This is my IQ: Julia Niiro

When it comes to the current state of farming and food, we cannot be shy.

Sometimes, the pathway to the most innovative ideas isn’t composed of purely modern solutions. Sometimes, true innovation means embracing a range of historical solutions that — when combined — truly change things for the better. And to get there, you often have to get back to your roots. Literally.

Take Julia Niiro, founder and CEO of MilkRun.

After graduating from Colorado State University, Julia found herself working for Penton Media, which at the time was the largest independent business-to-business media company in the U.S., serving more than six million business professionals per month. The company focused on 30 industries and managed more than one hundred trade magazines and nearly one hundred industry trade shows and conferences.

Not exactly a startup.

But in that experience, she found exposure to innumerable food and beverage companies and consumers — and discovered a much needed desire to increase transparency. Coupling that inspiration with her own experience as a small farmer, she identified a disconnect in the market. Consumers demand for access and transparency could not be met by local producers who were strapped for resources and market access.

“Food is simple and what we need to provide farmers has always been clear, access to local markets and more efficient ways to distribute their goods locally. It isn’t about building more pieces, inserting more players, or looking for the thing no one has thought of. It’s about using the technology we have access to today and undoing what we have done to do it better.”

And so the idea for MilkRun was born, a digital marketplace that enables consumers to buy radically local, delicious, and fresh groceries online, directly from hundreds of farmers and producers. MilkRun handles the logistics and coordination of delivering these products straight to customers’ homes.

And Portland was the perfect place — and the most challenging place — for this innovative approach.

“When we started, we recognized how, in many ways, the community of Portland was already doing the work. In fact, they had been doing that work for so long we worried that they may not need us. But we felt that if we could build something meaningful here — and deliver value to the people who already buy and sell local food — we will have earned an incredibly high mark. If we can build it here, we can do it anywhere.”

Food and products are locally grown and made. There are no subscriptions, delivery fees, or minimum orders. Most products are delivered within 24 hours of receiving them from producers. Products like bread are baked to order and shipped straight from the oven.

If your mouth is watering, you’re not alone. Folks are starting to take notice. Last year, MilkRun was recognized as the Technology Association of Oregon Pre-Revenue Technology Company of the Year. This year, they’ve been nominated for the Growth Stage category. And Portland Monthly has called the company “the next big thing.”

But in the long run, this innovation comes down to one thing: community.

“I am still constantly blown away by the people who have spent their time, energy and resources to help us be successful. For so long, you are just this crazy person chipping away at a stone wall with a rock and then suddenly, you look up to see an entire community donating their chisels, axes, and hands.”

For more information or to become a customer, visit MilkRun.

Rick Turoczy