Kraig Clark’s dream of starting his own business began at Sac State

Sacramento State alumnus Kraig Clark accepts his Distinguished Service Award, during the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards event held in April. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

While at Sacramento State, Kraig Clark ’91 (Accountancy) and his roommate Steve Schroeder ’93 (Business Administration) already were dreaming about the company they one day would start.

“Half of the time we were supposed to be studying, we were talking about different businesses and what might work from a scaling perspective.  A lot of our discussions were related to building a company that could scale.” Clark says. “I don’t think we knew exactly what we were going to start, we just knew we were going to start.”

In 1997 they founded CoreLogic, a data analytics firm for the mortgage banking industry, which they grew into a multimillion-dollar business that eventually resulted in a profitable merger. Today, Clark is the co-founder of JLM Energy, an energy technology firm, and eScreenLogic, an environmental consulting firm.

Clark sees his work as an entrepreneur as being similar to that of a contractor who takes an empty lot of land and turns it into a building, shopping center, office, or something else that becomes used and enjoyed by others.

“You start with nothing, you have a concept and an idea,” he says. “I like building things, “things” meaning companies. You bring a collection of people together, you have a strategy and a concept, and you see if you can turn that into something that’s scalable or livable.”

His current companies merge his lifelong passion for entrepreneurship with another of his interests, sustainability, something he was able to foster while a student at what now is one of the nation’s “greenest” campuses.

“At Sac State, I remember Earth Day, and I had a solar cooker that I experimented with,” Clark says. “In the back of my mind, it was always something that I wanted to explore and the opportunity presented itself and I jumped in with JLM Energy and eScreenLogic.”

Clark, who grew up in Lodi, transferred to Sacramento State in 1989 from Delta College in Stockton and decided to major in accountancy, believing it would give him a solid financial foundation he could use to start his first business. The fact that his courses actually were taught by faculty members, and not teaching student assistants, he says, was a huge benefit to attending, as was a curriculum designed to prepare him for the working world.

His first job after graduation was working in the finance department of a Suisun City-based aerospace company. He eventually became the assistant controller, but left after 4½ years to pursue his longtime dream of starting his own business, which became CoreLogic.

In 2011, he and business partner Farid Dibachi founded JLM because they saw an opportunity to make their mark in the burgeoning renewable energy industry. One year later, they branched into energy storage, meaning they were ahead of the game when Tesla CEO Elon Musk made his own, much-publicized foray into the technology in 2015.

“We were like, ‘Great!’ ” Clark says. “It really helped cut down the time that it took to educate the client. He educated the public, and we were already selling our systems.”

Starting and running his own businesses, however, never has been easy – “There are challenges all the time,” he says – but one thing Clark says that Sacramento State does well is teach students how to be resourceful. He also is pleased that students now can major in entrepreneurship and encourages anyone who wants to follow his career path to be patient, break the rules, and not be afraid to fail.

“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying,” he says. “You have to go through a lot of intelligent trial and error. You’re not going to get there if you don’t try and work hard and put your whole focus into what you’re trying to achieve.”

Clark was one of seven Sacramento State alumni to be honored at the Distinguished Alumni Awards, held last month. He received a Distinguished Service Award, given to University graduates who have achieved prominence in their chosen field and brought distinction to Sac State and/or the community through their accomplishments.

Advertisements

The (Silk) Road to success

Payam Fardanesh on "Made at Sac State — The Video Magazine" Season One
Payam Fardanesh (center) chats with “Made at Sac State – The Video Magazine” host Gloria Moraga and Professor Seung Bach, interim associate dean for undergraduate programs, about Silk Road Soda.

When Payam Fardanesh founded Silk Road Soda, his line of Mediterranean-inspired drinks, in 2012, he was selling one bottle at a time out of the trunk of his car. Four years later, he’s bringing the tastes of his childhood to the entire country.

In the past year alone, Fardanesh has inked deals with some of the biggest names in retail, catapulting his brand into the national spotlight. Still, the Sac State alumnus remains grounded in his family roots and the memories of his grandmother, brewing and sipping the same suds he sells today.

“I was re-creating my childhood when I made the product,” Fardanesh says. “It’s a pretty simple drink, but everyone in Iran has it.”

The entrepreneur spent his formative childhood years in Iran. The Silk Road Soda line is his version of his grandmother’s own recipe for the sweet-and-sour Mediterranean drink sekanjabin. It is traditional and simple, made primarily with mint, sugar and vinegar, and it is a staple in countries like Iran, Greece, and India.

Fardanesh was the first to bring it stateside on a commercial scale. Sacramento, he says, was the perfect place to test the market, thanks to the city’s diversity.

“There are so many different cultures that are really tied to Sacramento,” he says. “We really have a melting pot here. … It really was a launching pad for us.”

Silk Road Soda may have its roots in the Middle East, but the company got its start at Sac State: Fardanesh met his original business partner in the Master of Business Administration for Executives (EMBA) program. He earned his degree in 2011, launched the brand in 2012, and hasn’t looked back since.

In 2016, Fardanesh signed his first national contract with Cost Plus, and Silk Road Soda today is shipped by 10 different distributors to nearly every state in the country. The company’s growing success snowballed into a blockbuster pact with CostCo, where they will begin rolling out his product by the case starting in the Pacific Northwest later this year. That deal alone, he says, could end up accounting for over one-fifth of the company’s business.

This year, Fardanesh expects to sell more than 30,000 cases — an amount that no longer fits in the trunk of his car. That’s a problem he’s happy to have.

“For the younger entrepreneurs that think they can’t get it done here in town, I would say they’re wrong,” he says. “If you have a great idea and a good pitch and good promise, there are the faculties in our community to grow a small business.”

Click here to see Payam’s interview with Gloria Moraga in the College of Business Administration episode of the first season of Made at Sac State — The Video Magazine.