Meet Michele Northrup Founder and Culinary Artisan of Intensity Academy Gourmet Sauces

"Meet Culinary Artisan Michele Northrup"Tell us about your business.

I have created a Spicy Buzz within the fiery food industry. Winning 31 awards in such a short period of time as a “newbie” (and a female) in the otherwise primarily male centered industry I’ve kinda shook things up a bit. My sauce line has evolved into tea infused marinades, ketchups, dipping sauces & hot sauces. I am currently the only sauce company in the nation who uses organic teas as additives in sauces. This year I was a finalist for Tampa Bay Business Woman of the Year (Young Woman Category). My customers are savvy home cooks and foodies worldwide. My sauces appeal to those who want a quality, all natural product line with a lot of flavor.

Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?

I love having the creative freedom to express myself and directly see the results. I started Intensity Academy with almost nothing. I was working in the garden at my sons’ school. The vegetable of the week was carrots. We all brought a basket of them home to experiment. I thought the natural sweetness of the carrots would balance the heat of the peppers. I made a few varieties of a carrot based hot sauce. The feedback from the students, staff, friends & family was amazing! I went to the local grocery store looking up & down the shelves & saw there was not anything similar to this sauce. I really jumped right into it without looking back. I figured WORST case scenario everyone I knew would get hot sauce for the Holidays! I did not have huge resources or loans to launch the sauces. I literally had enough funds to do one batch of sauce. The profits from that batch paid for the next and so forth.

What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?

I would have to say that I have studied many successful business women & men over time. I have noticed a few key components they have all had in common and made that the foundation of my success. Having gratitude, giving back to others and making true connections by creating a fan base. If I had to choose one person who mirrors my industry I’d have to pick Ms. Paula Deen. Her story is truly an inspiration. From nothing but determination and necessity she created a food based empire and truly became her brand.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

I started my own hot sauce & gourmet sauce company a little over 2 years ago. Since the first production I’ve won over 31 national awards & have participated in a food show w/ Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, & Giada De Laurentis from the Food Network. My sauces have received a tremendous amount of national & local attention in a short period of time including a Southern Living article, spotting on the Today Show and numerous local Times and Tribune stories. My Chai Chipotle Chup’ was just voted the #1 Ketchup in the nation thru the 2010 Scovie Awards.

What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?

The best advice I can offer other women to achieve their goals is to love what you do, express gratitude, help others & to become your brand. Loving what you do is essential to success.

When your passion is evident in your work it literally shines thru for others to see. Customers & associates both want to be a part of the winning team. As simple as it sounds it is truly imperative to express gratitude for the current place you are at now. Sometimes to move forward you need to accept and appreciate what you currently have. Showing appreciation for your customers and associates is vital to creating a bonded relationship with them.

I have always given more of myself and my company than I thought I could to my community and area non profits. It all matters, everything you do. The connections you create thru helping others is invaluable. It is also important to give back, give of yourself, your time, your services/products to others who are making a start or non-profits.

What has been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?

I have utilized social networking to promote and advertise my sauces while creating an online fan base. Since initializing Facebook & Twitter less than a year ago I have TRIPLED my online sales! By joining foodie groups and connecting with chefs all over the country I opened the door to a whole new customer base. The key to social networking interactions that work is to create true transparent connections. I do daily updates of saucy successes of awards, media, & upcoming events. I also have been known to tempt the masses by “Tweeting” about my latest upcoming sauce or what I am making for dinner. An example is: “Making Chai Thai Chicken Fajitas with roasted onions, can’t forget the sour cream & Chai Chipotle Hot sauce to drizzle on top.” I also create my “fan base” by making things fun & funny. My customers can see the transparency of my true interactions with them. It is with these direct connections I’ve built a loyal customer base and my greatest cheerleaders.

What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?

Remember you truly are your brand, in all you do and communicate to others. Become your brand by pinpointing what makes you unique to your customer and community. Develop your brand instincts and act. Always give your customers MORE than what they expect.

Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business?

Social Networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been invaluable to market my products. My blog is also a great tool to connect my customers to recipes, awards, upcoming show schedule etc.

What do you do for fun/relaxation?

I love to read, I HAVE to read every night to help remove myself from the now and release the activities of the day. I love to go to my cabin in the mountains of North Carolina…my blackberry has no signal there, and sometimes THAT’S a good thing! I love connecting with nature in the woods and on trails.

What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?

I recently purchased the domain name and anticipate doing cooking shows/videos using my sauces. I hope to have a variety of chefs to add a saucy flair to the segments.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I am also the proud Mom of 3, yes I said 3 Twelve Year Old Boys. They keep me busy but it is something I would never trade. One more piece of advice: I’ve learned that giving back is the key to success. Everything you do counts…it is the small things that come back to you when you least expect it. I’ve learned to give to others more than anticipated, your customers, friends, family, charities, strangers….just give.

In addition to your website, how else can our readers connect with you online?

Twitter: @michelenorthrup and @SaucyQueen