Superfriend of the Month: Tiny But Mighty Popcorn!

August 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm Leave a comment

We love Tiny But Mighty Popcorn and are thrilled to have them as one of our 2011 Super Tour partners and August’s Superfriend of the month!  Their tiny popcorn has a mighty big taste!  Tiny But Mighty Popcorn is a super-premium variety of corn with unique flavor and story. It is an heirloom popcorn (or maize) native to North America and claims the title “heirloom” because the genetic makeup of the plant is virtually identical to the corn that covered North America for thousands of years.  Tiny But Mighty Popcorn with a smaller, denser kernel, has a more concentrated flavor that reduces the need for butter, salt, or other additions. After you try Tiny But Mighty Popcorn it is difficult for them to enjoy any other variety of commercial popcorn.  At the Family Farmed Expo in March, my family spent the whole day eating this delicious popcorn!  Check out our interview with Kevin below!

Q:  Kevin, tell us a little bit about how and why you came to your current position at Tiny But Mighty Popcorn?

A:    My path to Tiny But Mighty is long and winding to say the least.  My whole life I have been interested in science and ecology but opted for Finance and Theology as my areas of focus in college.  Luckily my curiosity allowed me to take some amazing hands on science courses in high school and college—working on projects in Costa Rica, Belize, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Yes I know I’m incredibly lucky and those experiences helped reinforce the need for a career that was more than plain vanilla business.  Entrepreneurship was always in the back of my mind but the pathway to accomplishing this goal is extremely challenging and not very well defined.

After gaining some plain vanilla business experience I made the leap to a part-time MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  I dove into the program headfirst while maintaining a 9-5 job.  I focused on entrepreneurship, marketing, and strategy and immediately began working with other classmates trying to develop raw business ideas and speaking with anyone who would listen and help us develop our entrepreneurial skills.

I met Jim Slama, founder of FamilyFarmed.org, through the University of Chicago.  Early in 2010 I helped him with one aspect of his organization’s FamilyFarmedEXPO—a great event that highlights local food and farmers and what it takes to get quality food to your plate.  The event I worked on was the Financing Farm to Fork program that focuses on bringing knowledge and financing options to small family farmers in order to build quality food options.

After working on the event Jim mentioned that there was an Iowa popcorn farmer in need of help developing his product and business plan after two years of record flooding nearly destroyed the Mealhow Family’s dreams that they spent over a decade developing.  It was an open-ended invitation that I viewed as a short learning experience—I never imagined that within a year and a half I would be quitting my job, growing popcorn in my parents’ backyard, working with Whole Foods Market regional and national managers, and thinking everyday about all the little details it takes to bring Tiny But Mighty Popcorn from kernel to shelf.  After a long time away from my love of ecology, the desire to understand entrepreneurship took me on a winding path that eventually led to the best of all my goals and interests.  The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the process is never over—the future of the best popcorn in the world is still not safe.  The Tiny But Mighty team has come a long way but we still have several years of hard work to come. I’m confident that the unique quality of our popcorn, the intense passion of the Mealhow Family, and a growing army of popcorn lovers will help establish Tiny But Mighty as the best popcorn you’ve ever tasted.

 

Q:  How has working with Tiny But Mighty Popcorn impacted your life and what about your job brings you the most joy?

A:   My experience with Tiny But Mighty has proven all of the best concepts I hoped to find in the business world. The distinction between life and work is almost nonexistent for me right now. I love the Mealhow Family that I work with and am inspired by the perseverance they’ve displayed over more than 10 years struggling to improve and expand the Tiny But Mighty popcorn variety. It’s unbelievable that my dream job was made possible entirely by their effort to save this unique heirloom variety and trust they have placed in others to help them complete the aspects of building a company and brand necessary to sustain their efforts back on the farm.

Even though I’ve focused my time on developing business skills, I share the same passion as Gene does for the farming and development of the plant itself. Having the opportunity to learn how Gene develops this popcorn and watching it grow from kernel to new ear of corn is exciting for me every day. There seems to have developed an increasing divide between the rural “farming” world and the urban “finance” world. Each side tends to undervalue and distrust the other which makes partnerships extremely difficult between small family farmers and the business leaders needed to build their products into a thriving brand available in your local store.

Q:  What gets you through juggling your family life and work with Tiny But Mighty Popcorn?

A:   Working on an entrepreneurial project like Tiny But Mighty Popcorn allows for some flexibility in where and when I work.  There have been plenty of sleepless nights during the early days working with Tiny But Mighty—it takes a lot of dedication and belief in the product and company to keep doing whatever needs to be done.

 

Q:If there was a movie about your life what would it be called?

A:   Opportunities found at the intersection of hard work and contradiction.

 

 

 

 

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