Kate Novotny, Arts ’10, believes in caffeinating for a cause. It began when she came across a coffee-growing community during a service trip to Honduras her sophomore year.
Novotny started thinking: What if she could help export organic, fair-trade coffee to support Honduran farmers and raise funds for Sociedad Amigos de los Niños, an orphanage run by Sister Maria Rosa Leggol, OSF, Hon Deg ’09, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
“That was the initial spark that fueled what is now Buena Vida Coffee,” says Novotny, who earned an entrepreneurship certificate from the Graduate School of Management. “I really liked the idea of uniting business with social economic justice.”
The nonprofit coffee company is housed in the Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship's new incubator space. Milwaukee brew house Stone Creek Coffee roasts, packages and ships the Honduran coffee, while Marquette students handle sales and marketing.
“It is a wonderful example of how business can serve society and how students acquire entrepreneurial skills to serve a greater cause,” says Dr. Linda Salchenberger, former James H. Keyes Dean of the College of Business Administration.
After a slow start, the company is taking off. In 2011, it sold nearly 4,000 pounds of coffee, up from 480 pounds the previous year, and donated $2,000 to the orphanage. This year, Novotny expects to donate $10,000.
It hasn’t been easy. “There was a point when we didn’t even know if we were going to make it,” says Novotny, the company’s president. “That struggle for survival pushes you and challenges you to think more about your model, more about your customer base, and really focus on your niche.”
As the company began working to bring Buena Vida Coffee to Milwaukee grocery stores, students turned to alumni, including Jim Sartori, Bus Ad ’77, CEO of Sartori Foods, for funding support and mentorship.
“It immediately caught my attention because it is truly authentic and at the same time very entrepreneurial — authentic because of Sister Maria Rosa, who has helped thousands of orphans in Honduras, and entrepreneurial because Marquette students are provided an opportunity to experience real-world business situations,” Sartori says of the project. “It has been gratifying to see young Marquette students step up and diligently work to make this a success.”
The Kohler Center invites alumni to help support Marquette’s fledgling entrepreneurs. Learn how at marquette.edu/magazine. — NSE