A trio of change-makers in the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service are working to establish a socially conscious beverage company to benefit farmers in Colombia.
Second-year graduate students Jessica Troiano, Elizabeth Kelly and Maria Sarta Herrera beat thousands of other proposals and made up one of 16 student groups featured at the Clinton Global Initiative University, an initiative that encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to pursue business plans that take on global challenges. They introduced their proposal, UPleaft, an all-natural beverage company that aims to sell healthy, natural soft drinks made by agricultural communities in Colombia, at Washington University in St. Louis on April 6.
The initiative also proposes partnerships with urban and rural farmers to generate a sustainable income source, in addition to implementing training for eco-friendly farming and harvesting techniques.
“We decided on a beverage because we were interested in addressing health issues and sustainable growth,” Herrera said. “The UPleaft concept aims to positively affect everyone who at any point is in contact with it, [including] consumers and producers.”
The group manufactured small samples of beverages for their business plan. Some of the brewed flavors they created included black tea flavored with mint, green tea flavored with lemongrass and a more exotic Guayusa tea flavored with lulo and feijoa.
Kelly, Herrera and Troiano faced several technical hurdles while putting their proposal together. They had to become comfortable with presenting their ideas, Herrera said, as well as make the project financially feasible.
“I think the biggest challenge is the fact that we’re currently working from the United States,” Kelly said. “I’d prefer to be on the ground, speaking to potential partners and consumers of the drinks.”
Now, they hope to find suppliers in the near future, as well as raise proper funding for their project.
Stern marketing professor Michael Cohen, whose research focuses on beverage and food marketing, advised the group on the proposal. He attributes the competitiveness at CGUI as proof that UPleaft has promise.
“They presented the project in a competitive environment against MBA students from many of the world’s top business schools,” Cohen said. “This testifies to the overall quality of their plan.”
In mid-April, the group appeared on a taping of “The Colbert Report” when host Stephen Colbert visited the Clinton Global Initiative University.
“[The interview on “The Colbert Report”] gave us a renewed sense that we were on the right track and that UPleaft could be really successful and make a significant impact,” Kelly said.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 29 print edition. Utpala Menon is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]