It was a pinch-yourself moment for Clark Neumann. The budding entrepreneur and new University of Houston graduate had a potential new business partner in artist and philanthropist Barbara Hines. And her husband, Gerald Hines, the founder and chairman of a global real estate firm, was reading his business plan.
“Right before I graduated in spring of 2015, I got a call from Ken Jones,” recalls Neumann. “He said, ‘There’s this lady, and she wants to start this fresh vegetable juice company on campus. And, she wants someone to help her do it.’”
Jones, who was then director of the University’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, was referring to Barbara Hines, a member of the UH Board of Visitors. She and her husband are long-time supporters of UH; the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design is named after him.
noun: radicle; plural noun: radicles
The part of a plant embryo that develops into the primary root.
“I wanted to do something for the university that would benefit students—helping the university in a way that I would have an involvement,” Hines said. “My husband has written checks, but I wanted to do more than write a check. I thought, ‘What I really want for these kids is to have good energy and lifelong nutrition habits.’”
Jones, now executive director for the Center for Industrial Partnerships at UH, said one student immediately came to mind. Clark Neumann was part of the entrepreneurship program and was also interested in healthy foods, plants and sustainability.
“There are a couple of things that make a business work, and we could come up with all the support requirements, but the most important piece is: Who will champion this idea,” said Jones.
Hines said she was impressed with Neumann’s presentation.
“I thought, ‘This is someone who can create my vision and move it forward.’”
Just a few years earlier, Neumann was beginning a circuitous journey through college. He started out in theater, wanting to be an actor. He switched to geology “for a minute” and then was undeclared until, feeling pressured to find a major, he discovered entrepreneurship as he leafed through a list of possibilities. Following a year and a half of pre-business classes, Neumann applied for and was accepted into UH’s C. T. Bauer College of Business and its nationally ranked undergraduate program, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship.
Along the way, he fell in love with plants.
“I told people ‘I am going to have a farm one day and grow food and provide it to my community.’”
Neumann and Hines first met in the summer of 2015 to discuss her idea of producing fresh vegetable juices, pressed daily. They planned to sell on campus using a mobile cart, offering a healthy food option for students. She provided the startup funding, and he began the yearlong process of working through the details—from the supply chain and recipes to packaging and branding for their company, Radicle Fresh Juice.
“Even the simple idea of cold-pressed juice took a lot of planning,” said Neumann, co-founder and CEO of Radicle Fresh Juice. “How do I make cold pressed juice? What do I make it on? Where do I get that machine?”
Developing the recipes was hard. “I tried it on my friends and, at first, a majority of it wasn’t good. It was terrible juice,” he said.
“Fresh green juice had been part of our daily routine for years,” Barbara adds, “so we began with our housekeeper Lucy’s recipe, the green drink that we offer our household every morning.” Finally, the ingredients and a menu came together.
Radicle Fresh Juice launched on the UH campus in fall 2016. Every weekday morning, Neumann arrives at the Cougar Woods dining hall by 6 a.m. to receive produce and make juice. He produces five different juice blends, primarily from vegetables to keep the sugar content low, but apple is used sparingly. By 9 a.m., he sets out on a tricycle with a full cart and sells all day. Radicle juices sell $5.50 for an 8 oz. bottle and $7.50 for 12 ounces.
By 4 p.m., he’s washing vegetables, labeling bottles and prepping for the next day.
“He runs the show,” said Hines. “We meet up a couple of times a month and talk about the next step. It was like it was meant to happen. I think that sometimes when you’re on the right track, things happen easily and click together.”
"We're having a hard time keeping up with the convenience store orders, which is a good problem to have," said Neumann. "They keep doubling and tripling orders."
Neumann credits the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship for the opportunity to run a company. “The University having that mindset of wanting to help us (students) and put us in places that are going to help us grow and innovate—all of that ties together.”
Neumann has added to his sales force by hiring four part-time employees since August, all UH students, and he’s looking to hire more. The company invested in a second cart this spring and made its debut into three on-campus convenience stores in January.
“We’re having a hard time keeping up with the convenience store orders, which is a good problem to have,” said Neumann. “They keep doubling and tripling orders.”
He and Hines want Radicle Fresh Juice to become the root of something even bigger by creating a “financial legacy.” The company is committed to gifting back “a majority of Radicle’s profits” to the institutions it serves. To that end, Radicle has introduced a new juice, Coog Fuel, a mix of apple, spinach and beet that is the official juice of the UH’s capital campaign, “Here, We Go: The Campaign for the University of Houston.” A portion of proceeds from Coog Fuel will be donated to the campaign.
“The sky is the limit,” said Hines. Radicle Fresh Juice is in talks with other universities to replicate the business model. Sprouting ideas and having them take root is what the University of Houston is all about, Jones said.
“I’ve traveled to lots of universities, and you don’t see this level of entrepreneurial ingenuity that goes on and a willingness to try things,” he said. “And that really is a top-down type of a mindset that I think President Khator has manifested across the campus.”