Crowdfunding is a world that opens up possibilities and allows innovative concepts to become a reality. Üllo was one of these concepts that, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, has now become a reality. The highest-earning wine-related project to date on Kickstarter, Üllo is a revolutionary new wine purification product that removes sulphites, restoring wine to its natural, preservative-free state. We spoke to CEO James Kornacki about Üllo, the concept and his crowdfunding experience.
Tell us about Üllo. What inspired its creation?
Üllo removes sulfites from wine, and it’s the first product to do that. Sulfites are a preservative that’s added to wine during production to keep it from turning to vinegar during shipping and storage, and they’re the only unnatural chemicals in wine. While they’re essential to the winemaking process, their job is done the moment you open a bottle, and Üllo gives you the option to remove them at that point. Like many others, my aunt is sensitive to sulfites, and she inspired me to create this solution.
The Üllo filter removes the sulfites used to preserve wine.
How did you create Üllo and how long did it take?
I developed Üllo’s proprietary technology, Selective Sulfite Capture, during my graduate years at Northwestern University [in Illinois] completing my doctorate in organic chemistry. My focus there was epigenetics, which looks at the ways in which environment, including environmental chemicals, change the expression of our otherwise “hardwired” genome, often in unexpected and counterintuitive ways. To me the parallels to wine sulfites were obvious. In wine you have hundreds, if not thousands, of bioactive compounds known to contribute to health and longevity, yet their positive effects may be masked by this known toxin – sulfites. To remove sulfites from wine was not difficult, but to develop a method of doing so without removing the other compounds in wine – that is with selectivity – was the real challenge. That alone took me over two years, before I even began developing the consumer product to deliver the technology.
Tell us about the Selective Sulfite Capture process. How does it work?
The Selective Sulfite Capture polymer within every filter works by sequestering sulfites as wine is passed through it. The sulfites form covalent bonds to the surface of the polymer, instantly and irreversibly. The extreme porosity of the polymer means that there is over 3,000 square feet of surface area for this “magic” to happen, all in a filter that’s about the size of a teabag. Due to the way the sulfites are bound to the material, the single-use filters are replaced after you purify a bottle of wine. This is a consequence of the chemistry.
You used Kickstarter to crowdfund the project. How much money did you raise and what did you use the money for?
Our 30-day Kickstarter campaign raised a total of $157,404, making Üllo the highest-earning wine-related project to date. The money was used primarily to initiate production with the casting of molds, but also for the development of packaging, further product testing, and general business development.
How was your crowdfunding experience?
It was a validating experience. The challenge of this product is that it introduces an entirely new concept, one that consumers are not yet familiar with because we haven’t had the option to remove sulfites from wine until now. Kickstarter proved that this is something that is easily understood, and that people want. The validation alone is enough reason for other start-ups to use crowdfunding.
Who is your target market? Have you had a lot of interest since your campaign?
Is it too simplistic to say “anyone who wants it”? Of course it is, but my point is that too often I see companies trying way too hard to pander to a particular demographic, or at least their perception of a demographic, when instead they should focus on making meaningful, useful products. Still, I see the utility of Üllo spanning many target market groups, including sulfite-sensitive individuals, but I believe the most appreciative audience will be comprised of those who just want the preservatives and chemicals out of their diet. We have plenty of options for eating foods without artificial chemicals or preservatives, and with Üllo we now have that option for wine.
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