• Sustainable Valley Technology Group helps boost local businesses

    Three foodmakers, e-commerce firm and a distillery receive private cash
  • Sustainable Valley Technology Group unveiled the latest group of companies that will get private investment money, mentoring and other help through its Medford-based business accelerator program.
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  • Sustainable Valley Technology Group unveiled the latest group of companies that will get private investment money, mentoring and other help through its Medford-based business accelerator program.
    The announcement was made Monday at the downtown Medford Higher Education Center.
    Pickled Planet, a raw fermented foods and sauerkraut company from Ashland, received $15,000 towards its efforts. TonTon Artisan Affections, a raw hummus and artisan vegan/gluten-free cookie entrepreneur from Talent, and By George Creamery, a Jacksonville artisan cheese maker specializing in aged, raw-milk cheese from grass-fed cows, were given $7,500 each. Freedom Design, an online e-commerce firm, picked up $5,000, and Ashland's Organic Nation distillery will get $2,500. The investment figures could grow between now and January.
    Courtlandt Jennings, Pickled Planet founder and president, said participation in the accelerator will help his firm grow toward the million-dollar level.
    "It means a whole lot," Jennings said. "We have essentially been without the ability to grow our business in any significant fashion without the capital we need. At the same time, our product category — fermented foods — has grown much faster than what we have. The $15,000 represents a chunk of what we need, but we need another $100,000 to $200,000 to do it right."
    The company sells its products in Oregon, California and Washington and has six part-time employees. Sales have been $230,000 to $240,000 during the past two years, but Jennings thinks the company could easily gross $1 million and have eight to 10 full-time employees in two or three years.
    "This will help us get our product to more retailers and essentially gives us the ability to expand and grow within the market as our category grows." he said. "We just haven't deeply penetrated the areas we're in."
    TonTon Artisan Affections opened its doors in rented space just over a year ago. Since then, Michael Antonopolis has sold his hummus and gluten-free products up and down the Interstate-5 corridor between Salem and Mount Shasta, Calif. With Sustainable Valley's help, Antonopolis hopes to expand sales to reach from the San Francisco Bay Area to Portland. The key, he said, will be moving out of a commercial kitchen in Talent to a place of his own.
    "I've pressed my capacity at the local rental kitchen as far as space," Antonopolis said. "As far as time, I could do more, but the facility can't handle what I need to do."
    Where he lands isn't a certainty, but he figures it will be sooner, rather than later.
    "I've been pushing for it to be in Ashland, although it might be in Medford," he said. "I'm still sorting all that out. I haven't set my heart on a place yet, which I'm glad because the places I've looked at have already cycled through."
    From the start, Antonopolis said, he has paid "real living wages."
    "Unlike 99 percent of the start-ups, I paid people what they deserved to be paid, and figured out how to make it work," he said.
    Organic Nation Spirits founder Diane Paulson said she viewed Monday's announcement as the launch of a capital campaign to position her 51/2;-year-old company among the top tier of organically sourced distilled products.
    "Our objective is to raise $1.5 million and this is our first step," Paulson said. "We want to grow our distillery into its rightful position in the industry. We need more people, a marketing director, brand ambassadors, booths on the street and more equipment so we can product more spirits."
    Among those spirits are brandy, rum and pear vodka.
    "We're sticking with the organic element and want to work with local fruit producers for raw ingredients," she said.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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