Home is Oxford, Mississippi. If you can’t find Nick in his office on the square, he’s probably on his third cup of coffee at Bottletree Bakery. If he’s not at Bottletree, he could be anywhere. His work has taken him from Arizona to Washington, D.C., and he’s about to go even farther.
Nick and his business partner, Josh West, are serial entrepreneurs. From janitorial services to jeans, there’s no market they won’t enter. Their holding company, West Group, manages four businesses and holds three patents, and both Nick and Josh believe this is still just the beginning.
For Nick, the entrepreneurial itch started at age nine. “I was a shirtless kid with a push mower,” he says. “I started charging five dollars to mow a yard, and I made a killing.”
The real work started in 2011 with Blue Delta Jeans, the bespoke denim company that began as chicken scratch on a napkin. The idea was farmer-grown and hand-sewn jeans, measured to fit. While Blue Delta was finding its way, Nick began cleaning apartments in Oxford to pay the bills. “I got a contract to clean rooms for the international students at this apartment complex, and I noticed all these empty parking spots,” he said. “I got the complex to let me use 250 spots during football season, and I started a shuttle service to take people to and from the Grove on game days.”
It’s easy to see the mark he’s made in Oxford. Before Blue Delta, you wouldn’t catch a pair of jeans in the Grove. These days, everybody’s wearing them. Everybody meaning Nicole Kidman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and almost every Major League Baseball player you can think of.
The company is working with Tom James, the largest custom clothing manufacturer and retailer in the world. Since 2013, they’ve rolled out in 110 cities and seven countries with the Nashville-based business. “We were only able to do this because we make a great team,” Nick said. “And Josh and I are stubborn. We won’t quit.”
This last year, N.J. Correnti was added to the BDJ partnership. He’s another Mississippi boy, and the CEO of Nicholas Air. “Having him as part of the team has helped catapult us to four times production and a continued growth in sales,” said Nick.
Their next business venture spoke straight to Nick’s heart. He speaks with a stutter, and though it’s never kept him from communicating, he knows what a struggle it can be. He got in touch with software engineer and Tupelo-native Ross Waycaster, and the two started working on an app. Their work caught the attention of the University of Mississippi, who happened to also be working on device that helps with stuttering.
“We ended up being able to partner with the university,” said Nick. “We worked with them and the tech group Hyperion to create Stutterless,” a device that uses vibrations to signal to the brain that the user has started saying a word. Stutterless increases fluency using vibrations that aren’t intrusive to the conversation happening. Nick hopes to bring it to the market this year.
Nick loved working with Hyperion. “They’re one of the leading defense military technology companies in the US,” he says, “They’re full of some of the smartest people in the world, and they’re right here in Tupelo.” So he was happy to be able to work with them on his next project—mouthpieces for athletes. It sounds simple, but once his version is released early next year, it’ll be a real game changer. “These things have sensors at the top of the mouth that help detect concussions from a single impact or series of small impacts over a short period of time.”
A common thread in his work, as in his jeans, is care for people. After Hurricane Maria, West Group worked with Relias Healthcare to raise $3.5 million in 48 hours. They used the investment to rent an abandoned Walmart building in Pontotoc County and hire 65 people starting at $15 an hour to pack lunches for Puerto Rico. “We ended up packing 1.4 million meals in 25 days,” Nick says, “People in Puerto Rico got food, people in Pontotoc got Christmas money, and my investors got a great return. A FEMA rep told us that we were one of the most efficient companies packing food.”
That’s what Nick does—-he looks at the world and asks, “How can I do it better?” But what makes it special is his partnership with Josh. “I’m a business development guy, and Josh is a process guy. He’s good at things that I’m not.”
“Nick and I have completely different skill sets which compliment each other,” says Josh.
“But I think the most important piece of our partnership is having support. Sometimes it’s pumping each other up to get through a long stretch on the road, or it may be one of us having a breakthrough on a project at 4:00 a.m. It’s just nice knowing you have someone in your corner, working as hard as you, through good times and bad.”
Nick remembers Josh stopping by the office one day and drawing bubbles on the board. “Manufacturing, healthcare, technology,” Josh said. “What can we do to change the industry?”
The duo does everything together, but there is one more member of their team. Perhaps the most important partner in their process—Mississippi. “I think I could only do this in Mississippi,” he says, “None of what we do is outsourced. We’ve got natural resources from labor to technology. It’s an entrepreneur’s springboard.”
West Group is part of a surge that is moving the state forward. “I travel a lot, so I hear people’s snide comments,” says Nick. “But it’s not 1962 anymore. The past sucks, but we’re so much more than that. I’m so proud of Mississippi, and I’m excited for the future. Mississippi is changing the world, and West Group is changing Mississippi.”
Nick has never had a dream that he couldn’t make come true. He’s his own fairy godmother, getting things done with a lot of hard work and a little self-made magic. We can’t wait to see what’s next.