Zack Helminiak and Dean Ed Grier enjoy coffee at a cafe in California

How VCU Business Helped Zack Helminiak Do More

Nov. 1, 2018 - Susan T. Burtch

“Own less, do more.” That line not only sells the benefits of Nomadix (“the only towel you need”), but also encapsulates the philosophy of the product’s millennial audience. “We think of these four words as the ethos of our company,” says Zack Helminiak (B.S.’08/B) proudly. “If you have fewer possessions, you will have more time and money available for activities that enrich your life.”­

Founded in 2015, Nomadix owes its genesis to a happy combination of inspiration, experience and education on the part of Helminiak and his business partners, Chace Petersen and Hunter Robinson. Their small, packable towel is made from certified post-consumer recycled plastic and perfectly suited to yoga, pool, camping and travel use. Forbes magazine has lauded Nomadix for “turning plastic waste into a new retail brand.”

Nomadix Idea/VCU Entrepreneurship

Back in 2008, Helminiak had just graduated from VCU with a degree in Business, Real Estate and Urban Land Development. But 2008 wasn’t a great year for the U.S. economy, so he headed to Bangkok to teach English. In the ensuing years, he and his friends Petersen and Robinson camped, skied and traveled in over 35 countries. Somewhere along the way, the idea for Nomadix was born. He shrugs. “Our experience taught us this product did not exist.” 

At that same time -- while it had been close to a decade since his college graduation -- Helminiak found himself reflecting on his business degree and VCU education. “There was this capstone class at the Business School,” he remembers. “We were assigned a business problem and challenged with finding a solution. I really did enjoy that class. It was my first attempt at thinking like I owned a company. I liked the feeling of being entrepreneurial, and it gave me confidence to do something like that on my own.”

Nomadix Implementation/VCU Diversity

But a great idea is one thing; putting it into production is another. “We started contacting manufacturers to make a custom product,” he says. “It was a long, two-year process of sourcing materials and talking to experts about how to get the attributes we wanted for our towel. Post-consumer recycled material was scarce and expensive in the U.S., so we finally landed in China, where most of our plastic waste was shipped.

Sourcing and manufacturing weren’t part of my curriculum at VCU,” continues Helminiak. “But I think VCU did have an influence on me during that period of our business development. With the school being so diverse, it opened my eyes to the idea of working with someone from another country. In my classes, there were students from Asia, the Middle East, Africa. Networking with a diverse student body allowed me to learn more about the world and get a global perspective – so in the end, it was less daunting for me to travel.”

Nomadix Promotion/VCU Marketing 

Having successfully launched Nomadix, Helminiak is now focused on future growth, promotion and marketing.“As a small startup, we have had to be creative with how we reach our audience,” he explains. “I thought back to my marketing class at VCU. What I remember most is a professor’s story about how VCU decided to market itself as a school. Apparently there had been a round-table panel discussion at which they decided to invest heavily in their basketball team -- and that would put them on the map. Well, right after I got there, the VCU team went to the Final Four. School pride was up; the stadium was packed. My professor framed that not as an event, but as a marketing strategy. I remembered that.”

As a result, Nomadix has formulated its own marketing strategy: building strong partnerships. “We can’t pump money we don’t have into online advertising,” says Helminiak. “Instead we collaborate with companies that aren’t just customers. They’re working with us to market a broader initiative in more responsible manufacturing too.” Witness the Nomadix collaboration with Bare Coast clean-up events, where local communities comb the beach for plastic waste.

Most recently, watch www.goalltheplaces.com, a travel and adventure film series exploring the global relationships of food, culture, sports and the environment. Oh, and just by the way, one of the avid cyclers featured in the film is Helminiak himself – doing more of what he loves.

Visit www.nomadix.co