Dianne Holman’s entire career, while extremely varied, has been centered on one point – helping others.
“My whole career has been this way,” she said. “I have to have that helping portion of it. I’m kind of a public servant type. I want to change things rather than just make money, you know?”
Currently working as the founder and CEO of Working Bugs LLC., a biochemical company that focuses on using natural, bio-based chemicals, Holman’s career started out teaching French and art.
“My background is really sort of a hodgepodge,” laughed Holman. She taught in Switzerland, Scotland, Michigan and Louisiana for a total of eight years before feeling as though the repetition of teaching wasn’t for her.
“I had to start over with a new class every year,” she explained. Holman returned to Michigan where she worked as a research analyst at the Legislative Service Bureau before receiving her bachelor’s degree in engineering from Michigan State University (MSU). She later got a job as a civil/environmental engineer with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) dealing with “all things water” for about 15 years.
“If I would have been younger, I probably would have went back and got a biology degree,” joked Holman.
Her interest in green manufacturing and bio engineering that she developed while at the DEQ caused her to begin using – and developing – gentle, sustainable chemicals and eventually household products.
As a result, Working Bugs was born and has been in existence for about 10 years. Holman’s umbrella company is focused on green chemical manufacturing using fermentation processes to produce various products, including chemical, agricultural, food, personal
care, health industries and more.
Naturally, Working Bugs as a whole lends itself to a variety of options that Holman and her team are exploring. Working Bugs has been contracted by the government and other large companies to test chemicals and products in their lab.
“For example, [a company] might already have the microorganism in their process, but we have a unique size of equipment here,” Holman said. “Big companies can use us as a pilot plant for their trials. That was something that was sort of unexpected. Companies need to do some trials before they go to their big equipment, and we have a good size for that in our lab.”
In addition, Holman has two sub-branches underneath the umbrella brand, Working Bugs: Katarina Naturals and Red Cedar Spirits.
Katarina Naturals is where Holman says her heart lies. It uses the same fermentation processes as Working Bugs, but it creates alcohols and chemicals for gentle, sustainable home and personal products.
Under this line of business, she produces bio-based nail polish removers, hand sanitizer, sodium-free salt substitute, a kitchen cleaner and degreaser, a floor and surface cleaner and more – all without animal testing and petroleum products. The chemical that they use in these products, versus acetone and harsh chemicals, is called n-butanol – it’s a green solvent; not just another alcohol.
“This is where my heart is,” said Holman. “It goes back to the same things I was working on at the DEQ. There are a lot of companies out there now producing natural household products and I’m glad it’s a trend because I think we need to go in that direction.”
On the other end of the business is Red Cedar Spirits, a cocktail bar and distillery that is located at 2000 Merritt Road in East Lansing; the same location and building as Working Bugs. While Holman still oversees Red Cedar Spirits, she noted that this side of the business really stems from her husband, Kris Berglund’s interest in distilling.
While Berglund, a professor of chemical engineering at MSU, does play a part in the distilling process, Holman still oversees the entire operation.
“Distilling is definitely a big interest for him,” said Holman. “Although it’s not as much my thing, it’s definitely a big part of my business.”
Red Cedar Spirits makes vodka, gin, whisky, bourbon and brandy. Everything they produce through the spirits branch holds to the same standards as the rest of their business endeavors – using natural process and chemicals to create their products. Their tasting room has a patio, tasting room and another side tasting room that is available for private parties.
While they do have future plans to host events at the distillery, they currently rent out their side room and offer facility tours.
“Right now we are at this point where we feel we have quality products and we are running smoothly. We have about 14 employees; so we just want to get things going with events and get the community out here.”
Holman sees each of her experiences and jobs as a way to help either the environment or other people. While Working Bugs, Red Cedar Spirits and Katarina Naturals all reflect her views by using and promoting bio-based chemicals and products, another way she is trying to better her environment is through the physical building that her businesses reside in.
“Our building is a brownfield project, that’s why I was interested in it,” said Holman. She explained that “brownfield land” is a term used to describe land or a property that was previously used for industrial or commercial uses and could have been contaminated or polluted due to the work that was formerly done on the property.
“The fact that we had a building that needed a total makeover, we wanted to help make that better. It’s been just a lot of petroleum cleanup here and the city has helped with a lot of that.”
Holman said that there was formerly a salt barn on the property as well, that had contaminated a large portion of the land and that cleaning and repairing the property to the best of her ability was part of her purchasing agreement.
“In a way, I still feel like I’m at the DEQ. It’s good to know that we’re making a difference in the environment,” she said.
And they aren’t the only ones noticing the environmental impact. The USDA has certified the products from Working Bugs and Katarina Naturals as bio-based, meaning their products are tested through the USDA to prove that each one is made from agricultural materials.
“Since they have the same goals as we do, it’s been a really great partnership and they have been a big help to us too,” said Holman.
Moving forward, Holman said that their focus will be on the spirits side, working to create more community events and marketing all that Working Bugs, Katarina Naturals and Red Cedar Spirits has to offer.
“So many people don’t know we’re here still,” said Holman. “It’s an exciting time. We have everything set up, quality products we believe in. And we really think we have the best booze around.”