100-mile bike rides, a hobby that requires the kind of money
and time broke and busy college kids usually can’t muster.
The solution: They started their frst business, a commercial recycling company. Austin didn’t have a good system for
restaurants and businesses to dispose of their recyclable
waste, so Forrest and Collins scraped together $2,000 for a
trailer and made weekly rounds to about 30 businesses.
It was “gnarly work,” Forrest says—“ 4 a.m. shifts, rats fying in
your face”—but it earned them as much as $10,000 a month.
Once they fnished school, they started a vegan protein-bar
company called Thunderbird Energetica. Thunderbird drew
the interest of Whole Foods, which gave Forrest and Collins a
$100,000 loan and distribution in 30 stores, but the experience
was a “disaster.” They made mistakes in everything from manufacturing to branding. The only upside was they discovered
they worked well together: Collins tossed up wild ideas and
Forrest would fgure out how to actually implement them.
Then, Forrest started having health problems. After
numerous doctors failed to help her, a holistic health practi-
tioner suggested her vegan diet might be the culprit. “So we
hit the reset button and started eating meat again,” Collins
remembers. The paleo movement was just starting to take of,
and as Forrest’s health improved, the two decided they should
hit reset with their business as well.
They entered Incubation Station, a local startup accelerator
focused on consumer products that is now called SKU. (See
“How Austin Became a Food Startup Hub,” page 38.) By the
time they had fnished the accelerator, they were convinced
they should pivot to meat. Epic, the new brand, were protein
bars that substituted the powders in products like Quest bars
with blended bits of meat, fruit, and nuts. An angel investor in
Houston loved the idea and invested $750,000. (Forrest and
Collins later raised an additional $3 million, mostly from a
Colorado-based venture capital group.)
At the time, no protein bar of this kind existed, and it wasn’t
easy to get the product right. Once, when they were experimenting with an extruder in their backyard, nuts clogged the
system and caused an explosion that sprayed 10 pounds of raw
RANCH TURNED LAB
The Epic co-founders are hoping their owner, General Mills, can help them scale regenerative grazing practices,
many of which they experiment with on their bison ranch, where they also raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, and bees.