The Laughing Buddha Bubble Tea Company won second prize last weekend in the Gator Innovation Challenge, Allegheny’s annual business plan competition.
The compnay was started by ten students of this year’s Economics 390: Economics of Entrepreneurship 2 class, taught by Chris Allison, entrepreneur-in-residence and part-time professor of economics. Professor of Economics John Golden assists Allison in teaching the class.
The course, which required students to start their own small business, aimed to teach business planning and marketing strategies. It originated in 2007, but has evolved quite a bit since then, according to Allison.
Allison provided the students with $2600 out of his own pocket in the beginning of the semester, as start-up capital for their future business. This was the first year Allison has done this, and he said he would like to continue to do it in the future.
“It allows the students to generate money for themselves as well as others,” said Allison, explaining that the group members will divide up half of whatever profit their business yield between one another .The other half of the profits are to be donated to an annual fund for scholarships for Allegheny students.
Allison, a member of the Board of Trustees, explained that although he is not a professional academic, he is very committed to Allegheny.
“This is my way of giving back,” he said. The students also feel as if they are making a contribution with their business.
“A big part of what we are doing is giving back to our community so that students, or anyone, whoever buys our tea, will be helping to fund students’ education,” said the company’s chief logistics officer Anulekha Venkatram, 13.
Allison explained that the course is designed to help students start a real-life business. They are graded on how much profit their business ultimately yields.
“This isn’t a simulation,” he said. “When my students go to class, they’re basically going to work. The classes are set up like management meetings. I spend half the class teaching students how to run a mangagement meeting, then I let them run it.”
Students are expected to work through all the operational and managerial challenges that go along with running a business.
“We knew coming into the class that we had to start a business,” said chief executive officer Colin Hartford, ’13. “It was days of brainstorming and looking at what wouuld be the best business opportunity her on campus. Through that process, we came to find bubble tea.”
Chief financial officer Ben Schwartz, ’13, explained how the group decided to make a business out of bubble tea.
“You need a niche product that’s not being sold on campus,” he said. “This is something new, different to differentiate ourselves from Smoothie Street.”
“What made us want to do something is that a lot of people are dissatisfied with the food here at school. We wanted to provide an alternative,” said chief operating officer Saeed Shomali, ’13.
Due to rules that prohibit the selling of food on the first floor of the Campus Center, Laughing Buddha will be setting up shop on the second floor instead, selling cups of bubble tea for three dollars during allotted “Bubble Hours” during lunch.
“We’ve decided to do it once a week from noon to one,” Venkatram said, explaining that Bubble Hour will not have a set day. Their first Bubble Hour was held April 12.
The company sells a variety of bubble tea flavors, including mango, strawberry and milk tea. Customers may also mix the flavors in whatever way they like.
Allison said the students’ business was ultimately strenthened by facing realistic problems. “I’ll ask my students: ‘How many of you feel overwhelmed? Good. That’s what work is like.’ I’ll bet them, ‘I be you can’t get this many orders before next class,'” he said.
“My whole goal is to prepare them for battle. When they get off campus, it’s rough out there, so what I’m trying to do is outfit them with armor,” he said.