Innovator Profile: Erin Vranas

Business Owner Erin Vranas’ innovative spirit can be attributed to her commitment to constant learning. Being an obsessive, lifelong learner drives her to remain a forever student. It is also this trait that pushed Erin to create Yips Yogurt Chips. With the collaborative efforts of her business and life partner Dmitri Vranas, and the partnership of D2P’s Innovation and Commercialization Mentor Cecily Brose, Erin was able to develop the first chip made from real, probiotic Greek yogurt.

Erin worked closely with Cecily Brose, who has helped her grow her startup and connect her with key figures in the Madison innovation ecosystem. “Anyone that meets Erin instantly knows her passion for healthy eating, Greek food, and having fun, and she has combined these pursuits into growing an innovative snack food company,” says Brose. “Erin is a dream to mentor as she exhibits the passion, perseverance, creativity, and humility that it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. It has truly been an honor to help her on her journey.”

Yips Yogurt Chips are for those who need an easy, good-for-you snack but find traditional yogurt boring and challenging to eat on the go. The innovative treat was born from the Greek yogurt made in-house at Parthenon Gyros, the renowned Madison restaurant Erin owns and operates alongside her startup. This is the key to what makes Yips so deliciously healthy with protein, probiotics, prebiotics and superfood nutrients.

Here are some of Erin’s insights on launching a startup and her vision for the future of Yips Yogurt Chips.

Where did the idea for Yips Yogurt Chips come from initially?

I own an iconic restaurant called Parthenon Gyros, where we specialize in house-made gyros. One of the secrets that makes us the best is that we craft our own rich and creamy probiotic Greek yogurt. I was inspired to create a new snack during very long days of running the restaurant, taking business classes, sitting on a bunch of industry boards, and basically stretching myself to the max. Since I wasn’t finding time for full meals during the day, I was always looking for indulgent snacks that also had healthy, functional ingredients to keep me going. We found a super creative way to make yogurt into chips to make yogurt eating easier and much more fun!

How has D2P helped you, and what have you learned along the way?

D2P has been my golden gate bridge. Whenever I need a sounding board or a connection, I’ll reach out to Cecily Brose, who knows literally everyone in Madison and beyond and can always point me in the right direction. I’ve learned that nothing is out of reach when you put yourself out there and ask for help. Madison has a great startup ecosystem that’s “Midwest nice.” Everyone I’ve met has been excited to help me themselves or make whatever introductions they can.

What other entrepreneurial resources/programs have guided you?

On campus, I’ve gotten help from the Center for Dairy Research (CDR), Food Finance Institute (FFI) and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Outside of UW–Madison, I’ve participated in the gBETA accelerator and completed SKU, the #1 CPG accelerator in the US. I’m also involved in many startup communities such as Startup CPG, Specialty Food Association, WBENC, Retail Ready and more.

What are your hopes for the company moving forward?

Strategic, fast (but sustainable) growth is a major focus. I’m working to expand our production capacity, which finally allows us to scale. Our goal is for Yips Yogurt Chips to be a national powerhouse brand.

What drives you/why is this project important to you personally?

I thrive on giving people better choices for quick and fun snacks. I’m passionate about health and wellness and real food ingredients, and our Yips Yogurt Chips fit the bill for all of the above. Plus, creating a better version of something that’s already amazing (Greek yogurt) is so exciting and a huge motivator!

The campus is full of bright minds and unique ideas, but many people do not self-identify with the term entrepreneur. Do you connect with that term, and why or why not?

I am a serial entrepreneur. As a little kid, I was a master lemonade stand operator. I would set up and fund the lemonade stand, prepare the product, and then hire neighborhood kids to work on it. I started my first real company when I was 14 and haven’t stopped since then. Entrepreneurialism is part of my genetic makeup. I love the thrill, the challenge, the risk, the creativity, the planning, the growth potential, and every aspect of what is involved in being an entrepreneur. Even the most exhausting days and complex challenges are blessings and opportunities for growth and learning. Even when you fail, you win.

What advice would you give to other campus innovators that are just starting out exploring the potential of their ideas?

I’ve met so many wantrepreneurs through UW–Madison who are highly educated and (partly due to that) suffer from risk aversion and analysis paralysis. Analysis, learning, and planning are beautiful and crucial things in business, but they can often be a crutch and an excuse never to get started. So jump off that cliff and figure out how to fly. Sometimes the best lessons come on the way down. Fail fast, learn faster, and make quick pivots.

Read more innovator profiles from D2P