Jesse Wolfe put his hopes, dreams, life savings and the past two and a half years of his life into growing his company, O’Dang Hummus.
Now, his hummus will be in Publix and Whole Food stores across the state.
“Most of my family didn’t know what hummus was when I started,” said Wolfe, CEO of O’Dang Hummus and business management senior.
Wolfe first started cooking hummus in his kitchen for friends after discovering it when he had his wisdom teeth removed and couldn’t have solid foods. The word of his hummus started spreading beyond his friends, and when people he didn’t know began to request it, he started considering making it an actual business.
To sell it on a larger scale, Wolfe had to fight to get into the local farmer’s markets. There were waiting lists years long and outright denials, but once he got into one farmer’s market, demand for his product exploded.
“I would come home from work at 6 p.m., and then cook hummus until 2 a.m.,” Wolfe said. “And then I’d wake up and go to work and then come home and do it again. The next day, I’d take it to farmer’s markets and sell it.”
Wolfe kept expanding to keep up with demand, and soon was opening stands in multiple farmer’s markets. The formula and label for the hummus was adjusted, and his customers had a positive reaction; they wanted more. His start-up grew out of the home setup he had, but he set his sights higher.
“It almost became an addiction,” Wolfe said.
After getting his product into the farmer’s markets, Wolfe said he tried local grocery stores. He found a small store that was willing to take his hummus, and as soon as O’Dang Hummus hit the shelves, demand exploded again.
“We actually kicked the national brand [of hummus] out of that store,” Wolfe said.
The momentum and demand from that grocery store and the farmer’s markets led to O’Dang Hummus being picked up by Whole Foods and Publix.
However, before he could get to that point, and even after, Wolfe got the support he needed from the UCF community, particularly the UCF Blackstone LaunchPad.
The LaunchPad, which opened in October 2012, exists to help provide students with free, confidential help with launching their own businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Assistant director of the Launchpad, Pam Hoelzle, was just one of the individuals who was involved in helping Wolfe at the start of his company.
“We try to tie students into the right clubs and resources to help them,” Hoelzle said.
Those resources cover a wide range of options, from the tangible — space to work and create — to the financial, including contests students can enter to help fund start-ups and advice on how to be the most efficient with their money.
The Launchpad additionally offers daily events, seminars and mentoring, where students can learn how to put their ideas into motion. It also brings in outside speakers to talk to the students, and sets up networking events where students can connect with each other and with possible investors.
“There is a free-enterprise revolution going on in this campus,” Hoelzle said. “Don’t work alone.”
Cameron Ford, the founding director of the LaunchPad, helped secure the initial grant for the program.
“We don’t ask students to have anything other than an idea when they come into the LaunchPad,” Ford said. “We don’t want guesses. We want to turn guesses into facts.”
He also oversees other programs at the university, including UPSTART, which supports eight to ten student ventures each year and teaches upper-level classes in the College of Business Administration.
“Jesse has a rare thing,” Ford said. “He has a product everyone loves. I’ve never seen anyone try it and not love it.”
Amber Hair is a Contributing Writer for Central Florida Future