Jesse Thomas, MBA '09, a world-class triathlete and full-time entrepreneur, initially found his business inspiration from the place where others often find their culinary inspiration: his wife’s cooking.
As a professional athlete, Thomas found he was constantly frustrated with the lack of nutritional and performance bars options available for athletes. He needed a bar that he could eat before, after, or during workouts that would give him the fuel of real food, yet was easily digestible.
Thomas’s wife Lauren Fleshman, who is also an elite athlete, began to make homemade bars for him that had all of the ingredients and nutrients needed for his intense training regiments. Baking and experimenting from their home kitchen, Fleshman's bars became a hit among professional athletes in the Eugene and Bend, Oregon areas. Seeing a gap and opportunity in the market, Thomas turned from his own description—“the guy that just ate all the bars”— to the mastermind behind today’s established Picky Bars business. The rest is entrepreneurial history.
Today, Thomas is a shining example of the new breed of entrepreneurs from the University of Oregon’s Lundquist Center of Entrepreneurship. At UO, he sought an environment where he could grow as a student, athlete, and young entrepreneur. It was the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship, in addition to other unique business offerings like the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, which helped draw Thomas to Eugene for his MBA—and eventually cultivated his growing business.
“It didn’t feel like school . . . we were pitching real ideas and evaluating real financial opportunities,” he said of the Oregon MBA program at the Lundquist College.
Thomas describes his life as an ever-changing balance of being a professional athlete and a business owner. With nine total employees and three owners, Picky Bars, a 100 percent self-funding company, has secured a leading spot unique to anyone else in the industry. Thomas and his team created the ideal energy bar with the nutrients and ingredients for the serious athlete and the taste and flavors for the everyday snack.
Thomas was directly involved with the services and programs available to entrepreneurship students at the University of Oregon, including the annual New Venture Championship (NVC) business plan competition. He recalled his experience with NVC and how he was able to establish Picky Bars.
“I came out of [the program] with an incredible understanding of business in general,” he said, “A better understanding of what it is I wanted to do to make myself happy and also, a byproduct thereof, successful.”
As young entrepreneurs seek mentorship in Lundquist Center alumni, they often want to know what it takes to have it all. They wonder how to be the athlete and the businessman. Thomas advises entrepreneurs of two things as they move forward in their careers.
“Do what you love or are passionate about. There has to be passion. And don’t get hung up in analysis. Just go out and start doing stuff,” he said.
With Jesse’s advice, the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship, and maybe even a Picky Bar or two, young entrepreneurs at the University of Oregon are headed for a bright future.
Follow Jesse and Picky Bars on Social Media: @JesseMThomas and @PickyBars.
Written by Allen Hall Public Relations on behalf of the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship.