When a grandparent passes down a signature recipe, it's usually a family favorite like eggplant parmesan or apple pie.
In the case of 30-year-old Terry MBA student Jay Mullis (BBA '00, MBA '07), the culinary masterpiece he inherited from his grandfather is not meant for human consumption — but it's having a life-altering effect on Mullis' burgeoning business career. This sweet, moist, and doughy delight that Mullis' grandfather used to prepare from scratch is, literally, roach bait. Starting with his grandfather's environmentally friendly, pet-safe formula, Mullis tweaked the ingredients, devised a business plan, applied for a patent, and already has more than $200,000 in orders nationwide for his new household pesticide, Green Dragon Roach Kill.
Fortune Small Business was so impressed with Mullis' new product — and with the niche it can fill in today's marketplace — that it awarded Mullis' product first prize in FSB's fifth annual business plan competition. This tasty, but deadly, roach killer -- which a distinguished panel of judges chose over a natural food additive designed to reduce the absorption of carbs and a low-sugar, dark-chocolate-coated treat — came from humble origins.
"My grandfather grew up in rural [Cadwell] Georgia and he worked with the DOT for several years," says Mullis. "After he retired from the state, he teamed up with one of his old classmates who had become a pharmacist. They came up with the roach bait, but the pharmacist wasn't interested in using it. My grandfather was pretty much a simple man, and he just used it to supplement his retirement income."
When his grandfather passed away in 1996, Mullis inherited the non-toxic formula; the active ingredient is boric acid, a well-known natural remedy that kills ants, silverfish, and roaches by dehydrating them, yet is no more harmful than table salt to humans and pets. Mullis thought about building a business around the product back then, but decided to wait.
"My parents said I would need to complete college and get some experience under my belt...it turned out to be really good advice," says Mullis, who went to work for IBM after getting his undergraduate degree from Terry in management information systems. But after seven years with the industry giant, gaining expertise with computer networking and account management, Mullis decided to return to school in order to break through the glass ceiling.
"I thought that would be the perfect time to get my MBA," he says. "You could say that school empowered me with the self awareness that I'm an entrepreneurial spirit."
The Fortune Small Business award caps an incredible year for Mullis Enterprises, which proved its mettle in the 2007 Moot Corp national business plan competition. Mullis says former Terry College professor Charles Hofer was instrumental in helping his team develop its winning business plan.
"Dr. Hofer just kept refining — putting red ink on the paper — until you get it to what it needs to be," says Mullis.
Hofer believed Green Dragon would succeed in the marketplace, but Mullis' vision has always been broader in scope.
"[Dr. Hofer his colleagues] believed this could be a great lifestyle business," says Mullis. "But nobody really believed it could become a national or international business."
Mullis sees that kind of potential in Green Dragon, and FSB's judging panel was certainly impressed.
"As a judge, I was so excited to see Jay win the top prize," says noted entrepreneur and author Verne Harnish, who is a contributing editor to Fortune Small Business. "[Mullis is] fixing a huge environmental problem with a green solution, and he really had his business model/proposition nailed. [He] showed, with actual purchase orders, why the existing distribution channels would want to change suppliers — this is key!!!"
Mullis is wisely targeting pest-control companies; convincing them to add Green Dragon to their product line has untold sales advantages over trying to sell a stand-alone retail product on hardware and drug store shelves.
"And because of the unique distribution method and packaging that we're looking at, we can also do more houses in one day," says Mullis, who created a patent-pending, straw-shaped plastic container for distributing the bait. "So right there, if you take a pest control company that is earning $10 million dollars, you've increased their bottom line $750,000."
The last step for Green Dragon Roach Kill is for the EPA to grant approval. Mullis hired a consulting firm to file the necessary paperwork and he expects to get the green light early next year. FSB judging panelist Kylie A.D. Sachs, a partner at Ascend Venture Group, is optimistic about Mullis' prospects.
"Everyone hates roaches — they're gross — and no one wants to spray chemicals all over their house," says Sachs. "These are two, super-hot issues.... If he gets approval, it's a killer."