Named Entrepreneur of the Year in NCW
Jonathan Baker has taken to dunking himself in the frigid waters of the Methow River. He says it helps him cope with the stress that comes from creating and growing his own business in the Methow Valley.
“Cold plunging is incredibly challenging. The stress of starting a business in a remote place where nobody knows you is insane,” Baker said.
The business that Baker is talking about is eqpd (pronounced “equipped”), which he launched in 2014 at TwispWorks. It’s a small manufacturing enterprise that produces simple, sturdy tote bags “proudly made in Twisp,” that are designed to last and replace single-use bags.
Bearing the logos of local businesses and organizations, eqpd bags are seen frequently in the hands of Methow Valley residents. Over the years, eqpd has expanded its custom-branded bag business to include customers across the country, Baker said. The list includes Microsoft, cruise lines, breweries, trucking companies, colleges, arts organizations, national parks … and maybe, if things work out, even the Seattle Seahawks.
The company is the realization of Baker’s vision that brought him from New England to Twisp to set up shop. “I want to create something incredibly tangible that you can walk into, and touch. You can come to the factory and visit the people that made your bag. That story has worked for us,” he said.
It’s worked so well, in fact, that Baker was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the NCW Tech Alliance at its “Annual Innovator Awards” meeting on Nov. 8 in Wenatchee. NCW Tech Alliance is a nonprofit organization that supports growth and development of business and technology in North Central Washington.
“Jonathan started eqpd because he wanted to locally make products to help everybody in their daily lives and at the same time, lighten their impact on the planet,” NCW Tech said in an announcement of Baker’s award.
“He believes in American design and manufacturing, and that great, everyday products can still be built right here in the USA for great value. He’s mixed classic, proven manufacturing techniques with modern materials and good design principles to create highly functional bags with minimal manufacturing … and contributes to an honest Form Follows Function aesthetic,” NCW Tech’s announcement said.
No rainbows and unicorns
Baker said being chosen for the award was a “total surprise,” and he appreciates the affirmation of all the hard work — and stress — involved in building a business.
“Being an entrepreneur is not rainbows and unicorns. Every day is an effort and nothing comes for free. You hope your good work catches up with you at some point,” he said.
Baker is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and worked in New England as an industrial designer with a dream of starting his own product line. He was initially attracted to the Methow Valley for its outdoor recreation, and was drawn to TwispWorks after learning about its support of start-up companies.
“I came here like every other dreamer,” Baker said. “When you want to be in a place, you learn to work within the place.”
He is grateful for the mentoring and support he got from other small bushiness owners in the valley, and the support of the community as a whole, as he has grown his business.
“In a small community you can work together face-to-face. I knew I would need that kind of support for our business. I wasn’t savvy enough on my own. I needed a whole group of people to believe in me,” Baker said.
The support has gotten him through some difficult times — many difficult times, he says. He’s worked through wildfires, pandemics, supply chain problems, and employee shortages. He said he’s gained perspective over the years, and laughs when he talks about the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur.
“It takes teamwork, and tripping over our own mistakes, and spending tons of unnecessary money. We understand how dynamic you have to be, how flexible you have to be. It’s crushing one minute, on top of the world the next. Every month I wonder if I can make it. It’s incredibly volatile,” Baker said.
“I have so much respect for other businesses in the valley. It’s epic what our little place can do. This is a scrappy place,” he said.
From two employees (including Baker) in 2015, eqpd’s team has grown to eight people now. When working at maximum capacity, eqpd can make 500 bags in a week.
“That’s why we came here, for that slow, organic growth,” Baker said.
Most individual sales are made directly online, with a small percentage from walk-in customers at eqpd’s manufacturing facility at TwispWorks. “We have no advertising budget. You can’t find us on Amazon,” Baker said. “Our customers are our greatest advocates. Many sales happen through word-of-mouth.”
Recently a visitor to the valley from North Carolina walked into eqpd’s shop at TwispWorks. The woman looked around, and exclaimed, “This is the town that makes the bags!” Baker said.
“That really warmed my heart,” he said. “We’ve made a place for ourselves.”
Business customers for customized logo bags – eqpd’s biggest market — are drawn to eqpd’s “authentic story,” Baker said. “We’re trying to tell a story of making things in the U.S., and things that don’t end up in landfills.” He said eqpd is “trying to sell that story to the Seahawks.”
Baker has high hopes for the future of eqpd, including perhaps building its own manufacturing facility someday, and moving out of the 1940s-era renovated shed that eqpd occupies at TwispWorks. “The concrete floor is so cracked you can barely roll a cart across it,” Baker said.
“I’m an entrepreneur. I want to grow this business and create something of value to the community. I hope it lives beyond me … that it has legacy and value,” he said.
Meanwhile, he plans to continue coping with the stress of his entrepreneurial lifestyle by cold plunging in the frigid Methow River, a practice he started in the summer of 2022 and continued during the past summer.
“You’ve got to stay in for a moment of time, controlling your breathing and heart rate,” Baker said.
“Cold plunging is a way to deal with the terrible stress. It flips the switch. Sometimes there’s no better way than jumping in 42-degree water,” he said.
Baker said he’s challenging himself to continue cold plunging throughout the year, not just in summer, and made himself get in the river during a recent early snowstorm.
I made a pledge, ‘Don’t let it faze you,’” Baker said. “If you can start a business in the Methow, you’re tough enough to cold plunge.”