This story is part of Grow PA, a reported series on economic development across 10 Pennsylvania counties underwritten by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Sign up for our weekly curated email here.
Peter Groverman was at a hotel in Egypt, sitting by the Nile River reading a book when he was swarmed by flies.
“I was inundated with flies,” said Groverman, a Blue Bell, Pa., native and Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law graduate. “The insects were out of control.”
The hotel didn’t have fly traps. When Groverman returned to the States, the first thing he did was attempt to export fly bags to the business. But the company that manufactured the traps, he said, only sold their product in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, more than 304,000 U.S. companies exported goods in 2014, with nearly 98 percent of those companies being small and medium sized businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Still, those businesses represent less than a third of export value, and Canada is their leading export destination.
Groverman has since moved on from the fly traps.
In 2010, Groverman and Abu Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone and former analyst for Oracle, cofounded Grovara with a mission to make international trade easier for natural food and wellness manufacturers based in the States, and they’re doing it by building a B2B ecommerce portal.
“We have an opportunity to change the way U.S. sells global,” said Kamara. “To change selling and buying patterns in the U.S.”
Grovara has been working with a number of food and beverage companies across the country since its founding days, but a late-2016 investment of $100,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pa. (BFTP NEPA) is expediting the development of the startup’s ecommerce platform. Groverman and Kamara are looking at a beta launch in early 2018.
Although the cofounders just hired their first full-time employee in June, the company counts seven employees, with logistics handled by Groverman and Kamara at BFTP’s Bethlehem-based incubator TechVentures and the sales and tech teams housed at Dreamit Ventures in West Philadelphia. (Groverman’s ad sales platform, TapInko, was a member of Dreamit Ventures’ inaugural Philadelphia class and has maintained relations with the incubator).
“A lot of our clients aren’t physically here” in Bethlehem, said BFTP NEPA’s chief marketing officer Laura Eppler, adding that the chapter covers 21 counties.
Groverman and Kamara are based at BFTP’s headquarters in Bethlehem, though. That’s how they met fellow TechVentures resident Jon Zack, whose agency, EggZack, is helping to develop Grovara’s ecommerce platform. The platform, the cofounders say, has been on the backburner since Grovara’s founding back in 2010.
“[Groverman] and I have been thinking about technology since we started this,” said Kamara. “We knew that we will never be United Natural Foods, Incorporated, the largest natural food distributor in the U.S. That’s a great model, but it’s the past.”
As for Pennsylvania-based natural food producers, Kamara and Groverman say they’re planning on bringing on more brands from the Commonwealth when the beta platform launches next spring.
“I grew up here,” said Groverman. “This has been an incredible home for us.”