by Lindsay Conner
Five Butler University students aim to revolutionize the way consumers eat out. They’re convinced their product will not only turn a profit but also make societal change.
The Pouch is an alternative to single-use plastic utensils. It contains one set of a reusable fork, knife, and spoon made from sustainable bamboo packaged in a slim drawstring bag. The bamboo flatware is dishwasher-safe and designed to not trap odors or flavors from other foods.
“The Pouch is extremely important to me because it will help create a better world for future generations,” said Jack Glynn, who serves as the product’s chief marketing officer. “We are trying to be a part of the solution in the business world, not just adding to the problem.”
Glynn and classmates Cole Fick, Mathew Jackson, Kelly Schwantes, and Holden Semancik are collaborating on the project in Butler’s Real Business Experience (RBE) class that teaches students how to start and manage a business. After forming a team and writing a business plan, student business partners are encouraged to take educated risks, apply for funding, and market their product.
As the business grows, the students behind The Pouch can rely on support from faculty coaches and professional mentors from Butler’s Andre B. Lacy School of Business. “My role as mentor is to guide students in the reality of introducing the product to the market,” mentor Rocky Bloniarz explained. The students are graded on their efforts, he said, including how well the product is received and sold in the retail marketplace.
The Pouch is the brainchild of Kelly Schwantes, a Butler theater major and entrepreneurship and innovation minor. “In class, we were all asked to generate product ideas to solve problems we see in our daily lives or the community,” she explained. Pitching her environmentally conscious idea to the class, Schwantes gained the support of four of her peers, who voted to join the eco-flatware company and appointed her chief executive officer. “In this role, I manage a lot of team relationships, as well as our company’s relationship with the Butler student body, the community surrounding campus, and our professional partnerships,” she said.
The students undertook market research before developing the product, and decided that their target market is ages 18 to 30. During their proof-of-concept stage, the group plans to focus on students and families in the Indianapolis community. “If all goes well, we plan to expand and order more shipments to target a broader range of customers,” Glynn said.
By starting with young adults and Millennial families, the students hope to attract consumers with their company slogan: “Easy to clean, carry, and create change.” Schwantes said the company’s ultimate goal is to see consumers adopt this mantra in their daily lives. “We’re not quite sure what the future holds for The Pouch, but we would be thrilled to continue to change the way people eat, one utensil at a time,” Schwantes said.
The business was funded by a loan from the Lacy School of Business, but the company itself is owned by the students who run it. “We are very fortunate to be developing this company on Butler’s campus, where resources are abundant and faculty and staff are more than willing to get student ideas off the ground,” Schwantes said. At the end of the semester, the team expects to pay off their loan in full and move forward in one of two ways: “We split our profits equally and close the business out, or we can operate on a lean startup approach and continue to run our business with the profits we collected this semester,” Schwantes noted.
Getting The Pouch to market has come with a few challenges. “The biggest hurdle we had to overcome as a team was finding a supplier that matched our values and didn’t break the bank,” Schwantes said. “Early testing reports also showed consumers were concerned about the overall cleanliness and sanitation of the product from production to consumption.” The team chose Eco Promotional Products, a Green America certified business, to produce a product that the student entrepreneurs felt would exceed their customers’ expectations.
With an initial run of 100 pouches, the students hope to turn a profit with in-person sales that will enable them to market the durable bamboo utensils to other Indianapolis universities. “If the first run does sell out rapidly, we plan to order more and then expand into shipping our product anywhere,” Glynn said. In addition to an online presence, the students will attend trade shows and staff tables throughout the community to sell The Pouch and share their mission.
Mentor Bloniarz believes the students behind The Pouch will receive a solid return on their time and effort. He praises the team’s professionalism, enthusiasm, and consistent focus. He said that as part of this class project, the students not only bring a real product to market but also learn how to professionally reach customers with business strategy, tactics, and accounting. “I’m jealous I was not asked what I did in college, but these students can say they brought The Pouch to market and made a profit during their Butler career,” Bloniarz said.
The magnitude of this real-world learning experience is not lost on the students. “Because this business at its core is a class project, my team and I are always learning,” Schwantes said. “Communication is essential to covering all of our bases on a complex project such as The Pouch. Finding new ways to communicate with each other and our professional partners has been helping us bring our product and our message to market.”
In the end, it all comes back to the mission of greener living for Schwantes and her business partners. “As a rising entrepreneurial generation, it is our duty to try and solve the problems we are facing at present,” she says, whether that means recycling, shopping responsibly, or creating a start-up. “We want to inspire our peers and our community to make a change step by step.”
Lindsay Conner is a freelance writer and editor who relocated to the Keystone-Monon neighborhood from Nashville, Tenn.
A version of this article appears in the April/May 2019 print edition of the magazine.