Hoby Wedler is a man with a mission: Solving the problems of the business world in creative ways no one has imagined before.
As an organic chemist and consultant who has been blind since birth, Wedler is known not only for his talent at finding innovative ways to improve food and beverage products for his clients but also for opening doors for other people with disabilities. President Barack Obama recognized Wedler in 2012 as a Champion of Change for his work in creating opportunities for people with disabilities, and Wedler made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2016. He’s also vice president of the Petaluma Education Foundation, which is focused on creating impactful and accessible educational opportunities.
Wedler will be speaking about his experiences as an entrepreneur as a free community Zoom event at the New York Public Library that I will be moderating on entrepreneurs and disability this coming Thursday, June 28, at noon EST.)
“Being disabled or having a disability in an able-bodied world makes me a much better problem solver,” says Wedler. “I need to do that for my survival. Whether they like to think about it or admit it or not, anyone with a disability is a unique problem solver. They have to do it to be successful. How am I going to get his document that’s inaccessible to me to be accessible? I’m not going to kick and scream. I’m going to solve that problem. That’s something I really enjoy—taking my ability to solve problems to the business world. [People with disabilities] think differently. We have a different way of approaching business, and a different way of approaching situations other people approach in a mass sort of way.”
Wedler grew up in Petaluma, Calif., where he lives currently and runs his businesses. From an early age, he says, his parents instilled in him two values that still guide him today: (1) “There’s no substitute for hard work.” And (2) “This is your life. You have to take responsibility for the actions you take.”
Wedler fell in love with chemistry in high school because of a gifted teacher whose enthusiasm for chemistry was contagious. “She would tell us, ‘You live it, breathe it, it’s what we eat and drink,’” he says.
But despite her passion for the subject, she discouraged him from pursuing a career in the field initially. “Hoby, chemistry is a visual subject—you need to see,” he recalls her telling him. “I don’t know how it’s going to work for you. I don’t know what the risk level would be I don’t know if this would be something you want to study long term.”
Wedler wouldn’t take “No,” for an answer and searched his mind for an argument that would shift her mindset. Finally, he told her, “No one can see atoms. Chemistry is really a cerebral science.” She rethought her opposition and, he says, “became a true ally and supporter.”
Wedler went on to study chemistry in college at University of California at Davis. “The UC Davis chemistry department totally embraced me and what I could do,” he says. His goal was teaching students at the university level. “I wanted to be that lecturer that made them really excited about chemistry on a Monday morning,” he says. “I always had the heart of a teacher.” He graduated with Ph.D. in chemistry in 2016.
At one point while he was in graduate school director Francis Ford Coppola, who’d learned of his work, invited him to design a wine tasting experience, where guests were blindfolded so they could experience wine through senses other than sight. From a young age, Wedler had always had a well-developed palate—he received a soup pot for his 10th birthday from his parents, who had hired him to make soups as healthy lunches to bring to work—and had a talent for bringing flavors together and making sense of them. Wedler was excited by the opportunity but a bit intimidated, given Coppola’s fame. But he decided to put himself to the test.
“I exist because of challenges,” says Wedler. “I love pushing myself to the limit. When you succeed at those challenges you set for yourself it feels so good. That accomplishment feels so wonderful. For me it’s about having an open mindset and saying, ‘Let’s give this a try.’”
The initial event in 2011 went so well that Coppola asked him to hold the events at his winery two hours from campus once a month, at first, and then, when they took off, several times a week. “One thing led to another, and I ended up traveling with the Coppola team on the road and bringing this experience to life,” he says. “My laptop was my laboratory. I was able to travel and meet a lot of amazing people while going to grad school.”
In 2017, he co-founded Senspoint Design, a global creative, marketing and strategic consultancy, where he collaborates with a creative director in Adelaide, Australia. They met while working together on a project in the spirits industry. “They wanted more business in the U.S.,” he says. “They wanted to work with good people to make it happen.”
In 2020, he teamed up with a childhood friend, Justin Vallandingham, to start Wedland Group, a product development consultancy. “I went to him and said, ‘I think there’s something we can do with my ability to connect the dots and really change and reshape what this world is that we live in—and think about and design things from a non-visual perspective,” says Wedler.
They started designing products for the food and beverage industry. “I help people tweak the flavor of their products to turn something that’s good into something that’s truly great,” he says. “I’m a weird blend of scientist, marketer and entrepreneur. I love taking the work we’ve done on the R&D side and explaining it to sales and marketing teams in a way that makes sense to them.”
Jackie Summers, founder of JackfromBrooklyn, maker of the liquor brand Sorel, said working with Wedler has been “delightful.”
“He’s not just a brilliant scientist with a phenomenal palate; he’s a fierce competitor with indefatigable enthusiasm,” Summers said in an email. “There’s no problem too big for him to solve, and he manages to bring a mischievous sense of humor and deep empathy to each interaction. Working with Hoby is a joy, not just because he tackles insurmountable technical issues with meticulous aplomb. Work alongside Hoby and he will inspire you. Work with him long enough and you will believe anything is possible.”
Wedler’s latest venture is Hoby’s Essentials, founded in 2021. It sells a gourmet seasoning blend he developed. The tagline: “Elevating happiness.”
Contrary to what you might imagine, Wedler says he isn’t fearless. “I have fears like other people do,” he says. “But if I don’t try, I’ll never know if it will work.”
But the approach that’s served him best as an entrepreneur is staying open to opportunities and thinking them through before ruling them out. “Get rid of the vernacular that you can’t—and think about the power of trying something that’s brand new,” he says. “You don’t know how it’s going to feel. Put your mind to it and see what the possibilities are. An open, abundant mindset is everything.”
Wedler didn’t know how much he loved solving business problems until about a decade ago.
“The bottom line is that it’s about problem solving. Entrepreneurship is about thinking about something in the world that people are perplexed by and coming up with a valuable and viable and charismatic solution to that problem,” Wedler says. “That’s why I do what I do. To help people solve real problems that affect them that shouldn’t affect them—whether we are in the food industry, teaching industry or creating a brand.”