You won't find this "school" in any search of listings of universities in the area but it has been a powerful influence in shaping the retail ecosystem of the Columbus Region. It's name? L Brands.

You won't find this "school" in any search of listings of universities in the area but it has been a powerful influence in shaping the retail ecosystem of the Columbus Region. It's name? L Brands.

It might sound odd, but many cite giant retailer L Brands as being the inspirational springboard that launched a new retail business, including The Toasted Oat, a homegrown bakery that produces a popular, gluten-free, soft and chewy granola.

"There's a lot of training that goes through there. It's like I got my second college degree from the Limited Brands," says Erika Boll, founder and CEO of The Toasted Oat.

Boll spent 10 years at The Limited Brands, now known as L Brands, working in marketing and communications.

"That company is blessed with strong leaders and I was lucky to get exposed to a number of high-level executives through my work," she says. "I learned a ton."

Boll hatched her business idea after countless co-workers raved about the homemade granola she brought into the office. She reproduced an original peanut-raisin flavor created by her fraternal grandmother, but with a twist.

Diagnosed with Celiac disease at age 33, she recreated it into a gluten-free product and launched her company in 2013.

"I use butter instead of oil and it has a much different texture. It tastes like an oatmeal cookie," Boll says. "We use all local products, including an Amish honey."

Because of her previous work with the Limited Brands, Boll was well plugged into the Region's retail ecosystem, and that proved to be a boon to the growth of her business.

"From marketing to packaging to printing to distribution, there was a network of people to connect with and immediately have help in key areas," she says. "There's a great consumer mindset in this region. There's everything from retail to the food perspective, and this is a huge testing ground and platform and that really helped us grow from the beginning."

Boll developed a winning recipe, too. The Toasted Oat products-with four different flavors-can be found in 300 stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, including Kroger and Whole Foods. The company, with six regular part-time employees and occasional seasonal help, is poised for much larger growth, however.

"Retailers are reaching out to us versus the other way around and we are not quite ready for them," Boll says. "But we are building infrastructure and we expect to be in over 800 stores within the coming year."

The Columbus Region, with its long history of retail, is the perfect area with plenty of resources to help build the infrastructure she plans. For example, when she considered rebranding, some suggested she look for illustrators in California, but instead she simply looked just a few miles away for the necessary talent.

"I think some of the bigger names like the Limited Brands who became established here helped the growth because they needed people close by who could do things like distribution and marketing," Boll says. "It established the need for other, related companies to serve them and now they are available to peons like myself."

The Toasted Oat just completed a first round of equity funding that will help it expand even more.