By Jesse Taylor
Walter S. Borisenok was no academic weapon when he graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1979. Borisenok graduated with a 2.01 GPA, yet, almost 45 years later, was invited to speak at a Distinguished Visiting Alumnus presentation. This is because Borisenok went on to found a multimillion-dollar global company.
Borisenok’s company — Fortitech — creates custom nutrient blends that companies put into their products. Companies such as Nestle and Bolthouse Farms commission Fortitech to create nutrient blends for anything from juice to medicine.
But Borisenok didn’t start his company immediately after graduation. It wouldn’t be until 1986 when that part of his journey would begin.
Instead, Borisenok found a job in Plattsburgh after graduating college, working as a microbiologist at a laboratory. During this time, he worked in both the quality control and research and development sections. Eventually, he was hired as a manager of quality assurance after the company was bought out by a larger German company.
Borisenok said he was excited to start as a manager, because he was told his new role would be working in a startup. He recognized how much it helped to work in the industry first before owning a piece of it.
“I think I was very interested in it because I always kind of wanted to start a business,” Borisenok said.
While working for the company, he came up with the idea for Fortitech. He saw that there were large companies that would make custom nutrient blends, and when they did, they would make them only one at a time.
“What you had to do was buy them separately,” Borisenok said.
Borisenok and his partner eventually developed a preservative system that prevents antacid bottles from going bad if customers put the bottles up to their mouths to take the medicine. They received an award for their efforts. Borisenok believed that they would receive a bonus or be given a ceremony of some kind in their honor. Instead, all they received was a plastic pen.
Borisenok explained that when he was looking at the pen, he had an epiphany. In response to a $1.5 million idea, he got a “59-cent pen.”
“Ah, this is it, this is what the corporate world is,” Borisenok said.
Coming up with the idea for Fortitech was easy, but finding a way to bankroll it was a whole other problem. To bankroll the start-up of his company, Borisenok took out five credit cards.
“I used to pay the minimum so I could keep it going. They were looking for me,” Borisenok said.
After writing a business plan and presenting it to the Schenectady Economic Development Corporation, Borisenok was awarded $40,000 to fund his business. After that, he received some more money and brought his former boss, who was about to lose his job, on board. But he still needed a “sales guy.”
He called up his friend Samuel Sylvetsky, but he and his wife needed some convincing. Borisenok went to their home and gave them a little speech. He pointed out to them what he thought “Mr. and Mrs. Normal” were.
“You basically go to school, graduate, get a job, you buy a house, you have kids, you work for 30 years and you retire, and that’s a good life,” Borisenok said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But I said that’s what normal people were doing and you know, Sam, I’m looking to do something else.”
Sylvetsky joined up with Borisenok and his former boss and they got the business going. Slowly but surely they began to get more orders and more credibility. Eventually, they expanded the business globally and in 2013, they sold the company for $634 million.
Borisenok now has another company called Old Tavern Farms in which he raises horses that race across the country. After telling his story and receiving questions from the audience, Borisenok received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi.