Betting On A Beverage

Posted on Apr 1, 2011 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo by Sharon Verbeten

Got fusion? T.J. Utschig does – fusing his entrepreneurial spirit with a focused vision and an on-trend product he hopes will snare national distribution in the near future.

As president and majority owner of T-D Innovations, a product development firm in Appleton, Utschig has developed Limelite Fusion Drink, bringing one of his dreams to life in a sleek little can.
But the non-alcoholic beverage is just one of the first tangible examples of Utschig’s launch into the challenging business of product development.

“I started dabbling in this [product development business] as a passion project … as a way to help people get their dreams out there,” says Utschig, 29, who works for Valley Grinding, a business owned by his family. “Being in a manufacturing industry, I kind of had the resources to reach out and bring projects together.”

Utschig is a driven entrepreneur just like many in his family, who has ownership in several Fox Valley businesses. So it’s no surprise they encouraged him to launch T-D Innovations, which helps clients with patenting, trademarking, logo development, production, distribution, licensing, endorsements and other factors necessary to a product launch.

Utschig financed the venture primarily himself, along with some help from family and private investors.

And after only one year in business, he launched one of his own dreams, complete with a celebrity product endorsement. His Limelite Fusion drink, a lower caffeine, vitamin-laden citrus/berry combo – is now sold in more than 500 gas stations, grocery stores, bars and vending machines statewide. Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun is his pitchman.

“He’s a guy that shares the same vision,” Utschig says of Braun, himself an entrepreneur with a restaurant and clothing line in his stable of businesses.

“I’ve always surrounded myself with quality people and quality brands,” says Braun, “and I felt T.J. and Limelite fell into this category. The name, the quality of the product and the idea of a fusion/energy drink were new and unique in the marketplace.”

Utschig, Braun and the drink’s distributors and vendors all have high hopes for the product, which sits on shelves adjacent to energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull. But Utschig cautions against direct comparisons. “We don’t want to be labeled an energy drink,” he says. “We want to fuse vitamins and energy with someone’s lifestyle.

“The brand has to sell and stand on its own,” he admits. “Obviously, our goal is to expand.”
Chip Kolocheski, owner of Kay Beer Distributing, distributes Limelite to five counties (and about 150 convenience stores) in Northeast Wisconsin. He voices high hopes for the product.
“It’s really got a different image, a different flavor, the Ryan Braun tie,” he says. “It’s doing very well on its own.”

Utschig is poised to launch his product’s recognition and distribution nationwide – recently working a deal with clothing industry giant Affliction Clothing.

“Affliction will be getting behind Limelite in a big national marketing campaign, attaching the brand to their UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighters, athletes and other celebrities, as well as coming out with a line of custom clothing for the brand,” says Utschig.

But despite his success, the entrepreneur remains down to earth about the lessons he’s learned along the way.

“I’ve learned a lot of patience,” he says. “You can’t afford to make a mistake; don’t take shortcuts.
“We’ve seen success in being something different, [but it’s important to] really know what you are and know what your product is.”

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