What it Takes: Ground Up Nut Butters


Ground Up

What is your company? How did you get started?

Ground Up nut butters started with the simple idea that if you give a womxn an opportunity, the trickle-down effect to her family and community would be powerful and transformational.

We are a not-just-for-profit business, that provides job training to womxn overcoming adversity in the Portland area. Through the sale of healthy and delicious nut butters, we empower womxn with the confidence and skills they need to get back on their feet.

Ground Up began in 2016 when Julie Sullivan returned from Uganda, where she had been overseeing an employment training program for women overcoming poverty. Back in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, she soon recognized the need for a similar program at home. However, she needed a product...

Meanwhile, Carolyn had been perfecting recipes for delicious sugar-free, peanut-free nut butters (which she developed due to dietary constraints). The two met, and soon realized that their passions could be combined to create a business centered around social impact. And Ground Up began!

We currently partner with local nonprofits to employ womxn overcoming adversity who have the motivation to work, but lack opportunity for employment.

With our open hiring model, we take an individualized approach to meet womxn where they’re at, regardless of their background and previous job history. Through an inclusive work environment, 6-9 months of on-the-job training and mentorship, we cultivate a space for womxn to grow, and ultimately serve as a stepping stone to their next phase of employment and hopefully one step closer to their dreams and goals. Success looks different for each woman who joins our team, and our goal is to be a guide in helping them reach their personal and professional goals.

Ground Up

What is/was the hardest obstacle(s) you've had to overcome?

We joke that we started two businesses in one—in that our training program can often feel like it’s own entity from the nut butter pieces. It can take different energy and resources to run both smoothly, so we’ve certainly faced our fair share of challenges along the way!

On the product side, it’s hard to grow a CPG food business, especially without outside funding. Grocery buyers are so inundated with product requests, that it takes a lot to even get contact with grocery buyers, let alone to actually get your products on shelves. (In some cases, it’s taken us 3 years between meeting the buyer to launching in their stores.) As female entrepreneurs that have been entirely bootstrapped, we often feel like we have to prove ourselves—and prove we have a viable product and business model—to be taken seriously.

On the training program side, we face obstacles with staffing. High turnover is inherent to our business model, since we’ve designed it so that folks are employed for 6-9 months while they’re getting back on their feet, but ultimately they’re transitioning into the next step on their individual paths. So we are often training and re-training, and dealing with interpersonal issues that other businesses may not.

Ground Up

What are near-term (and longer-term) plans for the future of your business?

In our 5 year vision (just celebrated!) we dreamed of moving into our own production space which we did in October. We dreamed of having a safe space for our team to come to work and build community.
Now that we have our own production and warehouse space, we finally have the capacity to expand! We are working hard to roll out to more natural foods across the country, which would allow our customers the option to purchase from us in stores as opposed to just online. In turn, this will allow us to continue to grow and expand our employment training program. We currently have 10-12 womxn in our employment training program at one time working part time, 2-3 days per week. We would love to offer more job opportunities to womxn overcoming adversity and expand our employment training program through the support and trainings we can offer. The impact model is simple—the more jars of nut butter we sell, the more job opportunities we can offer to womxn overcoming adversity.

We also recently launched 1.15 oz squeeze packs (to give our customers an on-the-go option!) and plan to continue to expand our product offerings there as well.

Who or what inspires you as an individual or as a company?
We are inspired and motivated to work hard each day by the resilience and grit of our employees who continue to show up and work hard despite the adversities they may be experiencing.

Ground Up

What do you look for in a new retail partner or collaborator?

We look for partners or collaborators that support our mission and support local products and companies.

What impact do you hope or want to make on consumers, communities, society in general?

We believe that business is a powerful tool for social good and we desire for other businesses to consider impact based models, where profit is not the sole focus.

We hope for consumers to realize the opportunity they have in their purchasing to make an impact in the community. It’s easy to feel discouraged or overwhelmed today with how to make a difference in the world, but we hope purchasing products like Ground Up and other companies making an impact in the world, that consumers feel they are a part of something bigger. Even when they have to make the choice to spend a couple dollars more on products like ours, but they realize they make our impact and vision possible through their purchases.

Visit https://grounduppdx.com/ to learn more & eat delicious nut butters.


What it Takes is a series of interviews with founders who were brave enough to take the leap, make mistakes, pivot, and keep going. This is What It Takes to be an entrepreneur. If you're a creator who is determined to follow a purpose or push the boundaries, then you’ve signed up to make mistakes, that’s the price of innovation.