Jordan Nathan ’15 was prepping dinner in his apartment when he left a non-stick frying pan on a burner, filling his apartment with fumes. A call to poison control—and trip to the doctor—later, Nathan had an idea.
About half of all cookware on the market, including the pan he used, is made with Teflon, a chemical substance made from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Research recently linked these “forever chemicals” to a whole host of medical issues, including thyroid disease, infertility, and cancer. While experts maintain they’re safe if used correctly, home cooks like Nathan aren’t so sure.
Nathan spent years in the home goods space bringing more than 200 kitchen goods to market as head of an affordable e-commerce kitchen brand. “I got to a point where I was questioning what I was doing,” said Nathan. “I wanted to create something that was non-toxic but also looked great on your stovetop.”
He started his own direct-to-consumer home goods company, Caraway, which uses non-toxic materials. In five years, it has become one of the top-rated cookware brands on the internet, raising $70.4 million and launching collaborations with Crate & Barrel and Queer Eye star Tan France.
From Colby to Caraway
Caraway is the culmination of his entrepreneurial journey. Nathan caught the bug early, creating his own independent major at Colby in behavioral business built around psychology, economics, and sociology. “I was interested in why people bought things,” he said. “For my capstone, I started a business and did a multi-phase business plan, pulling in everything I learned from my major on everything from my ideal customer to financial modeling.”
Creating an independent major allowed him to explore a variety of disciplines, solving problems from multiple angles. “What’s great about the liberal arts is that you get exposed to so much,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is very similar. As a founder, you need to get good at every area of the business, even if it’s not your strength. And you need to be flexible and open to learning. I think my Colby education set me up for success by being able to think through a problem and look at all the possible options to solve it.”
These days, Colby’s newly established Halloran Lab for Entrepreneurship is set up to encourage students with ambition and ideas. Made possible with the funding of Trustee Emeritus Todd Halloran ’84, the lab will provide entrepreneurship education and training programs and award grants to students to help fund their ideas. It also will help students start commercial and social enterprises, pursue mentorships, and participate in innovation and maker spaces on campus and in downtown Waterville. Another facet of the lab will be establishing an entrepreneurship ecosystem of alumni, faculty, staff, and community members, along with companies, organizations, and institutions.
Jeremy Barron ’00, inaugural director of the Halloran Lab for Entrepreneurship, described Nathan as “a shining example” of an entrepreneur in action, noting that his innovative spirit pushed him to uncover the valuable resources that have always existed at Colby to support creators.
The Halloran Lab for Entrepreneurship will work to complement and add to these resources and make them accessible to the broader student body, Barron said. “Jordan is a unique and exceptional success, and we know there are so many like-minded creators at Colby with the potential for world-changing impact. It’s our job to support them in their journey and connect them to Jordan and other successful predecessors in order to leverage their experiences and perspectives into the future,” Barron said.
Nathan started his first business, an e-commerce platform called WANU, sophomore year, placing second in the Colby Entrepreneurial Alliance business challenge. Said Nathan, “When you think of entrepreneurship, you often think of business schools, but I feel like Colby was a great place to build that foundation and explore. I got my first taste of what it meant to be a founder.”
‘I just love building stuff’
Today, Caraway has more than 50 employees and continues to expand from pots and pans to utensils, cutting boards, food storage, and more. Nathan keeps a hand in each product, paying attention to every single detail. The brand is known for its colorful, simple designs that feel vintage without being heavy or clunky on the stove.
“I just love building stuff,” he said. “Every little area of our products is meticulously designed, and we really hone in on making sure everything we do is thoughtful and intentional, and I want the customer to feel that.”
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