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Running a Social Enterprise from a Dorm

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Stephanie South
Jacob Sager, a third-year student at the University of Denver and one of El Pomar’s Student Leadership Experience Scholars, is just your average college kid. He is majoring in international business with minors in marketing and leadership studies. He has been heavily involved on campus throughout his college career but is currently focusing his efforts on Global CaféNation—the social enterprise he started out of his dorm room freshman year.

Like I said, just your average college kid.

Sager typically draws just a bit of awe from those he meets, which is generally accompanied by a comment or two that goes something like, “Well, I certainly know I wasn’t doing that in college.” A business professor even told Sager once that what he was doing as an undergraduate was the type of thing his graduate students were doing for their final thesis, only they were not actually implementing it; they were simply graded on the ideas and concept.

“I’ve trained it into my mind to act like Global CaféNation is a homework assignment for class – everyone is doing something similar,” said Sager.

That's a humble way of approaching it, but, clearly, not everyone is doing something similar. Here is how the project unfolded.

In his junior year of high school, Sager traveled with his dad to Tanzania, East Africa with an organized trip back originating from his home in Minnesota. What he saw truly impacted him. It was not the poverty that struck him, but rather, as Sager phrased it, “the pure joy of life” the people celebrated each day. And it was that joy that made Sager want to help.

“I didn’t know how immediately, but I knew something had to be done,” said Sager.

The following year, Sager and his father returned to Tanzania, and it was then that he met David Robinson, the son of baseball great Jackie Robinson. Robinson had started a coffee co-op in southern Tanzania called Sweet Unity Coffee, which brought direct trade coffee to the American market in order to help local Tanzanians obtain an education. Sager thought that perhaps he could replicate this process, but the idea seemed daunting and was pushed aside as he finished up high school. It was not until Sager went to DU his freshman year and attended the El Pomar Summit in Colorado Springs that he found the spark he needed to get things off the ground.

The theme of the summit was “Sustainable Solutions to Poverty,” and Sager ended up following the business track and learning about the concept of social enterprise (for-profit rules, nonprofit mindset). Following the retreat, a group of inspired DU students got together back on campus for weekly meetings in hopes of generating some ideas.

“We all wanted an international aspect because poverty in the U.S. is completely different than poverty in developing countries,” said Sager.

It was then that he threw out the idea of importing coffee and his connections to David in Tanzania. After explaining the idea, the group deemed his idea unviable and entirely too complicated for a group of students to execute. However, Sager disagreed and thankfully so did his co-founder and friend Nichole Parker.

“After talking about the idea further for about an hour after the original meeting in my dorm room,” said Sager, “we knew what we had to do.”

Sager and Parker were aware of an annual business plan competition held at University of Colorado at Denver where the top prize was $10,000.  So they bought a book titled How to Build A Business Plan In A Day and put together a 4-page executive summary, which eventually turned into a 25-page business plan that not only placed them in the competition but won them Best International and Best Non-Profit.

“Nichole and I were perfectly ok with that considering the next youngest competitor had about 10 years of experience, including his MBA,” said Sager. “Some of the other finalists had PhDs.”

And with $3,000 in seed capital from the competition, they were off to the races.

Sales have been less than desired during the first year of operation, but Global CaféNation has raised a little over $5,000. Currently the product is only sold through their website. However, Sager said DU has shown a great deal of interest, and they are currently working with them and other coffee shops to begin selling their coffee in the near future.

Sager’s idea is to turn Global CaféNation into his full-time job following graduation in the spring of 2012, but, if he needs a backup plan, he has one.

“I hate thinking about other things to possibly do since that puts a very pessimistic feel to the company,” said Sager. “If I had to choose, however, I would say working for a larger company and encouraging them to change toward a social enterprise.”

And if that doesn’t work, Sager would like to create an international marketing firm that would take small company ideas, ideas like Global CaféNation, and increase profitability.

No matter where he ends up, Sager said that Global CaféNation has prepared him for the business world, whether it is writing a business plan,  attending a general meeting over coffee, starting a website or creating a marketing campaign.

“I believe that any and all of my work completed for Global CaféNation will help accomplish all of life’s greatest goals, despite how outrageous they may seem at first glance,” said Sager.

Global CaféNation seeks to provide a sustainable solution to alleviate poverty and stimulate economic development in Tanzania through the direct trade of Tanzanian coffee and other global brews throughout the United States. Profits from the sale of these products will compensate coffee growers and artisans, as well as sponsor children through secondary education in Tanzania. The company was founded on February 21, 2009 following the completion of a business plan competition held at the Bard Center for Entrepreneurship at University of Colorado - Denver. Despite the competition of over 75 business plans from across the state of Colorado, the student founders held their own against the likes of biopharmaceutical and organic food companies with many more years of experience under their belt. Currently, the team consists of four individuals who share a common passion and desire - to eradicate poverty to the best of their abilities. Global CaféNation is dedicated to creating a sustainable solution to poverty alleviation by creating a sufficient sales cycle through coffee sales and by donating approximately 30 percent of the profits towards secondary education and an additional 30 percent of the profits to build an entrepreneur school. Global CaféNation believes that through education, the citizens of these countries can lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.