A criminal justice graduate turned tea specialist, a neuroscientist turned baker, and an engineer turned barista were among the brains behind the businesses at The Market—an indoor farmers market-style event hosted this week by the Office of Alumni Relations.
The twist? These entrepreneurs, as well as others at The Market, were all current students or alumni of Northeastern. In all, six entrepreneurs offered their wares at the event, which was attended by students and staff alike.
‘Why can’t we eat our coffee?’
“It really started because our founders both had early classes and didn’t usually have time to eat breakfast and have a cup of coffee,” said Nick Passaro, DMSB’18, who oversees e-commerce for the company. “They figured, ‘why can’t we eat our coffee?’” and thus the CoffeeBar was born.
The company won audience favorite at Northeastern’s spring 2013 Husky Startup Challenge, and received $10,000 in gap funding from IDEA, the university’s student-run venture accelerator. Passaro credited the university’s dedication to entrepreneurship for its incubation. “Northeastern has the infrastructure that allows entrepreneurs to thrive,” he said.
From crop to cup, coffee-making made easier
Miriam Morales, E’90, is the driving force behind El Recreo Coffee, a company that handles every step of coffee making, from crop to cup.
The beans come from Morales’ family farm in Nicaragua, and they’re roasted and ground in the El Recreo facilities in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood. The proceeds from the coffee shop fund a school and clinic program Morales’ mother started on their farm in Nicaragua.
Though she studied engineering at Northeastern, Morales said the experience set her up for success in this venture. “It makes you sharp-minded,” she said.
Northeastern has the infrastructure that allows entrepreneurs to thrive.
—Nick Passaro, DMSB’18
Injury inspires innovation
“When I was recovering, I found myself adding water to all my sports drinks because they were so sugary,” he said. Unable to find a better, all-natural alternative, he made one himself and started shopping it to gyms in the Boston area in the mornings before class.
He praised the Northeastern community for its help along the way. “I was totally new to this, and I needed a food scientist, a source for bottles—everything,” he said. “The exposure here is incredible and there are mentors who are familiar with situations like mine and helped when I needed it.”
Sports drink goes maple
Next to Letts at The Market was a different company offering a sports drink alternative: DRINKMaple.
The company was founded by Northeastern alumna and Ironman triathlete Kate Weiler, CPS’13. Its namesake product is bottled pure maple sap, otherwise known as maple water.
Dylan McGraw, field marketing manager for DRINKMaple, touted its benefits as being gentler on the stomach and easier to digest before or after intense athletic events than typical sports drinks.
Entrepreneur trades neuroscience for baking company
Another triathlete, Maura Duggan, AS’98, is the president and founder of Fancy Pants Baking Co., though she started out as a neuroscientist upon graduation. “The truth is I was working a desk job and really wanted to be doing something that was more creative,” she said.
Recognizing her innate baking abilities, Duggan switched tracks completely and started selling her all-natural, nut-free cookies in earnest in 2004.
“Everything in these, you could make with ingredients you have at home,” she said. “There’s nothing we have that you wouldn’t have in your kitchen.”
Duggan credited the spirit of discovery at Northeastern for helping her chart a course to entrepreneurship.
“There’s something about experiential learning that makes you think, as a scientist, ‘What can I discover, what can I learn?’” she said. “I had no experience in running a business, but there’s still that common thought of, ‘What can I learn, how can I figure this out?’”
Teas take off
Elisa Coppelman is the proprietor of the Connecticut-based tea and spice company Noank Nibbles, though it’s not likely something she would have imagined for herself as a student studying criminal justice at Northeastern in the 1970s.
After a successful career in hotel management took her from her native Massachusetts to Mystic, Connecticut, Coppelman’s life took an about-face 10 years ago when she developed a lavender tea for her young daughter who was having trouble sleeping.
“People loved it, they kept asking me to make it for them,” she said. In 2013, Coppelman started the Noank Farmers’ Market, where her teas—and soon dip mixes—really started to take off.
Her products can now be found in grocery stores throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts, but Coppelman said her proudest achievement is partnering with the special education department of Groton Public Schools in Connecticut. Through the partnership, young adults in the special skills high school program—for students ages 18 to 21 with special education needs—help produce and package her goods.
“All this could go away,” she said, gesturing at a table full of Noank Nibbles treats, “and that wouldn’t be the end of the world. Those kids are what really matter.”