Back when Amy Witizigreuter’s son was young, she was a mother on a mission. Faced with multiple health problems, including an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, Amy was doing everything in her power to help her son Paul find relief and optimize his health outcomes.
By the time he was eight, Paul had received both a liver and kidney transplant but was still experiencing severe gastrointestinal issues that had an impact on what he could and couldn’t eat.
Amy began experimenting with nutritional interventions, eliminating gluten, dairy, eggs and corn from her family’s diet and spending a lot of time in the kitchen to create food she couldn’t find on the store shelves.
While concocting recipes and flexing her culinary creativity, Amy found herself running into a recurring problem: there were very few healthy snacks that Paul could safely eat. So, she started perfecting her homemade granola to have on hand for the whole family whenever they were hungry.
Equally important as the ingredients in Amy’s granola was the process she used to ensure it was digestible for Paul – pre-soaking the nuts and seeds overnight and then dehydrating the granola in the oven at a low temperature. From there, Amy adds spices, fruits and maple syrup to create seven different flavor combinations including Lemon Raspberry, Chocolate Honeyberry and Pumpkin Spice.
Amy’s tasty granola won over not only her husband and their three children, but her friends and extended family as well. In 2018, she launched Witzi’s Raw Granola and started selling her product at farmer’s markets around the Northeast Ohio region.
While her granola was well received, she wasn’t making the strides she needed to grow her business into a full-fledged career. After attending a few of JumpStart’s signature events, she signed up for services and was paired with advisors who could guide her on her entrepreneurial journey.
“When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re passionate but you’re often alone and you’re wearing all the hats,” Amy explains. “So, it was great to have experienced people to run ideas by and coach you along.”
Amy says the personalized support JumpStart provided allowed her to hone in on her product while the Small Business Impact Program and access to available funding helped her achieve some important business milestones.
As someone with a sales background, Amy says one of the most valuable lessons she’s learned from JumpStart is the management of cash flow.
“You can’t move forward unless you have a solid understanding of that – you have to know your costs.”
The financial education and cost analysis assistance she received from JumpStart allowed her to reconsider her distribution model. While her sales were strong at the farmer’s markets, she had failed to account for her time and labor, which is a common oversight for entrepreneurs. JumpStart’s financial advisors took a holistic look into her business and after reviewing her cost breakdown, they realized that farmers markets were actually more of a marketing effort than a sales strategy.
“I had no idea what I was missing until we sat down and talked through it,” Amy says. “And that increased knowledge has given me a comfort level that’s going to help the brand grow.”
Additionally, Amy is devoted to the impact that Witzi’s can have on the community; not only providing nutrient-rich, organic snacks to people who have food allergies or specialty diets, but also supporting young adults with autism.
Now a teenager who has been thriving ever since receiving intervention, treatment and education at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism, Paul’s journey continues to shape his mother’s entrepreneurial endeavors. After reading a national study that found people with autism are more likely to be unemployed compared to their peers with other disabilities, Amy decided to take matters into her own hands.
“As children like Paul age out of a school-based system there are not many other opportunities for them to gather skills,” she explained.
With Paul’s future in mind, Amy partnered with his school to bring students into the commercial kitchen where she manufactures her granola for weekly hands-on vocational training. By teaching transferable skills through production tasks like heat-sealing packages, prepping orders and stocking shelves, Amy hopes to help these students cultivate opportunities for employment in the future.
Today Amy is looking ahead; she’s planning to work with a large-scale distributor to take her brand from its Cleveland roots to the national stage.
“Granola here and granola everywhere,” she chuckles. “So long as it’s clean and purposeful and we’re supporting the health and well-being of our community – we’re all in.”