Tom Eblen: It takes a family effort to launch energy drinks and more

Wayne and Sandra Marlowe, center, and their five children, Caton, left, Susannah, Byron, Daniel and Rachael.
Wayne and Sandra Marlowe, center, and their five children, Caton, left, Susannah, Byron, Daniel and Rachael. Herald-Leader

Wayne and Sandra Marlowe of Nicholasville and their five grown children share many active pursuits: biking, hiking, swimming, running — and entrepreneurship.

Wayne is a family practice physician. Sandra, whose ancestors included several inventors and engineers, raised their children to always be on the lookout for opportunities. Three of them have since created their own businesses.

At a family get-together two years ago, they decided to do something they had talked about for years: start a multi-generation family business to develop and market healthy foods.

"Mom sort of groomed us for this," said Daniel, 32. "She always told us that if you really want to get ahead in life, create your own business."

The family's first product was a granola mix that Sandra had been making since her children were little.

"We became famous among our friends for Marlowe Granola," said Susannah Marlowe-Galan, 26.

When I met the Marlowe clan in early 2012, they had gone through all of the processes to develop and market two flavors of Marlowe Granola. They manufactured it in rented commercial kitchen space and sold it at Good Foods Co-op. It also was on the menu at Della's Diner near Cheapside.

But efforts to find a large-scale manufacturer who met their quality standards and business model proved unsuccessful. After 15 months, Marlowe Granola left the market. The family then focused on Plan B: a grain-based energy drink.

The Marlowes have spent the past 18 months developing six flavors of a beverage they call Gruv, made from three grains — Barley, amaranth and quinoa — and natural fruit juices. Gruv was inspired by lemon barley water, a classic drink in Great Britain, and contains no artificial flavors or preservatives.

"We have learned a lot about the food industry in this process," Sandra said. "You can't just have a good recipe; you have to know the science behind it."

And there have been a hundred other issues to deal with, from trademarks to nutrition labeling to finding a manufacturer and retailers.

"Getting something from concept to market is not quick and takes some capital," Sandra said. "But we've also gotten a lot of help along the way, much of it for free."

Before launching the company, Sandra got advice from the Central Kentucky Inventors Council, which she has been a member of for years, and took classes from SCORE, a non-profit organization that helps small businesses get started.

The Marlowes worked with counselors at the local Small Business Development Center to develop market research and financial models.

Some of their biggest help came from the Food Systems Innovation Center at the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Angela Anandappa, the center's program coordinator, set up meetings for the Marlowes with UK faculty members who had particular areas of expertise. She also put them in touch with Flavorcraft, a Louisville bottler they have secured to produce their first commercial test batch. UK also helped the family with sensory studies, nutrition labeling and many other issues.

"I can't say enough about what a resource they are for food service entrepreneurs," Sandra said.

So far, Sandra said, the Marlowes have invested about $50,000 of their money in the company. They recently launched a crowd-funding campaign on, hoping to raise an additional $23,000 by July 25 to fund an initial production batch for sale in Central Kentucky and the Denver area, where Daniel lives.

The Marlowes have been able to do a lot of work in a relatively short amount of time by dividing up responsibilities according to each family member's skills and interests. Daniel works in food service in Denver and Susannah operates her own commercial photo studio in Fairfax, Va. The other three Marlowe siblings live in Central Kentucky: Caton, 24; Byron, 29; and Rachael Bullock, 34.

"It has brought us closer than we've ever been as a family," Rachael said. "But we try to be really intentional about separating family time from business time."

Two of Wayne and Sandra's four grandchildren — 10-year-old twins Micah and Malachi — also have been active in the business. They were important taste-testers, Sandra said, and they star in a promotional video produced for the Marlowes' Indiegogo campaign.

"They now have a list of companies they want to start when they grow up," said Rachael, their mother. "They say inventing is in their genes."