Intensity Academy of Hillsborough County
When your product is hot, you know it; and Michele Northrup, owner of Intensity Academy, knows it. Intensity Academy is a local company that manufactures gourmet sauces, hot sauces, condiments, spices and more.
Fifteen years ago, Northrup was not looking to start a business.
“I feel like this business found me,” she said. “I was working in the garden at my children’s school and the vegetable of the week was carrots. We had to inspire the kiddos to eat their veggies. I brought a basket of carrots home and I happened to have some little peppers on the counter and I thought that the natural sweetness of the carrot would balance well with the heat of the pepper. So it really started as a school project.”
Using that original hot sauce as a base, she created salsa and dips and shared them with the students, co-workers and friends. She said everyone who tasted them, raved about them and encouraged her to bottle them.
“I did a little research and I literally had enough money to do one batch,” she said. “It was either going to work or everyone was going to get like a gag gift of sauce for Christmas.”
It worked. Since then, the company has won nearly 60 national awards. Northrup was named Tampa Bay Business Woman of the Year in manufacturing and was recognized as a Woman of the Decade by Working Women of Tampa Bay.
“I have to say the very first award I won was the coolest,” she said. “I was sitting at this table in Texas with a bunch of guys who are really into the passion of sauce. At that time, 15 years ago, I was one of the only female sauce creators out there. When they got to the habanero category, they called Intensity Academy and I jumped over the other guy in front of me and did a little pirouette. I thought, this is it. I got the bug.”
Though she had a “sauce-some” product, she had no business experience. She turned to the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County to help take her business to the next level. There she met certified business consultant, Janette Blanco, who Northrup said exceeded her expectations.
“I was able to get extra help that I needed in billing, social media and marketing,” she said. “Janette helped me get in front of stores that I would not have normally been able to get in front of. She also helped me get my minority business certification. So, Janette helped me get to that next level.”
Though the business is booming, Northrup is still facing a few challenges. She said that with the success, she has found it difficult balancing time for family and friends. “My biggest challenge is time. There are so many things I want to do with my saucy vision, and there just doesn’t always seem to be enough time in the day to do it.”
Northrup is a big supporter of fellow local business owners and constantly champions small businesses to find a way to work together.
“For me it’s all about connections,” she said. “I love connecting small businesses together to help them grow. Somebody once asked me, ‘Why would you help promote another sauce company?’ I replied, ‘Well, they’re not my competition. They’re my co-promoters.’ If you as a small business owner are secure enough within your own brand, you can co-promote with other brands that are similar, and you both will grow.”