ISAT graduate keeps giving back


Avrum ElmakiaBy: Brett Seekford

Avrum Elmakis, a 2001 alumni of the Department of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT), has stayed connected to JMU in various capacities over the years. Having founded a nationally-
recognized company in 2008, Best Bully Sticks, he continues to use his success to support the university that helped pave the way for his personal and professional life. Recognizing his entrepreneurship and generosity, the College of Integrated Science and Engineering granted Elmakis its 2017 Alumni Award on March 27th during the annual JMU Alumni Awards Banquet.

Elmakis’ route to his current career was never straightforward, however. His time at JMU, where he met his future wife and formed meaningful relationships with professors, presented opportunities for activating his spirit of innovation.

When he was in high school, representatives from JMU’s nascent ISAT Department visited Elmakis and other prospective college students to introduce the new program and recruit students to it. Elmakis grew interested after the pitch, seeing the department as one providing a holistic approach to scientific study.

Upon coming to college, he declared a major in ISAT, specifically concentrating in Applied Biotechnology. While there, he met Professor Cindy Klevickis, a professor who helped shape his undergraduate experience, and share important skills in analytical methods.

“ISAT provides a solid platform for pursuing many different careers because it gives a general feeling of many types of sciences, including manufacturing and engineering,” Elmakis said. “The faculty were especially influential. Dr. Klevickis made clear her love of teaching and had a positive influence on me.”

After graduation, Elmakis moved to Richmond and married his then-girlfriend Lauren, a fellow ISAT alum, and they adopted a dog. In learning the ropes as pet owners, the Elmakises discovered there was a void in the pet goods market: a lack of high-quality, natural pet chews and treats. Recognizing this absence and investing in the health of their new family member, the couple founded Best Bully Sticks over the next several years.

Since its launch, the company has seen great success. Elmakis was named an “Entrepreneur of the Year” by professional services firm Ernst & Young. The company has been listed repeatedly among Inc. Magazine’s 500/5000 fastest growing businesses. Best Bully Sticks currently distributes its products both domestically and internationally and employs over 100 people in Richmond alone.

While Elmakis is proud of his family, his four children and the further expansion of his business, he also makes a point of using his profits to benefit his alma mater.

Through his largesse, he has established two endowments to advance the ISAT mission and supporting student entrepreneurs. The first donation, the Dr. Cynthia A. Klevickis Faculty Support Endowment, was named after Elmakis’ favorite professor and finances departmental projects and research. More recently, he also created a fund devoted to promoting entrepreneurship among students interested in starting their own businesses.

“I have a sense of obligation to JMU. My family started in college and I grew into myself. I think these endowments are the right thing to do,” Elmakis said.

Bob Kolvoord, the Dean of the College of Integrated Science and Engineering, appreciates Elmakis’ largesse, seeing him as an example of a graduate whose love of JMU runs deep.

“Avrum has a focus on philanthropy. Even in his early days as an entrepreneur, he looked for ways to give back to JMU,” said Kolvoord. “He’s a wonderful role model for students who want to make a difference in the world and start their own ventures. Avrum’s generosity also sets a wonderful precedent for ISAT alums supporting the department and the next generation of students and faculty.”

With the college naming Elmakis as its distinguished alumni in 2017, it is cementing the longstanding relationship between this graduate and the university, celebrating his success and showing gratitude for his contributions. The awards reception in which Elmakis and others were honored proved a humbling experience for him.

“It was a special night and wonderful to hear so many success stories,” he said. “It’s always nice to come home.”

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, January 29, 2018

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