Makers Unite!

When Tara Miko Grayless started Happy Hemp to sell roasted and raw hempseed snacks, being asked, “Are you a drug dealer?” wasn’t the worst question she had to deal with. As her company grew and she got picked up by Whole Foods Market, she felt overwhelmed and a little clueless when it came to distributors, insurance, permitting, FDA regulations and on and on. “The major decisions that affect the failure and success of a business…you can’t Google them,” Grayless says. “You have to have a network.”

To find answers, she started ATXmakers in 2014 as an “I-need-some-help” move for entrepreneurs who’d reached a new level but needed a boost getting to the next. Meeting for monthly happy hours and trading tips online, the group soon grew from four to 40—a hefty sampling tray of Austin’s homegrown maker businesses. Members include Bearded Brothers Energy Bars, Tiny Pies, Pure Spoon, Pretty Thai, The Natural Citizen and more.

Topics on the group’s private Facebook page have ranged from existential dilemmas about whether or not to seek investors and what kind of capital to pursue, to who has some bulk almonds to spare or extra space on a refrigerator truck bound for Houston.

Even seeming competitors in the group get along. Grayless says the ice cream outfits in ATXmakers help each other out, while companies such as vegan bakery Skull & Cakebones and nondairy ice creamer NadaMoo have teamed up to make products together. Skull & Cakebones has even shared its Dripping Springs industrial kitchen space with other members of ATXmakers.

Last year, when Grayless retired Happy Hemp to start FNCH, a marketing and PR firm, she also let ATXmakers evolve into a self-sustaining group. Members don’t meet for happy hour as much as they used to, but they’ve shown up for the important stuff. Some of Grayless’ closest buds in ATXmakers were her first hospital visitors when she had a baby, and several more dropped off especially good food at her house once she got out. “Not to sound super cheesy, but we’re kind of a family and help each other out personally as well as work-wise,” she says. “Isn’t that what Austin is?”

By Steve Wilson

For more information, visit atxmakers.org or call 323-513-5812.