Erika Boll, founder and president of The Toasted Oat and winner of the 2014 Ohio Chamber of Commerce Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award, was in disbelief when she was told in April that she had won the honor.
“I was like, ‘No way!’” says Boll. “I couldn’t believe it. I think I said, ‘Really? I can’t believe it!’ and they said, ‘Really. We tried the product, and it was fabulous.’”
Boll’s Ohio-born-and-raised grandmother, whose granola recipe inspired the chewy, gluten-free versions manufactured by The Toasted Oat, most certainly would have been proud.
“For me to be validated by my home state that I’m doing a good thing is probably the most fulfilling thing that happened since I started,” Boll says. “I was so surprised and touched that people think what I’m doing is as cool as I do.”
Beyond being personally pleased, Boll says the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award instantly put The Toasted Oat on a new trajectory of growth. In fact, on the eve of the award ceremony, she and her number-crunching husband determined that the business would need $24,000 for expansion into other states. Just before lights out, the couple agreed to start talking to investors.
The next day, however, there was no need. The Toasted Oat became the first woman-owned company to win the award — and the accompanying $25,000 check.
“You need to understand that was exactly what we needed,” says Boll. “It is literally business changing. I want to extend a huge thank-you to everyone involved, including the Ohio Chamber’s Board of Directors, those who pulled the event together, those who decided the award, the Hilliard Chamber for nominating me — everyone. I’m honored to be part of the Ohio business community.”
The Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce made the nomination and was equally surprised when Boll’s name was announced.
Begin with an idea
“I jumped out of my seat, I was so excited,” says Libby Gierach, president and CEO of the Hilliard Chamber. “Like every business, Erika started with an idea. We believe very strongly that promoting entrepreneurship and supporting startups can help businesses grow into successful regional ventures and even Fortune 500 companies. Erika’s story validates the importance of being a member of a local chamber.”
Grateful for the nomination and win, Boll acknowledges that becoming the first woman-owned business winner was a road paved by many before her, including her long-time idol, Cheryl Krueger, of Cheryl & Co., and artisan ice cream groundbreaker Jeni Britton Bauer.
Like them, Boll is a bit of pioneer. And pioneers, she says, do more than sell product — they give back.
For Boll, giving back means working with as many statewide resources as possible. She sources 80 percent of her products and packaging from Ohio-based companies. For example, because her oats must come from a dedicated, gluten-free facility and Ohio doesn’t have one, she found an Ohio distributor to be the conduit rather than paying an out-of-town national shipper.
A personal stake
Boll is genuinely committed to making a difference in people’s lives. Diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007, she’s on a mission to help others understand the illness and share her first-of-their-kind products.
“People tell us it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten.” Boll says, “I want everyone, everywhere to enjoy it. More important, I want to bring awareness to celiac disease. I want to help restaurants and doctors and people who don’t know they have a gluten intolerance to get diagnosed and treated.
“And I especially want to help underprivileged people not feel sick all the time if they don’t have access to gluten-free food.”