The idea came when they were accounting students. Chris Spencer ’14 and Gabby Sanders ’14, MActg ’15, started dating after meeting in an intermediate accounting class. Sharing a love of fitness, they often found themselves walking from the Student Rec Center to enjoy post-workout frozen treat at the yogurt shop on 13th Avenue. Loving the snack but not the calories, they longed for a guilt-free ice cream that tasted good too.
They continued their accounting studies, graduated, and started their careers at the same accounting firm in Portland. While not working or studying for the CPA exam, they spent their free time dreaming about—and taste testing—low calorie, high protein ice cream. Nothing fit the bill, though, so they bought an ice cream maker and starting making their own, experimenting with different ingredients to find just what they were looking for.
Spencer and Sanders advanced in their careers and became licensed CPAs. She gained more auditing experience, while he discovered a love of sales. They excelled in their micro-batch ice cream hobby and started talking to folks in the local food scene, learning about the market and what it would take to scale-up production. Believing they had an idea and product to launch, and armed with a grant from the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, they collaborated with the Food Innovation Center in Portland to develop their recipe. Hundreds of iterations later, they finally settled on their base product: a high-protein, low calorie, delicious dessert made with clean, local ingredients.
That was the tipping point. Spencer and Sanders began hand-packing and labeling pints in their apartment, testing the market door-to-door and at local gyms, gathering feedback along the way. They eventually secured manufacturing services with Alpenrose Dairy through their relationships in the startup community.
In April 2017, Spencer left his day job to become the first employee and CEO of UpStar Ice Cream. Sanders followed suit in June 2018, serving as the chief marketing officer. They now have a line of seven flavors, distributing in stores throughout the Pacific Northwest including Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Market of Choice, New Seasons, Safeway, and Whole Foods. They haven’t forgotten their UO roots, as they also sell their pints at The Duck Store in Eugene and at the ASUO Street Faire on campus.
Sanders and Spencer attribute their success to many hours of hard work, as well as the know-how they gained at the UO and in public accounting. “There’s no way we could have done this so quickly without our education and experience,” said Sanders. Between the two of them, they share three accounting degrees and the foundational knowledge of how business works. The exposure of public accounting has helped immensely, and the “CPA” after their names lends them legitimacy with investors they might not otherwise have.
Spencer and Sanders continue to dream big, hoping to branch out further across the West Coast and becoming a leading brand in promoting healthy lifestyles. Meanwhile, they love being a startup and searching out opportunities to establish their brand. These accounting Ducks never expected to transform into entrepreneurs, but they have loved every minute of it.