Stop By Wednesday May 22, 11a-2p, Grand Opening Open House: Tours, Gifts, Networking, Excitement

Shark Tank it’s not: It’s better than that! Check out Innovation DuPage’s new headquarters at the Glen Ellyn Civic Center, 535 Duane Street, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Everyone is invited to stop by on May 22, between 11a-2p, for a Grand Opening Open House.

Everyone is invited! Innovation DuPage Grand Opening Open House

Meet some of the start up businesses that will be incubating at Innovation DuPage. Also, ID staff will be offering tours to show off the renovation of the former Glen Ellyn police station and introduce you to the business development incubator that is Innovation DuPage.

The space is beautiful, the tours take just a few minutes and then you can take your goodie bag, go grab a bite at the nearest restaurant or stop by your favorite Glen Ellyn shop for a look/see (and there are many shops and restaurants to explore in downtown Glen Ellyn)!

Participating retailers are offering a free gift with a minimum purchase for anyone who stops by the ID Grand Opening #GO_ID #MyID

How Gindo’s is spicing up the craft hot sauce business

Chris Ginder is unapologetically obsessed with hot sauce. He creates a new flavor almost every week. Today, his business offers about 103 unique sauces, and “unique” is often an understatement. (Chocolate Cold Brew hot sauce, anyone?)

You may call him crazy, but he prefers “Gindo.”

In 2011, Chris and Mary Ginder launched Gindo’s Hot Sauce in LA. Soon after, they brought their business to Batavia, Illinois, where they found a surprisingly ideal home for their obsession.

The finance portion of the program was invaluable,” Mary says. “Understanding cash flow is absolutely necessary for success, and the mentors were awesome in helping us apply that to our business.

Illinois isn’t typically known as a hot sauce destination – Midwesterners traditionally wince at the truly hot stuff – but that’s changing. In the last decade, a crop of new businesses has emerged, and they’re serious about their hot sauce.

It’s no longer just hot sauce. It’s craft hot sauce. Think food-pairings. Think locally sourced ingredients. Think small-batch brews. Like the micro-breweries of our region, these new craft hot-sauce cookeries are capitalizing on Chicagoland’s foodie culture and the nutrient-rich soil of our state, perfect for growing peppers. We, the Illinoisans, are willing devotees.

When Gindo’s Hot Sauce joined Innovation DuPage, their product was already a hit, and they were on their way to becoming the Three Floyds of craft hot sauce. (If you’re wondering about this Three Floyds business, ask your nearest craft beer nut.) Their product is delicious and complex. Equally important, it’s natural and locally sourced. Chris and Mary are persnickety with their ingredients, only selecting fresh peppers from area farmers and “carefully curated sea salt.” Their audience, equally persnickety, loves to know that such care is being put into their food. And while the couple is consistent with quality, they are also full of surprises. Like a good line of craft beer, Chris’ flavors are inventive, dynamic and perfectly paired with certain foods, and his rapid-fire, small-batch releases are the perfect business model to keep the market hungry. Gindo’s small batches are so ravenously popular that they rarely make it to the online shop, since they routinely sell-out at farmers’ markets. Some of the couple’s rarer batches can be as difficult to get your hands on as a Dark Lord Stout.

If Gindo’s had the success of a craft brewery, it also had the troubles of one. Just as the business rose in popularity, a whole wave of craft hot sauces followed suit. In the last decade, more than a dozen competitor businesses cropped up in the area. Overnight, the farmers’ markets became crowded with craft hot sauces, all promising similar products to Gindo’s under the craft principals of experimentation, curation and fresh, locally sourced ingredients (as well as trippy labels with elaborate designs, which can be just as critical). The couple claimed that their hot sauce was the best – if you ask their customers, it is – but so did everyone else.

The Ginders were stuck in a woefully bloated market.

It was time to tweak their recipe.

(Don’t worry! Not their hot sauce recipe, just their business.)

Chris was attending a networking event in Batavia when he met Ellen Huxtable, a fellow entrepreneur and a board member at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, one of Innovation DuPage’s partner organizations. Ellen had already heard all about Gindo’s.

“It just so happened her son was a huge fan of our sauces,” Mary says.

When Chris told Ellen about the challenges Gindo’s was facing, she referred him to ID. Less than a week later, Chris and Mary joined our Accelerator program, an intensive course designed to help business owners grow their customer base, improve operations and break into new markets, while networking and sharing ideas with fellow entrepreneurs. For the Ginders, who were fighting for air in an increasingly oversaturated market, it gave them the edge their business needed.

“The finance portion of the program was invaluable,” Mary says. “Understanding cash flow is absolutely necessary for success, and the mentors were awesome in helping us apply that to our business.”

ID’s Accelerator program took a comprehensive approach to Gindo’s Hot Sauce. Mentors and fellow entrepreneurs helped the Ginders identify “bottlenecks” in their business model – inefficiencies that have a negative impact on the business as a whole – and improve those areas. 

“ID helped us approach our company more like owners,” Mary says. “We’ve taken a step back to focus more on how to manage operations. Instead of trying to do all the work ourselves, we’ve hired several employees to delegate responsibilities.”

The result? Business is booming, Gindo’s is more efficient than ever, and the Ginders are looking to take their operations to the next level. Mary says the couple is even planning to open a hot-sauce manufacturing facility in the near future.

That’s good news for everyone. Now, Chris can focus even more energy on his passion for all things spice, and we can have a second helping of that Honey Habanero.

How Gray Matters Games rewrote the rules of business growth

The New York Toy Fair isn’t all fun and games. Okay, technically, it is all fun and games, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. For the thousands of exhibitors who pitch their products – many of them small businesses trying to break into an overcrowded market – the future of their business is on the line. They stand to win (or lose) just about everything.

It was at the 2018 Toy Fair where Lauren and Joe Barron were first discovered.

Just a year before, in 2017, Joe left a lucrative career in finance to launch a startup with Lauren.

The couple had just taken a road trip with Lauren’s family. To pass the hours on the highway, they made a game, a clever hybrid of trivia and betting. It was good. More than “good,” it was approachable and addictive, seemingly simple yet deceptively complex, totally familiar and, somehow, utterly original. (The game would eventually become their company’s first product, You Bet-cha!) Hours flew by and the family was engrossed. Someone suggested they should do this for a living. The Barrons agreed.

The couple had discovered their passion: creating games that make you laugh, smile, blush and think. They decided to turn it into a business – and not just any business, but one with a purpose.

“When we started thinking about who we wanted to be, we really wanted to do something that had a social impact,” Joe says. “We want to be a force for good.”

Joe and Lauren founded a company with two missions. First, to bring people together and stimulate brain activity, a much-needed therapy for our smartphone-addled minds. And second, to raise money for Alzheimer’s research, after Joe lost two grandmothers to the disease.

They had a business. Now, all they needed was a name, something that captured the importance of our brains and how we use them.

A quick brainstorm later, and they settled on “Gray Matters Games.” (Take a closer look at their logo, and you’ll see a G and an M amid the cerebral swirls.)

Back at the 2018 Toy fair, a sales representative approached the Gray Matters Games table, bumping elbows with a crowd of nearly 30,000. There, they met an excited, if somewhat stressed, pair of entrepreneurs. The stakes were especially high for Joe and Lauren. The market was extremely competitive, there weren’t any investors backing their business, and Joe had just left his job. They were the quintessential startup. And, as if there wasn’t already enough pressure to succeed, a baby girl was on her way, due in seven months.

The couple took the sales rep through a round of Ridiculous Expositions, a card game for adults where teams attempt to translate seemingly innocent phrases into their less-than-innocent counterparts. (One of the cards reads, “Sofa King Awe Sum!”) Like other Gray Matters creations, Ridiculous Expositions is fast, quirky, easy to pick up, and beautifully crafted with cartoonish illustrations and tight game design. The look is iconic, and the gameplay is addictive. It instantly draws you in and makes you laugh. And then you want to play again.

“As you’re growing, the working capital portion becomes really important. You have to find a way to cover those costs, and that’s hard to do on your own.

The sales rep was impressed. So impressed, they pitched it to a well-connected retail buyer over dinner that same night. Within two weeks, a deal was signed. Ridiculous Expositions would be on the shelves of nearly 700 Target stores across the nation.

The Barrons had made their big break.

Now, the hard work could really begin.

A good idea is only the beginning of a successful business, as Joe and Lauren soon learned. After the initial thrill of landing a deal with Target, the couple had to consider the immense logistical and financial challenge of actually fulfilling such an order, a project far larger in scope than anything the couple had encountered before. Creating a prototype for Toy Fair was one thing. To fulfill the Target order, they would need to produce 20,000 copies of the game – at 400 cards per box, that adds up to about 8 million individual cards – and they would have to cover all the production costs upfront, which meant a heavy investment.

“We’re bootstrapping our business,” Joe says. “As you’re growing, the working capital portion becomes really important. You have to find a way to cover those costs, and that’s hard to do on your own.”

The Barrons are a business-savvy couple – both have MBA’s – but they had never owned a small business before Gray Matters Games. They didn’t anticipate the growing pains, and they didn’t expect to encounter so many roadblocks in such rapid succession. They felt like they had just rounded a bend and entered the rapids. Suddenly, the couple had to face a whole slew of challenges – finances, logistics, marketing and operations, to name a few – things that have seemingly nothing to do with what the Barrons do best: creating smart, ingeniously addictive party games.

Their business seemed to be on its way to success. But, to survive, they needed some help.

Soon after landing a deal with Target, Gray Matters Games joined Innovation DuPage’s Incubation program. Based in our Glen Ellyn headquarters, Incubation connects startups and developing businesses (like the Barron’s) with peer entrepreneurs, mentors, resources, investors and talent. As members, Joe and Lauren have connected with people who understand the challenges they face and can provide the support they need.

“We could use help on the marketing side, financing, and even bringing in new employees and interns,” Joe says. “Those are things we’ve never done before.”

“Now, at ID, we’re working in this space where we can just tap someone on the shoulder and get the help we need.”

Today, the Barrons live in Glen Ellyn with their daughter and a rowdy pair of Vizslas, Gipper and Rudy (think: Weimaraners, with extra-floppy ears).

Some things have changed since landing the Target deal, but most things are just as they were before. In this house, most nights are game nights. The doorbell rings. Pizza arrives. Friends and family gather around the table to “test” new games and toss around ideas. Lauren and Joe play with note cards within reach. Throughout the evening, a flash of inspiration might strike. When it does, the Barrons jot it down on a notecard and add it to a growing stack. Often, these notecards stay in the stack and gather dust. A few times, they have met a fateful end in the jaws of Gipper and Rudy. But, every so often, an idea takes root and grows into something bigger.

For Joe, the feeling of seeing his product on the shelves of a major retailer is as surreal as ever.

“With Ridiculous Expositions, we had an idea, we wrote it on a card, and now it’s sold nation-wide at Target,” he says.

The Target deal was a turning point for Gray Matters Games. Since then, the business has produced two new products, Badmoji and The Game of Wolf. Both are set to launch soon on Amazon, as well as on the shelves of 80 Sunrise Records stores across Canada. Wolf, incidentally, is a finalist for the Mensa Select award, one of the most prestigious honors in the game industry. 

Another piece of good news: Gray Matters Games is about to grow significantly. The Barrons say they are close to landing a lucrative deal with another major retailer (but the details are top-secret, for now).

Building a business is more difficult than most people could imagine, which is why about half of all small businesses fail within three years. Having a big idea is one thing; to transform it into a successful business, you need the right support. As Gray Matters Games continues to grow in its second year, Joe and Lauren are going to face even more challenges – some of which they’ll anticipate, others that will come out of nowhere. But they’re not alone.

As members of the ID Incubation program, the couple has a community at their backs. They have the people, the resources and the support they need to continue transforming their big ideas into a successful business. In return, they plan to give back to fellow entrepreneurs along the way.

“I think we’ll all be sharing ideas on how to grow our businesses,” says Joe. “I have a background in corporate development, and I’ll use it to help others in the program any way I can. That’s what this is about: building a community.”