Written by The Business Journal Staff
Aubrey Lim, Owner
What we do: We optimize overlooked ingredients for the love of food and healthy living. Aubrey’s Jerky introduces foodies and fitness enthusiasts to a specialty meat previously reserved for celebrity chefs in San Francisco, and almost every other global cuisine. A craft jerky made with beef heart (yes, beef heart!) makes a distinct addition to a range of meat products that continues to diversify along with snackers’ taste palates.
Education: Current junior, Food Systems Entrepreneurship major at CSU Fresno
Family: My family is based out of Fresno, except for my older brother, who I miss immensely.
What’s the story behind Aubrey’s Jerky?
No one goes to college with “jerky” on their agenda. As a freshman with an undecided major, I joined the Laval Entrepreneur Mentor Program (EMP) to learn what running a business was like from the entrepreneurs who came to speak to us about their successes, failures, and challenges. Building on what we learned, the EMP cohort was challenged to pitch a food product in a “Shark Tank” competition. I had no clue what to create. I think jam was my first idea. But, the idea of optimizing the overlooked intrigued me, and an artisan jerky using beef heart certainly fit the category of overlooked. In pursuit of this crazy but trendy idea (converging paleo diet, protein, and fitness), I made jerky in my kitchen, called up jerky experts, and met with as many local entrepreneurs as would go to coffee with me. The “sharks” liked the product, and gave me confidence and $200 to give the crazy idea a try in the market, which I soon did at climbing competitions, selling jerky in between roping up on the wall.
How did it feel to win the Fresno Food Expo’s New Product Award, Aubrey Lim?
It was quite thrilling, and I also had to laugh a bit because it went so surprisingly well! My goal was to get the judges to share my enthusiasm for the novelty, potential, and experience of my jerky as a company, not just a product. As I told them about my journey with the jerky venture, I think they bought into where it had started and where it was going just as much as the current status.
What did the win do for your business?
Since the Expo I’ve had a good excuse to call up the big-name companies around the Valley to ask for advice or just to pick their brains. A few local businesses placed my jerky in the stores immediately. Receiving the judges’ choice at the Expo gave me product validation, and has encouraged me to keep working on beef heart jerky.
How do you balance school and your business, Aubrey Lim?
I tend to work on jerky first and school second, but I’ve also made sure that in-class learning transfers to my jerky endeavor. Accounting principles apply to my own company transactions, food science plays right into testing product preference, and I’m learning the food chain more thoroughly with meat science. Cutting back to a minimum number of courses gives me more time, but it’s fair to say that “balance” has yet to be achieved.
You use beef heart for your jerky. What’s the advantage there, and do you ever encounter people who may be put off by that?
It is surely not for everyone. There’s even a dichotomy between those who love it and those who won’t even try. With that in mind, the desire in my generation for experience is a huge advantage—we see people joining Spartan races instead of normal 5-Ks, eating at food trucks instead of restaurants—and highlighting an unusual cut of meat, and making it easy to try in jerky form, brings the experience to eating that people get excited about. Occasionally, I’m the one surprised when I meet someone who is completely nonchalant about sampling beef heart jerky, especially when they’re the one informing me about the superfood nutritional benefits and flavor profile. Being a fitness enthusiast, it’s important that my jerky has high nutrient value. It’s naturally fat free and is easy to describe as a denser cut of steak. With the jerky category growing and the diversifying, beef heart jerky makes a good fit.
Where do you see Aubrey’s Jerky in five years, Aubrey Lim?
I see the product nationally distributed and on the shelves of places like REI and Whole Foods. Considering how much the idea and now the product has evolved over the past year, it’s hard to say what the path there might look like.
What’s your favorite part about being an entrepreneur?
I love tapping into others’ expertise. I may not be an inventor-entrepreneur, but orchestrating a business (a very, very small one) and taking the steps forward based on who I can learn from next feeds my passion for problem-solving.
What advice can you offer other budding entrepreneurs, Aubrey Lim?
Curiosity is exceedingly useful. Being a newbie means that people overlook your blunders and are happy help, so be intentional about asking questions.
Who are the people who have been the most instrumental in your success?
The folks at SnackMaster’s Gourmet Jerky let me hang around their plant and learn about artisan jerky production, food safety, and business management. Their generosity with their time and expertise has brought me along as an aspiring jerky expert. Going back to when I was a kid (not too long ago), my father has always pushed me to try risky things, whether selling chalk bags to rock climbers or sandwiches to his co-workers. He talks to me like I’m capable of doing anything, which inspires me to dare to believe I can.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Aubrey Lim?
Starting in middle school, I worked with my brother as a janitor for a chiropractor’s office. I remember getting called back because the windows were streaky and we hadn’t dusted under the phones. Small things, I thought, but I learned to do a job well, and to keep doing it well week after week after week.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Gardening is my go-to. The cactus is looking pretty good these days, in addition to the collection of pots I’ve acquired due to a keen interest in junk-store expeditions. Again, I like looking for the overlooked. Besides that, rock climbing gives me a social life and peace of mind.