Discovery Center helps new business bring products to market

By University Communications
September 4, 2015
Roger Gehring, right, of UW-Stout’s Discovery Center, helped Aunt K’s of Eau Claire get its business up and running. From left are co-owner Sharon Horstman, Adrea Widule and co-owner Kay Widule. Baby Adrea’s diaper rash was the genesis of the company.

Photo: From left: Sharon Horstman, Adrea Widule, Kay Widule, and Roger Gehring

When Kay Widule was a young mom, her baby daughter had a painful diaper rash. Widule and her mother tried several over-the-counter and prescription products with no luck and even adverse effects.

They feverishly began experimenting in the kitchen, came up with an all-natural powder and put it on little Adrea Widule's bottom.

"By that evening she had stopped crying, and within two weeks the rash had healed," Kay Widule said.

Nearly a quarter-century later, Kay Widule, of Eau Claire, is ready to let the world in on her little secret. Aunt K's All Natural Remedies, including Comfy Bottoms for diaper rash, Foot Powder and Sports Powder, are ready for the market.

"I just wanted to get the product out there to all the people who have babies (with a problem diaper rash) like I did," Widule said. "I know it works. People just have to hear about it."

After having family and friends try the product over the years and learning that it cured other problems, such as insect bites, blisters, sunburns, poison ivy and athlete's foot, Widule and her business partner, mother Sharon Horstman, started their company in 2005.

They struggled, however, to get the products to store shelves. Large manufacturers, including one pharmaceutical company, wouldn't work with a small, startup business, and Widule didn't have the capital to go it alone.

Discovering the solution

One of the largest obstacles was cleared recently when Kay connected by word of mouth with the Discovery Center at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Through the Discovery Center, a business and industry innovation and support operation, Widule met Roger Gehring. He is a development engineer with the UW-Stout's Manufacturing Outreach Center, part of the Discovery Center.

Their initial conversations focused on the various ingredients and custom processing equipment that likely would be needed.

"Ingredient sources were a big issue —trying to find the right ones with the right processing specs. There was a lot of legwork," Gehring said.

Gehring eventually found qualified suppliers that were willing to deal with smaller quantities necessary for a startup company. His efforts then turned to identifying a supplier who could blend and package the product for sale.

Meanwhile, another Discovery Center member, Renee Surdick, happened to be working with CTL Foods, a Colfax company that makes malt flavorings and other powder-based products. Surdick was helping CTL select the right new flavors for new international markets.

After purchasing an additional piece of equipment, CTL was able to fit Aunt K's Powders into its production schedule and do so at a cost that was feasible for Aunt K's.

"This is where relationships really are key. If Renee knows someone who can help my client, or I know someone who can help hers, we work together to get the ball over the goal line," Gehring said.

Until connecting with the Discovery Center, Widule's business idea was stuck. "Roger saved the day," she said.

The Discovery Center helps businesses sort through ideas, products and problems, tap university expertise and resources and find solutions. "We're driven by measurable success," Gehring said.

While Gehring and Surdick managed and secured the supply and production, Widule and Horstman worked on receiving a National Drug Code number for Aunt K's through the Food and Drug Administration.

Widule believes in the healing power of her product and sought to differentiate it from other products, even though getting the drug code number required more work, time and money.

The emphasis on a health-conscious and all-natural product is particularly important to Widule. She wants to make sure consumers are informed about what they are using and feel confident it's safe for their children and themselves.

"This stuff really does work," she said, adding that Aunt K's Powders doesn't use corn starch or talcum like similar products.

Made in Wisconsin

Widule and Horstman are Wisconsin natives, from Rhinelander and Boulder Junction, respectively. They are pleased CTL Foods is from Wisconsin. "We want to keep the product made in Wisconsin as much as possible," Horstman said.

Wisconsin products, including organic colloidal oatmeal, are the source for most of the ingredients in Aunt K's Powders, and the cardboard packaging is from Great Northern Corp. in Chippewa Falls. The label also is printed in Wisconsin.

After a decade of work, Widule and Horstman are excited to have turned their kitchen creation —named after Kay —into a commercial product.

"We couldn't have done it alone. We had some wonderful people who helped us," Widule said.

In the meantime, little Adrea has grown into a young woman and recently moved to California, where among other things she hopes to help market Aunt K's Powders.

For an upcoming list of stores that carry Aunt K's, more information and to order, go towww.auntks.com.

To learn more about the Discovery Center, go to www.uwstout.edu/discoverycenter.