5 Questions with Ethan Holmes, Founder and CEO of Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce

Ethan Holmes is barely out of his teens and he’s already a successful entrepreneur. In less than a year he has taken Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce from a second place finish at Jumpstart’s 2014 student pitch competition to grocery shelves all across Northeast Ohio.

Recently, we sat down with Holmes to discuss why he picked food entrepreneurship, how he differentiates his product in competitive market and the importance of paying success forward.

So Ethan, Why Applesauce?

When I was 15, I read a book about a young African American boy who made a million dollars at the age of 14 by creating his own food product. That inspired me.

I started out as a freshman, creating candy bars and selling them at my high school. I didn’t make much money, but I did learn a lesson. Candy is a saturated market.

That led me to a healthier food—applesauce. I started with my Grandfather’s recipe and adapted from there. It took me a long time in the kitchen to get it right and as it often goes, one of the best things about our applesauce actually ended up happening by accident.

I was experimenting with “flavored” applesauce, so I added some pears into the mix. It didn’t change the flavor like I thought it would, but it gave the applesauce a natural sweetness without adding any processed sugar. This has become one of the things that really sets us apart, combined with our focus on kids and the fact that we give a portion of our profits to charity.

Tell Us More About Your Work With Kids. Do They Really Help You Make Every Batch Of Applesauce?

They do. Our slogan is “for kids, made by kids,” so every Saturday I work with local students, who come to the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen to help us out and learn about entrepreneurship in the process.

That second part is really important to me. I remember when I started, kids at school just laughed at me. I want these kids to have someone to encourage their entrepreneurial instincts and get them connected to the right people and organizations.

Who Helped You Get Started As An Entrepreneur?

Wow, there have been so many people. The SBA and SBDC both helped me set up my LLC and JumpStart really helped me understand that if you can’t pitch the uniqueness of your product in 30 seconds or less, you won’t be successful.

The prize money I won from JumpStart, along with the $500 I won at a Hiram College pitch competition, is what paid for my business insurance and got me into a commercial kitchen. So that was huge!

I also have to mention Launchhouse, because they were a real game-changer for me. I was a sophomore in high school when they opened and I used to skip class just to go there and be around entrepreneurs.

LaunchHouse is also where met a guy named Dan Feldman. I had been trying to get my product into Heinen’s, and one day they called and wanted 90 cases (1,080 jars) right away. At the time I didn’t have the equipment to fulfil an order that big, or the money to get the equipment I needed.

Not only did Dan help me work out deals with my suppliers, He gave me $300 out of his own pocket to pay for transport and incidentals. Sadly, he passed away a few months ago after a long battle with brain cancer; but in his last days he was still trying help me out.

Little things like that make you realize how important it is to pay your success forward.

How Conscious Are You Of Your Own Story And The Inspiration It May Provide To Other Young African-American Or Minority Entrepreneurs? Is That Something You Think About?

All the time. As a young black entrepreneur, you notice pretty quickly that you don’t have a lot of company. Just recently, I visited a local elementary school to teach the kids about “elevator pitches” and let them pitch me their ideas. It’s a small thing, but you have to plant the idea in their heads that entrepreneurship is a viable option.

I think that’s part of what I’m meant to do with my life. Money and success is great but it’s ultimately worth nothing if you can’t share with others. I really want to encourage more young people to go out and follow their dream.

We Ask All The Entrepreneurs We Interview To Talk About Their Biggest Setbacks Or Failures. What Comes To Mind For You?

Before things really picked up, I applied for the TV show, Shark Tank. I actually got a call back and they seemed interested, but it didn’t work out. It seems silly now, but at the time; it really made me question the value of what I was doing. Luckily I kept at it and wouldn’t you know, a few months ago they reached out again and asked me to resubmit my application for the show. I also failed miserably at my first crowdfunding attempt; but we learned from that mistake and did a much better job the second time around.

Truthfully, I think being entrepreneur is about learning how to deal with a new setback every single day. At this very moment, we’re totally out of labels. I needed them yesterday but there is some kind of logistical problem. So that’s today’s crisis and they’ll be something else tomorrow. You just tackle each problem as it comes along and keep moving forward.