It’s been said that innovation is the lifeblood of our global economy. With the current COVID-19 global pandemic, this is truer than ever. While industry giants work to find a vaccine for public distribution, NC State alumni entrepreneurs are rolling up their sleeves and pivoting their core businesses to find ways to help stop the spread of the virus. We chatted with two of these entrepreneurs who have made drastic pivots in their business, all toward contributing to the world’s common goal of keeping our communities healthy and working.
Next Century Spirits
Founded by two NC State alumni, Next Century Spirits is a Raleigh, NC based distillery that blends together traditional techniques and patented technology to create enhanced distilled spirits. They satisfy the unique needs of each client by offering custom whiskey, rum, or tequila production and manufacturing. But these days they are becoming well known for a different product: sanitizer.
Back in early March while conducting business in Japan, Next Century Spirits executives came across the news of COVID-19 and learned about the shortages in hand sanitizer and masks. They quickly realized this would have an effect on the global supply chain and recognized they were equipped with the materials needed to produce sanitizer. “We have the infrastructure and materials to do it, so let’s help keep the community healthy and help keep people employed,” said Yolanda Castillo, Director of Marketing at Next Century Spirits. “It was simple, but also complicated,” she tells us.
What started as small batch production, quickly sold out. “We started getting calls from other states for the sanitizer, and that’s when the magic started to happen,” said Castillo. While the company is still in the business of producing spirits, approximately half of their production line is now allocated to making sanitizer. As people are preparing to go back to work and open up their businesses, the demand for sanitizer continues to skyrocket. “It presents a challenge to manage all the sanitizer demand and keep our core business going,” stated Castillo. As a result, they have partnered with Lone Rider Spirits, Lonerider Brewing Company, and Topo Organic Distillery to make hand sanitizer and help those in the front lines. With this partnership they are helping breweries in NC to make beer into free hand sanitizer for first responders, medical staff and government entities. Also, if breweries donate “bad beer for a good cause” the participating brewery receives a proportionate allotment of hand sanitizer to give to their staff and customers.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, they started filling up whatever they had in hand with the sanitizer – this includes spirit bottles, growlers and 5-gallon buckets for those who wanted to purchase in bulk. They quickly realized the need to secure bottles, caps, labels, and other packaging supplies. With this need in mind, they partnered with local companies such as Burts Bees in Durham, NC to obtain the much-needed packaging. Since the start of the pandemic. the current lead time for securing such high commodity items is approximately 3 months, Castillo explained. But thanks to their resourcefulness, quick thinking, and partnerships with local businesses, Next Century Spirits is able to offer their customers anything from a 4oz bottle to a 265-gallon tote or tanker full of sanitizer.
Check out their website to learn more about their efforts.
Second Nature’s story began back in 2012 when two North Carolina State University students harnessed their passion for entrepreneurship and honed in on an opportunity to create a better experience for homeowners who struggled to stay on top of an important but out-of-sight, out-of-mind home maintenance task: changing out dirty air filters. Formerly known as FilterEasy, the company revolutionized the task of changing air filters by automating delivery directly to homeowners’ doors on a customizable schedule. In fact, their passion to create real value in the market is purely what prompted their journey to rebrand to Second Nature in 2019.
Fast forward to March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the U.S., that very same guiding principle of creating value led them to the production of a new product: facemasks.
“It turns out that we’re working with a lot of the same non-woven materials that face masks are made of,” said Kevin Barry, co-founder of Second Nature.
After becoming aware of the shortages in PPE equipment and face masks, they embraced their entrepreneurial ‘can-do’ attitude and started working on a plan to help with the shortages. “We’re set up with a distribution facility that has a strong team and with people that know how to do the assembly work,” Barry tells us. “It was our civic duty to use the team and the resources we had to put together face masks for as many folks as possible.”
“It’s not high tech or technical, in fact, it’s a very manual process,” Barry tells us. By utilizing rapid prototyping methodology and with the help of other NC State alumni and members of the leadership team, they were able to repurpose some of their equipment and borrowed additional equipment to get their facility ready to produce the face masks. “We have inventory to make 2 million face masks and are planning on making all 2 million,” Barry shares.
With production goals of 15,000 masks per day, working 5 days per week, such large scale production has allowed Second Nature the opportunity to extend employment to approximately 25 people. “We’re super thankful that we’ve been able to put a bunch of people to work,” Barry shared.
To learn more about Second Nature visit their website.
If you’re an NC State Alumni that has pivoted your core business during the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep the community healthy and people employed – we want to hear from you. Let us know how you’re pivoting your core business by leaving us a comment in the response box below.