sold their company to General Mills for a reported $100 million in 2016 after just three years in business – a founder’s dream. They wanted EPIC to help transform America’s food system. Using proceeds from the sale of Epic, they bought a 600-acre spread outside of Fredericksburg Texas – ROAM Ranch.
On ROAM Ranch, they raise livestock in a mixed-species setting which mimics the biodiversity found in nature. On the ranch, herds of bison, beef, and goats are pastured-raised, 100% grass fed, and free of added hormones and antibiotics. Ducks, chickens, and turkeys all are pasture raised.
Collins took some time out from his busy to update us life on life on the ranch, although he acknowledged that some questions were better answered around a fire..
SKU: What have you been up to over the past year?
Collins: Over the last year, Katie and I have spent the majority of our energy directed at accelerating the restoration of our multi-species regenerative ranch in Fredericksburg Texas (ROAM Ranch). In addition to growing our herd of 160 Plains Bison, we have added a new baby girl (Poppy Wren) to our family! We also find ourselves back in the CPG community through our newest venture, Force of Nature and are seeing some big wins with that nationally distributed meat company founded upon regenerative principles. The biggest lesson of the last year has been to focus on building resilience in our health, community, and food systems.
The Power of SKU
SKU: How has SKU assisted you along your entrepreneurial journey?
Collins: SKU gave us the tools to believe in ourselves and trust in the process. Through close relationships with SKU mentors, Katie and I were able to develop specific skills and access resources that helped us define our path and accelerate into the journey of being an entrepreneur.
SKU: How involved are you and Katie currently in EPIC?
Collins: Katie and I are still involved in EPIC, but the company is being run by a talented group of passionate individuals who are working on executing the mission on which EPIC was founded. While we are removed from the day to day operations, we get looped in on big projects, innovation, and brand evolution.
SKU: How do you maintain the entrepreneurial spirit at a company like EPIC? Is it a challenge?
Collins: One of our core values at EPIC was “Do more with less.” We emphasized to our employees that it was an advantage being a small independent business because we were nimble and could take risks. For those reasons, we made sure to act like one at all times. Katie and I also never believed in a singular “playbook” for building a business and encouraged a culture of disruption to the status quo. We feel that companies who believe in a “playbook” approach exchange their entrepreneurial spirit for a more mechanized approach to business.
A Beacon of Hope in Central Texas Ecology
SKU: What was the inspiration for ROAM Ranch?
Collins: ROAM Ranch is the living and breathing embodiment of our evolving mission to regenerate and restore land on a global level. We are demonstrating the positive impacts of proper land management through animal impact, contributing to research, and inspiring the next generation of land stewards. ROAM Ranch is a beacon of hope in Central Texas ecology and a destination for consumers to reconnect with their food and natural resources.
SKU: What are some of the lessons you and Katie have learned along your entrepreneurial journey?
Collins: Our greatest lesson learned throughout our entrepreneurial journey has been to build companies that are good for all stake holders (consumers, land, animals) and that the world needs. Innovation is key to success and being able to create meaningful and inspiring change through business is coveted by consumers.
SKU: What words of advice do you have for the founders going through SKU
Collins: Our biggest words of advice for founders going through SKU would be to trust your gut and act boldly.