Ancient grains inspire modern-day success

Ancient grains inspire modern-day success

Sandra Marlowe is the founder and CEO of BAQUA®, Inc., which began as a family business in Lexington, Kentucky. Noting the rising demand for beverages that support digestive help and inspired by a drink she received in England, she and her children worked to create the world’s first organic ancient grain-infused drink. Supervisory Patent Examiner and Office of Innovation Development outreach representative Zandra Smith interviewed Marlowe to learn more about her journey to successfully develop BAQUA ®.

Zandra Smith: Please tell me about your product and its development.

Sandra Marlowe: In England, I was given a lemon barley water drink and really liked the flavor. After conversations about the drink, I became curious as to why there was no drink of this nature available in the U.S. Barley is known to have numerous health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol, balancing gut bacteria, lowering blood sugar level, providing fiber, and possibly helping with weight loss. After researching the benefits of barley, I found out that the ancient Greeks made drinks from barley and set out to develop a similar drink in the U.S.

Through an extensive testing process, where numerous different grains were experimented with and tested for taste, my family and I settled on the combination we liked best. We decided on barley, amorist, and quinoa. In the development of the flavor, I looked for a flavor house (FONA International) and took classes to help refine the product. Initially, the thought was to start with a smoothie. However, we soon realized that the realities of refrigeration and a shorter shelf life made the smoothie option problematic. The specific flavors were developed, and then we proceeded to work with the University of Kentucky to learn how to pasteurize, how to scale the product, and how to locate a bottler.

The process from concept to bottling was not the easiest. The first bottler said no because they did not want to bring an agricultural grain into their “clean process and floor.” I went home and did more research and found clean and inspected grains. With this knowledge and product, I went back to the bottler, who then agreed. However, another problem arose. The first batch was cooked too long and the lids were essentially glued on with no way to open the bottles. Adjustments were made and the problem was fixed.

Smith: Any changes or developments in the product?

Marlowe: There have been changes in the production of the product. We changed from brewing the grains to a more efficient process. Currently in development is a new product using hemp.

Smith: In this journey, what do you think was your biggest development?

Marlowe: Having the ability to have an “open-ended” product. In the U.S., there were no healthy grain drink products. This market is open to development. A smart entrepreneur looks at other cultures for inspiration.

Smith: Any pitfalls or lessons learned?

Marlowe: I learned that it takes patience and to not take no for an answer. Ask again and again. Reassess, make changes, and try again. Also, have a dose of reality because not every product is good and will start a business.

Do not be intimidated. Be confident and objective. Look at the market and do your research. Use that data to develop the product and marketing strategy. Look at where the market is going and consumer demand, then take the product there. Get educated on product development.

Smith: Prior to BAQUA®, did you have any other products in development?

Marlowe: I developed a children’s education toy that was not commercialized because market research showed that there was a similar object already on the market.

Smith: Tell me about your experiences with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and about your IP.

Marlowe: My first touch with the USPTO was about 18 years ago, and it was the children’s educational toy. This product was not patented, but the experience was a positive one. As a small business owner, I was concerned that the America Invents Act (AIA) rules would be detrimental, but I have seen that the USPTO has programs in place to meet the needs of small businesses. I really liked the way Director [Andrei] Iancu articulated that innovation drives jobs when he spoke at Invention-Con 2018.

I would suggest that anyone interested in obtaining IP protection vet their attorney before using them. Keep pushing your attorney. Do not step back and assume the attorney will do everything necessary. Look at the USPTO website, find information, and educate yourself.

Smith: Do you have any advice for people just starting with an idea or business?

Marlowe: Find a safe place to get wise counsel and guidance. Maybe connect with a local inventors club or a Small Business Development Center. Connect with like-minded people. Network — it is the key to making progress with your project. Be respectful of people’s time and be succinct in emails and phone calls. Learn to be a good communicator.

Remember that challenges do not stop. You might solve one and, around the corner, there will be another. Know that most people have difficult things that they are working through. Communication and transparency are important to the customer.

Sandra created an acronym to constantly remind herself that the end product is worth the struggle – HOPE: Honesty, Optimist, Perseverance, and Enthusiasm.


The USPTO gives you useful information and non-legal advice in the areas of patents and trademarks. The patent and trademark statutes and regulations should be consulted before attempting to apply for a patent or register a trademark. These laws and the application process can be complicated. If you have intellectual property that could be patented or registered as a trademark, the use of an attorney or agent who is qualified to represent you in the USPTO is advised.

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