Baseball player, alumnus starts protein bar company

A 2014 graduate student from the USC Marshall School of Business and a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Wheatley has integrated the importance of nutrition and healthy snacks for athletes with his bachelor’s degree in business administration. Pursuing a career as an entrepreneur, he has launched his own protein bar business, I AM Bar.

The idea for this business struck him while he was working on a project in fall 2013 for his business entrepreneurship class, assigned by Professor Christopher Harrer.

“The project was that we had to come up with a business, a product, and my idea was making a protein bar,” Wheatley said. “For this project, we had to conduct different interviews with people and go to trade shows.”

Wheatley came up with the name I AM Bar while he was on a trip with his baseball team. He thought of several names and wanted to create a brand of selfworth that made people believe in themselves.

“I said to myself — forget the name, just think about what you want and about how you want the people who eat your bar to feel,” Wheatley said. “I want people to think positively and you have the power if you just believe.”

As an athlete, Wheatley was always interested in getting the right nutrition for himself. His base knowledge of nutrition helped him with the development of the protein bars. At the time, there was a high demand for healthier protein bars and the launch of I AM Bar became one of the solutions to that demand.

“There were plenty of bars out there, but the more research I did, the more I realized that very few of them do it well,” Wheatley said. “There are plenty of bars that taste good, but as an athlete, I care about what I put into my body, so very few of them were what I call clean bars.”

According to Wheatley, many protein bars have artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohol. Wheatley decided that he wanted a clean bar not just for himself but for the other athletes, as well. He launched two flavors, apple cinnamon and chocolate peanut butter.

“We first tried [these] two recipes at home along with one for a chocolate brownie,” Wheatley said. “For [these] three flavors, we tried hundreds of recipes with different combinations. My grandma helped me with it because she is a great cook, and I am not.”

I AM Bar also launched two other flavors — chocolate brownie and mint chocolate chip — during the holiday season. The bars contain grass fed whey protein concentrate with no artificial flavors or sweeteners and are low in calories and sugar.

Both Wheatley and his grandmother worked on the formulation of recipes. Once they came up with the recipes that they desired, they went to the food processing center at the University of Nebraska in September 2014.

“[They] offered me advice on the business side as well,” Wheatley said. “We worked with them for probably six months before we got our recipes shelf-ready and then found a manufacturer in the Los Angeles area.”

Wheatley wanted to set up a business model that allowed him to focus on both baseball and his professional career.

While Wheatley was busy with spring training in early March, the business was gaining momentum through word-of-mouth advertising. He was committed to not overspending, and thus the company is funded only by him and his family.

“There are certain ways that you can strategize how you want to launch your business,” Wheatley said. “Sure, you can launch and buy a Super Bowl ad for $3 million, but that’s probably not the most effective method.”

According to Wheatley, his faith is a big part of who he is today, and his parents have been instrumental in teaching him the value of hard work. Wheatley is also using his business to fund his dream of playing in the major leagues.

“I am focused and I am passionate,” Wheatley said. “It has definitely taken a lot of hard work to get the business off the ground and gain some positive momentum, but I am very focused on making it a success.”

I AM Bar will be distributing free samples of their protein bars in front of the USC Bookstore from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.