By Trevor Stewart
Nolan de Graaff ’05, a Cal Aggie Alumni Association member, always knew he had an entrepreneurial spirit. In high school, de Graaff operated an eBay business from his home. His dad handled the mailing, and when de Graaff got home from school, he would work on the business development aspects of his company.
“Building something and working for myself was in my blood,” de Graaff said. “I just like to keep building, adding value and creating new things. It’s fun, like I am playing in a sandbox every day.”
De Graaff attended UC Davis for the prestigious academic reputation, as well as an opportunity to play football as a tight end and linebacker. As a student-athlete, he learned valuable lessons about time management, leadership skills and hard work.
Upon graduation, de Graaff moved to Arizona to pursue his dreams of playing in the National Football League. He had several tryouts and went to minicamp with the San Diego Chargers, but he did not make the final roster. As de Graaff realized the next chapter of his life would not be on the gridiron, he became more eager to begin his entrepreneurial career.
Finding frozen success
Soon after, he worked as a consultant advising small business owners on succession planning, until an idea of an ice company piqued his interest.
“Ice is a commodity, just like wheat or cotton,” said de Graaff. “You don’t see a lot of advertising for it — but we saw a spot in the market where we could make an impact.”
Now, his company, Ice Now LLC, has a diverse clientele ranging from restaurants, bakeries, culinary festivals, concerts and even construction. In 2014, the company expanded to Las Vegas and is currently pursuing other markets.
“One of the most interesting places we deliver is to cement mixers,” said de Graaff. “We dump the ice in the top, and they blend it with the ready mix. The final product helps cure the concrete.”
In the winter, when ice sales see a sharp decline, Ice Now caters to a different segment of customers by offering snow production. They create snow hills for sledding and promotional purposes. A recent order for a community event called for 85 tons of snow.
De Graaff attributes his success to his tireless work ethic, but he also acknowledged that other business leaders have served as mentors for him along the way.
“As I get older and more seasoned in the business world, I want to bring someone under my wing and help them along just like people did with me,” he said. “I think everyone needs mentors they trust to bounce ideas off of and give them guidance.”
He advises aspiring entrepreneurs to reduce risk as much as possible when starting out, but also learn to take calculated risks for when opportunities present themselves later on.
“Overall, risk is good, and business is all about managing that risk,” de Graaff said. “If you are excited to get up every morning and get after it, you are on the right path.”