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For Struggling Startups, Retirees Are Coming to the Rescue An increasing amount of founders are looking to folks who've been there and done that -- and benefitting from their hard-earned expertise.

By Liz Brody

This story appears in the January 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Israel Vargas

Chris Kanik just could not order a damn margarita. It was a Tuesday in 2011, and the restaurant where he was sitting was called Taco Tuesday -- which meant the place was bustling and waitresses were nowhere. As Kanik sat at his table staring at his water glass, he had a fateful, if not kind of insane, idea: Why hasn't someone come up with a packet you can carry in your pocket and dump into water to create an instant margarita, or, for that matter, anything else? Just add water and -- kazam! Beer, wine, whatever you want. It would be like an alcoholic Crystal Light. Kanik had a background in chemistry, so he took out a pen and started scribbling some notes.

Flash-forward a day later and a bottle of Everclear at hand, and Kanik was in his kitchen researching his idea. He learned that, in fact, he wasn't the first thirsty guy to explore this. Others had attempted it but had always been sobered up by state regulations. Kanik was only 27 at the time, working as a struggling comedian and with absolutely zero inventions to his name, but he was undeterred. Maybe, he figured, he could succeed where all these other people failed. So he started making some calls -- and would eventually be led down a path of increasingly older generations of partners. First he'd find an inventor a few decades his senior, and then, ultimately, they'd both find a retiree who could hold a true key to their mutual success.

But first, the somewhat older guy. His name was Sal Celeste, and because he doesn't publicly advertise his age, let's just say this: For 20 years -- that is, nearly as long as Kanik had been alive -- Celeste had been hunkered down researching microencapsulation and patenting his inventions. What does that mean? It means he patented a way to print beverage ingredients inside a cup. Take one of his cups, add water, and the ingredients would come loose and mix like a magic trick -- instantly turning water into, say, lemonade, mouthwash, detergents, sterilizing compounds, even drugs. The applications are endless -- a thermos that automatically filters stream water, a patient getting her exact dose of pills imprinted in a stack of special Rx cups, and more.

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