Last fall, a simple suggestion sparked an initiative to create a UW-Eau Claire brand of coffee. In the span of a single year, that idea has evolved into a thriving young company called Blugold Roast.
During last year’s UW-Eau Claire Entrepreneurship Week, Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) President Tyler Anderson attended a talk by Jim Stewart, the founder of Seattle’s Best Coffee. Inspired by Stewart’s speech, he and fellow CEO students decided to take on the coffee industry.
“Something as simple as coffee can bring the spirit of Eau Claire’s entrepreneurial community together.” – Tyler Anderson, Blugold Roast
Stewart connected the CEO with Seattle-area coffee roasters Mukilteo Coffee, who invited the students to visit their roasting business on Whidbey Island, Washington. UWEC’s entrepreneurship program sent Anderson and his peers to Washington state, where they met with Mukilteo management, toured their roastery, and learned about the coffee roasting process.
“The entrepreneurship program gave us the gift of sending us to Seattle to meet with this roaster,” Anderson said. From then on, CEO students were determined to get Blugold Roast up and running. “If they were going to invest this much in us, then we needed to take forth and put in the time and effort to get this done.”
And get it done they did. When high transnational shipping costs prevented a partnership with Mukilteo, Blugold Roast looked to local entrepreneurs for direction. JAMF Software co-founder and UWEC graduate Zach Halmstad steered them toward Minneapolis roasters Roastery 7. They met with the owner and toured the roastery, and they liked what they saw – and felt.
“You could tell he had a passion for coffee, a passion for roasting,” Anderson said. The Blugold Roast team wanted roasters who emphasized quality coffee and quality customer service, and they found that in Roastery 7. “They cared about customer experience.”
Blugold Roast teamed up with Roastery 7 to create four signature blends: light, medium, and dark roasts as well as a decaf option. Since then, the company has grown tremendously. Anderson and others built the brand, creating labels and logos, developing the shipping process, and working out logistics. Coffee samplings and surveys finalized the blends. Blugold Roast was officially launched on the 50th anniversary of the College of Business this September.
A couple of months later, business is booming. A Facebook search for “Blugold Roast” reveals “25,881 people talking about this.”
Though Blugold Roast was initially marketed toward alumni, staff, and Eau Claire professionals, it’s been a big hit with the students. Chancellor James Schmidt – creator and namesake of their dark roast Chancellor’s Blend – has been doing his part in promoting Blugold Roast across campus. The coffee has made appearances at several university events, and they’ve given out beans to businesses all around Eau Claire. Students (and anyone else) can buy beans at Schneider hall or pick up a hot cup of joe in McIntyre Library.
“We’ve been trying to get out more face-to-face: getting out names out there, getting out faces out there, getting the product out there in the hands of the consumer,” Anderson said.
They plan to ramp up social media presence in the coming months.
Blugold Roast was created by students, for students. The company is 100 percent student-run. That’s right: College kids conduct all the operations and oversee all the financing, all on their own time – and they want to give back.
“We take the money (we make) and invest it back into the students,” Anderson said.
The proceeds from coffee sales will be used to benefit UWEC entrepreneurial students. Blugold Roast hopes to send people to entrepreneurial conferences and barista training sessions, helping peers to further their skills. They aim to establish a new generation coffee enthusiasts to carry the business past its formative years.
The company also fosters connections between entrepreneurial students and local businesspeople. Throughout the startup process, Anderson formed relationships with local, regional, and national entrepreneurs who support and advise him to this day. And Eau Claire has no shortage of entrepreneurial innovators.
“We see so many influential people in the area like Zach Halmstad and (Volume One co-founder) Nick Meyer that have built so many great things in the past couple years,” he noted.
Blugold Roast hopes to be another Eau Claire success story, and maintaining relationships with the city’s best will help make that happen. As a dynamic contributor to the local business scene, they inspire aspiring entrepreneurs on campus and represent the university among local businesses and their community.
“Something as simple as coffee can bring the spirit of Eau Claire’s entrepreneurial community together,” Anderson said.