Time at WSU helped student build successful business

  • Eddie Sandoval, a 2017 business finance graduate, is the owner of Pinole Blue, a company that makes products with organic blue corn from the Chihuahua region of Mexico.
  • Eddie credits a lot of his success to his time at Wichita State and the connections he made as a result.
  • According to Eddie, the most important skills he learned as a business student are discipline, networking and the ability to adapt.

Eddie Sandoval, owner and founder of Pinole Blue

Eddie Sandoval began his journey at Wichita State after receiving the Linwood Sexton scholarship in 2013. The scholarship, one Eddie couldn’t pass up, covers the full cost of tuition and housing. He graduated from the W. Frank Barton School of Business in 2017 with a business finance degree.

Eddie worked as an intern for a couple finance companies while he was a student, but discovered he had no passion for what he was doing.

“The more I interned, the more I realized I hated it,” he said. “Then senior year hit and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

In high school, Eddie learned about an indigenous tribe in the Chihuahua region of Mexico, the Tarahumara, that run upwards of 100 miles at a time in sandals made out of tires. The Tarahumaran people rely heavily on pinole, made from roasted ground corn, to fuel their long runs.

Eddie, left, with members of the Tarahumara tribe

Eddie’s family is from Chihuahua, Mexico, so he is familiar with pinole. However, he was disappointed when he could not find any in Wichita.

“With my family, we have to bring it back every time we go to Mexico, and there are a lot of people here who have to do the same,” he said.

This need for pinole gave Eddie an idea. He has always been very entrepreneurial and has always wanted to own his own business, so he began thinking about how to bring pinole to people in Wichita.

Eddie mentioned his brainstorming to his advisor, who told him it was a brilliant idea. She encouraged him further when he brought up his previous knowledge and personal connection.

“Next thing you know, Christmas break of senior year I drove down to Mexico. I went all the way to the border and picked up half a ton of corn,” he said.

In January 2019, Eddie started making pinole in between classes, putting it in brown lunch bags and selling it anywhere he could. He was surprised at how well the operation picked up and soon began testing protein blends to appeal to athletes.

“In my dorm room, I had all these ingredients laid out. I went to Whole Foods and had different sugars, cinnamons and dates. It looked like a laboratory,” he said.

Eddie knew the benefits of pinole for athletes, but people were initially skeptical. Adding extra protein gave him the push he needed to break into the market.

“We sold 300 pounds in three months, just in Kansas. We went out to western Kansas and up to Kansas City, and I thought, ‘holy cow, there is a demand for this,’” he said.

Because of his early success, Eddie decided to enter the 2017 Shocker New Venture competition in March. He pitched his business and presented his recent earnings. Shortly before graduating, Eddie won the competition and received $10,000 for his business.

With the money, Eddie was able to buy two new grinders and inventory. This helped him grow his business faster than he would have been able to otherwise. He now sells four pinole flavors, energy bites, cookies and tortillas.

Eddie opened his stone-ground tortilla factory in December 2018, the first of its kind in Kansas.

With his products in over 160 stores in 11 states and on Amazon, Eddie can’t believe how far he has come when he looks back at where he started. Because they were his inspiration, he also donates a portion of his proceeds to the Tarahumara people.

“I love this business because I am sharing my family traditions, introducing people to a healthy product and I get to give back to one of the last isolated tribes in Mexico that I know lacks a lot of resources,” he said.

Eddie credits Wichita State for giving him a lot of the knowledge he needs to run his business. He identified discipline, networking and adaptability as the skills he uses every day. 

“You hear it all the time, that education opens doors, but that’s exactly what it felt like for me. It opened a lot of doors.”

You hear it all the time, that education opens doors, but that's exactly what it felt like for me. It opened a lot of doors.
Eddie Sandoval, founder and owner of Pinole Blue

Without his advisor’s encouragement, teachers and mentors, friends and the Shocker New Venture Competition, Eddie would not be where he is today.

To spread the word about his products, Eddie often loads his truck with samples and visits stores to pass them out. His ability to network and adapt help make this process successful.

While trying to get his product into a local store, and never hearing back, Eddie got frustrated and showed up at the store with samples. He asked for the manager, who brought out the entire deli department to try the pinole.

“They all tried it and loved it,” he said. “The next day they placed an order for two boxes.”

Eventually, Eddie would like to see his business grow and be recognized nationally. He wants to start working with big distributors and get into some of the big box stores. Eddie is also interested in going international. He already has interest from a running store in France.

Throughout his journey, Eddie has overcome many challenges. He now faces new tests with a headstrong attitude.

“If I can figure out how to solve moving four tons of corn, this is nothing,” he said.

Learn more about Pinole Blue

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