Despite having developed technology for manipulating wine on a molecular level, Üllo-founder James Kornacki doesn’t think of himself as a wine expert.
“It’s been my philosophy since day one that wine should not be pretentious, and it doesn’t have to be,” he said. “Wine should be accessible and approachable.”
His company, which crowdfunded just under $400,000 through Indiegogo and Kickstarter in 2015, is the maker of a sleek device that filters excess sulfites from wine before you drink it. On Thursday, the company officially opened the doors to its online store.
“It’s been insane,” said Kornacki about the transition from experimenting with a new product to launching a full-fledged company. “I have a Ph.D. in chemistry, and to be honest this has been a thousand times more difficult than getting that ever was.”
One of the biggest challenges, Kornacki said, was the process of establishing a supply chain for a product that has never been manufactured before. Different parts of the product are manufactured in China and Italy, shipped to Germany for assembly and packaged in the United States. To deliver the final product, he’s had to develop partnerships with companies all over the world.
Kornacki said he’s relied heavily on his five-person team to get through the process, along with Chicago design studio MINIMAL, which designed everything from logos to glassware, and built the company’s e-commerce platform.
“What surprised me most was how many people we needed to make it happen,” he said.
The underlying science
The FDA estimates that sulfites, which are commonly used in wine as a preservative, can cause adverse reactions for about one percent of Americans. Kornacki happens to be one of them, but his fascination with sulfites started before he discovered his own sensitivity to the chemicals.
“I played with chemistry kits as a kid and always got science toys for Christmas and birthdays,” he said. “So I remember very specifically that at family gatherings, my aunt always turned away wine, saying it was because of the sulfites. I thought that was an interesting, kind of funny word.”
While getting his Ph.D. in chemistry at Northwestern University, Kornacki started getting more interested in wine — both personally and professionally. He started researching the chemical process of removing sulfites selectively from wine.
Kornacki launched the Üllo Kickstarter campaign in July 2015, about six months after receiving his Ph.D. After finalizing the supply chain, the company has spent most of the summer delivering orders to its crowdfunding backers.
In addition to its e-commerce site, the company is also in conversation with national retail chains about bringing its product into physical stores. Kornacki declined to discuss specifics about those conversations.
Photos via Üllo.