The recipe is simple, really: Combine gourmet nut butter with skills training and community support to yield social change. This particular recipe, however, requires a special ingredient for success: the passionate dedication of Julie Sullivan, '12, and her business partner, Carolyn Cesario. The duo runs Ground Up PDX, a for-profit company in Portland, Ore., that produces artisanal, peanut-free nut butters.
Five months after Sullivan and Cesario launched Ground Up, in March 2016, the business had sold more than 5,000 jars of nut butter. The income allowed them to kick their mission – empowering women – into high gear.
"We founded Ground Up on the belief that if you give a woman an opportunity," Sullivan says, "it will have a profound impact not only on her life, but also on her family and her community."
The company hires women transitioning out of homelessness or the sex industry to work part time. Five women currently work for Ground Up, where they are developing a host of skills through working in sales and marketing, shipping and receiving, and in the commercial kitchen. The women also perform administrative tasks and represent the brand at farmers markets, in-store demos and tastings.
Employees join Ground Up through referrals from the company's nonprofit community partners. "Our main qualifications are that they have the motivation to work and the desire to create change in their lives," Sullivan says.
Sullivan and Cesario hold monthly reviews and seek opportunities to help each woman grow. They also provide life coaching to those who are interested. "Some of the best learning comes from the day-to-day interactions and jobs tasks," Sullivan says.
Sullivan, who majored in sociology at Whitworth, is articulate, passionate and energetic (fueled, perhaps, by her company's protein-packed product?). Her passion stems from her previous work in Uganda, creating and running an employee-training program for 31 Bits Designs, a company that employs women overcoming poverty. "After witnessing the success of this model of empowerment," she says, "there was a fire in me to figure out how to provide opportunity to disadvantaged women in my hometown."