Cheesy pivot: How this UD grad went from engineering to full-time comfort food entrepreneur - Technical.ly Delaware

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Cheesy pivot: How this UD grad went from engineering to full-time comfort food entrepreneur

Myles Powell was sure he wanted to go into civil engineering — until he wasn't. Fortunately, what he learned as an technologist helped him build his mac and cheese business, 8 Myles.

Myles Powell, founder of 8 Myles.

(Courtesy photo)

You may have grabbed a box or two of 8 Myles frozen mac and cheese during a Target or Whole Foods run this year without even knowing about its local ties.

The brand is named after its founder, Myles Powell, a University of Delaware grad who earned a civil engineering degree, then spent several years working as an engineer before pivoting into the frozen foods space.

When he chose his major at UD, Powell says he was completely sure that engineering was what we wanted to do with the rest of his life. After landing his first engineering job post-graduation, though, something felt off.

“I was really excited about getting a full-time job, but deep down I felt like something was missing,” Powell told Technical.ly. “The second day on the job I said, you know, there’s no way I’m doing this for 40 years. It just doesn’t feel right.”

He’d had an inkling that he was interested in running his own company enough that he minored in business while at UD (he has since also earned an MBA). Before long, he gave in to his yearning to be an entrepreneur by starting a side business — what would evolve into 8 Myles — in 2015.

At the time, he wasn’t selling prepared meals. The business started out selling BBQ sauce. At the time, he was living in Pennsylvania, selling his unique sauces at farmer’s markets and events. People were buying the sauce, but he noticed that vendors who sold food that could be eaten right away did well more business than vendors who sold pantry food products.

“I was doing OK,” he said. “But not like that.”

The homey macaroni and cheese was introduced as a vehicle for people to taste the sauces (even now, 8 Myles’ three macaroni and cheese products include BBQ and buffalo flavors). It was something more substantial than a simple sauce sampling that would bring people to the table. Macaroni and cheese wasn’t the only food he tried, but it was the most popular, with people asking where they could buy it any time he served it.

“After hearing that over and over again, the lightbulb clicked,” Powell said. “‘Maybe this is going to be what will actually carry the company.’ As soon as I started selling it, it felt like a better fit.”

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He decided to relocate to DC and focus on a food business.

"Engineering challenged me so much. I love that feeling of overcoming struggle, and that's engineering in a nutshell. Small business is like the ultimate challenge."
Myles Powell, 8 Myles

“I moved to DC because I wanted to be in a larger environment — more food-friendly for small businesses,” he said. “When I quit [the engineering job] and went full time, I wasn’t focused like I should have been, or I was focusing on the wrong stuff. I also didn’t realize how expensive DC was at the time.”

Three months after jumping in as a full-time entrepreneur, he picked up three part-time jobs. Not long after, he figured he might as well get another decent-paying full-time job, so went back into engineering for four years while building 8 Myles on the side.

Earlier this year, Whole Foods and Target were among the retailers to start selling his products. Now on steadier ground, he recently made a full pivot back into entrepreneurship, acknowledging that the years of “engineer by day, entrepreneur by night” was beneficial.

“Engineering challenged me so much,” he said. “I love that feeling of overcoming struggle, and that’s engineering in a nutshell. Small business is like the ultimate challenge. Being an engineering student taught me how to persevere, how to study and how to bounce back.”

One struggle Powell successfully overcame in finding his path was figuring out what it was that he really loved.

“Growing up as a child, I was always told if you really want to make it you have to run your own company, and I was always fascinated by and surrounded by good food,” he said. “All of my happy memories are tied to that good food.”

(Indeed, that mentality that ownership equals wealth creation has been echoed by Delaware VCs and small business owners.)

For now, 8 Myles macaroni and cheese products, which have the slogan “Clean Comfort You Deserve,” are available at retailers in the Northeast, including Delaware, and the brand is starting to expand into the Midwest, where Powell says it’s gaining traction.

“We have a couple of new partnerships we’re going to announce over the next couple of months as we continue to scale up,” he said. “We’re expanding across the country, but we want to make sure we do well in our home region before heading out to the West Coast.”

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