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November 13, 2023

Student-run coffee business launches at University of Bridgeport

PHOTOS | CONTRIBUTED University of Bridgeport students during a recent trip to Central America, where the school has an ongoing relationship with coffee farmers.

Student entrepreneurs at the University of Bridgeport have launched a new coffee distribution company, with hopes of growing the business and gaining real-world experience.

The company — called Purple Knights Coffee — officially debuted Oct. 1, and was built and is being operated by students.

The venture got its start with a pitch, during a “Shark Tank”-style event, to University of Bridgeport President Danielle Wilken.

Tim Raynor

Tim Raynor, an associate professor and director of the university’s Ernest C. Trefz School of Business, said the company is helping prepare students for the workplace and business world.

Raynor for years has been bringing students to Central America for an international management course, fostering connections with local coffee farmers.

“The goal is to provide real-world business experience to our students while sourcing coffees that pay coffee farmers a fair wage,” Raynor said.

In 2017, the School of Business started working with AsoProLa, a rural coffee cooperative in Altamira, Costa Rica, with an initial goal of helping it launch a branded product.

AsoProLa now sells its own branded coffees.

According to Raynor, during last year’s trip, it became apparent that the initial goal had been accomplished, and the business school needed a new venture.

Brainstorming ways to leverage what students had learned about the coffee business and farming led to the creation of Purple Knights Coffee, he said. The name is a nod to the university’s mascot.

Expanding product line

Purple Knights Coffee uses organic coffee beans from Guatemala. The coffee is roasted in Plainville, Conn., and then sold around campus, at a few locations in Fairfield County, and online through an e-commerce website that students built.

A box of coffee from Purple Knights Coffee.

Purple Knights also offers student internship opportunities.

“The initial launch has been great, though primarily to our UB community,” Raynor said. “It is being offered on campus via pop-up and community events, online, and at UB’s bookstore.”

Currently, 12 students are involved in the business. Students have participated in all phases of the venture, from planning to designing the logo.

Students have also handled all aspects of running the business, from accounting to marketing, finance, customer relations and data analytics.

“This experience should help differentiate our students during job interviews,” Raynor said. “They will be able to speak about their real — and valuable to the employer — business experience.”

Raynor estimated it took about 10 months of work and preparation before the Oct. 1 launch.

Shivakantha Naganaik, a graduate student who is pursuing a dual degree in finance and business analytics, is serving as Purple Knights Coffee’s CEO.

Naganaik said his goals are to introduce at least three new flavors to the company’s product line, expand its offerings and broaden its customer base.

“I am determined to establish a robust retail network, strategically positioning our brand in key locations to maximize visibility and accessibility,” Naganaik said.

Shreya Shrestha, another graduate student in the School of Business, is the company’s creative director. Shrestha created the logo and design on the coffee box, handles website development, and collaborates on digital and print marketing materials.

“I knew that being a part of a student-run company would provide a variety of learning opportunities,” Shrestha said. “By establishing our own business, we may relate what we have learned in the classroom to situations in the real world.”

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