Translating an Allegheny Education into Happy Trails

When Will Tippins ‘17 and his buddy Joe Shultz ‘17 went on their first camping trip their first year at Allegheny, they were woefully unprepared.

Will Tippins Standing in Woods
Will Tippins

“I had it in my head that I would hammock camp. Joe was in a tent. It was a horrible night. I was totally unprotected and freezing. When the forest came alive at night with all these creatures, I could not sleep at all,” he recalls, laughing at his naivete. 

Fast forward to today. Tippins is an experienced camper, tackling trails all over the country, and is the founder and CEO of Tippins Foods, a maker of freeze-dried meals for hikers and campers. But these aren’t your standard MREs…Dishes like lamb curry and chicken sausage with Spanish rice have nourished weary outdoors types since 2021. His friend Joe is a contracted writer and photographer with the company. 

The gist of Tippins’ business is to take water out of food but still make it palatable and easy to carry over the course of days while hiking. He learned the science of it at Allegheny, complemented with business acumen earned through an MBA at Duquesne University. That program included many Carnegie Mellon University entrepreneurship programs, which he says are “closest to Allegheny in terms of rigor.” 

“I was a biochemistry major with a psych minor. I loved my time at Allegheny. Professor Alice Deckert’s physical chemistry class taught me things I use every day,” says Tippins. He also cites Dr. David Statman’s Art and Science of Brewing Beer class as the reason he got a job as a first assistant brewer at a Pittsburgh brewery right after graduation. There he helped develop recipes and many of their protocols. Tippins notes how impressed they were that he had such specific knowledge coming right out of school.

Learning about yeast fermentation and the complexities of brewing contributed to his desire to start a food business. Working in the camping industry and food space has afforded Tippins plenty of opportunity to hike and camp in a far more prepared manner than that first trip years ago.

“It’s a fun industry to be in. I get to go to a lot of different shows out West. It’s nice to fly to a Colorado ski resort in the summer where they’re doing an outdoor show and get some hiking in while you’re working. It’s great to be able to talk with people who are just as excited about a sport as you are,” says Tippins.

Tippins says he also has a lot of fun finding interesting snacks for the company at food shows in great cities like Chicago. He says, “You can’t look at a grocery store the same. And I couldn’t tell you the amount of different foods I’ve had to try for this company!” The attention to detail and the art and science of making freeze dried food work in terms of caloric needs and taste is a challenge. This combined with packaging design makes every day an adventure for Tippins and his six person team.  

“We’re trying to deliver a whole day, curated meal experience for people. Our consumer’s problem is that it’s hard to plan and bring meals to satisfy you on a multiple day trip. Shoving a bunch of granola bars in a backpack just does not work for the caloric needs of a hike,” explains Tippins. 

He credits Allegheny for his success, saying the focus on “learning how to learn” was really important as an entrepreneur. Additionally, learning how to reach his potential was paramount.

“I figured out a lot for myself, and a lot of people don’t experience that unless they are in a Ph.D. program. I received this knowledge in undergrad.” Aside from physical chemistry and beer-making classes, he still draws upon lessons learned in his financial literacy class. “It really helps you make sense of the world. I still recommend the book we used to my employees,” he says.

Things are going really well for Tippins Foods. Tippins himself seems genuinely happy to do something that he loves. In fact, he just might end his day with one of his Indian rice pudding desserts to celebrate.