Bluffton's small-business incubator celebrated its first anniversary Thursday with the graduation of its first business.
NutriFusion, a startup company that manufactures a fruit and vegetable-based nutritional additive for processed foods, will strike out on its own after a year in the incubator.
Already more than 30 food products contain the company's fruit and vegetable powder that revs up a food's nutritional value -- including the Girl Scouts' Mango Crèmes cookies -- earning the company a write-up in Forbes Magazine in January.
NutriFusion is also in talks with the U.S. Department of Defense, four of the country's largest consumer-goods companies and with international companies to include the additive in a variety of new foods and beverages, said Bill Grand, NurtiFusion's CEO.
"He's just beginning to get this hands around the national and international places this will take him. It's very exciting," said Larry Hughes, special assistant to the director of the incubator.
Grand credits the incubator, officially named the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, with providing managerial guidance and connecting him and his partners with Mark Kindy, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina.
"The incubator was very good to us and helped us branch out into a lot of different areas and get the help we needed to grow," Grand said.
Grand believes he has lots of reasons to be even more optimistic.
"It is a tremendous product," he said. "The CDC, the American Cancer Society -- and the list goes on and on -- are all warning about an impending health crisis because the American public is not eating enough fruits and vegetables. And that leads to a whole string of health issues, everything from diabetes (to) heart disease (to) premature aging."
But Americans are hesitant to put down their snacks, sodas and other processed foods in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables. "So it puts us in a very unique position because it solves many of the nutritional deficiencies in the American diet," he said.
Grand's business partner, Stephen Perry, developed the technology, and Grand, whose background is in sales and marketing, worked on commercializing it, including securing a spot in Bluffton's incubator.
It's one of 11 companies that have worked in the center.
The town of Bluffton, a handful of local businesses and Clemson University support the incubator financially, providing entrepreneurs with subsidized office space in Buckwalter Place, business advice and help finding seed money.
Ultimately, the companies are supposed to move out of the incubator, create jobs and aid the region's efforts to build a business niche, often in emerging-technology fields.
Grand said he hopes to increase production so he can soon start a plant, somewhere in the Southeast.
"It may just be in Bluffton," he said.