Relentless Pursuit: The Story Behind VADE Nutrition
What makes a great entrepreneur? A brilliant business idea, of course—preferably one that disrupts a specific industry and ultimately changes the way people think and live. But in order to stand out in an increasingly crowded field of innovators, building a successful business takes both passion and perseverance.
For Joe Johnson, failure was simply never an option. Hailing from a family of business owners, including his brothers, Joe has been finding solutions to everyday problems since he was five years old. He experimented with several businesses during his college career at Michigan State University, and the one that stuck was VADE Nutrition, which he launched with his wife Megan in March 2016.
An MSU finance student and captain of the wrestling team, Joe found a way to combine his two worlds, creating the world's first and only portable pre-measured protein packets. Joe and Megan, who share a passion for sports, fitness and nutrition, were inspired to create the product after years of frustration scooping protein powder into tiny plastic bags to take to the gym. Prepping the bags ahead of time still didn’t solve the problem of powder scattering all over their car when adding the powder to water before and after their workouts.
With continued support from the MSU Innovation Network, Joe and Megan launched VADE Nutrition at the University Health Park’s Alliance Building, and as the business grew, VADE opened its first official office space at the VanCamp Incubator in 2016. The venues are administered by the Michigan State University Foundation, which provides working spaces, mentorship programs, investment opportunities and other resources for aspiring entrepreneurs within the university community.
From the beginning, VADE Nutrition caught the attention of Red Cedar Ventures, a wholly owned subsidiary of the MSU Foundation. Red Cedar Ventures helps accelerate the commercialization of startups founded by MSU faculty, staff and students, creating opportunities for partners within the university ecosystem and advancing business opportunities throughout Michigan. Red Cedar is also located within the MSU Innovation Center and has followed VADE since day one, and in fact, invested in the company’s seed funding round.
“Red Cedar Ventures was our first major investor outside of family and friends and continues to be an incredible resource for our rapidly growing team,” says Joe. “Before VADE, I had five different business ideas that failed, but that didn’t matter because I had the resources of MSU, Red Cedar Ventures, Michigan Rise and Spartan Innovations all behind me. To me, these failures weren’t catastrophes, but rather, motivation to conquer my next idea. Without Red Cedar Ventures and MSU Foundation’s incredible infrastructure and extensive network, VADE Nutrition wouldn’t be possible.”
Although the past five years have brought Joe and Megan great opportunities to engage with MSU’s entrepreneurial community, reach more customers, and generate revenue year after year, their entrepreneurial journey has been far from easy and continues to challenge them every day. From pitching the product on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2018, to partnering with Amway as a direct-to-consumer manufacturer in 2020 to welcoming Managing Director of Greenwich Capital Group and MSU alum, Andrew Dickow to their board in 2021, Joe has remained grounded amid these major milestones. A true self-starter, he is constantly learning new digital marketing strategies and platforms to not only stay competitive, but to constantly improve business operations.
“To see a company like VADE grow and partner with other corporate entities like Amway and take their business to new heights is truly incredible,” says Jeff Wesley, Executive Director of Red Cedar Ventures. “It sets the tone for what can happen for startups in Michigan, and at the end of the day, our team is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs like Joe. It’s not only about the money—we exist to ultimately help companies grow and entrepreneurs thrive. Joe’s story is a true testament to the success of our mission.”
What does the future hold for VADE Nutrition? To date, the company has generated over $10 million in revenue and is projected to hit $32 million by the end of 2021. In addition to its booming e-commerce platform, VADE Nutrition’s products are available in over 8,000 retail locations and the company continues to expand its national footprint. Additional funding is underway from both Red Cedar and Michigan Rise, which also supports entrepreneurs and technology startups across Michigan.
Joe Johnson is a 2016 MSU graduate and resides in the South Lyon area with his wife, Megan, and their two children. To learn more about VADE Nutrition, visit: https://VADE-nutrition.com/.
About the Michigan State University Foundation
Established in 1973 as an independent non-profit, the Michigan State University Foundation is committed to the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies invented by MSU faculty, staff, and students. The MSU Foundation’s overarching goal is to support research, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the University. Additionally, the MSU Foundation operates Spartan Innovations, Red Cedar Ventures, Michigan Rise, and the University Corporate Research Park. More information on the organization’s notable achievements, services, leadership, and history are available at www.msufoundation.org.