Mason students come up with a honey of a deal

The trick to putting together the plastic boxes that hold Patriot Pollinator Coalition tea is figuring out which flaps construct the top and which construct the bottom.

Guess wrong and things collapse quickly. But when done correctly, “It’s easy,” said junior management major Soulin Reyes. “There are two flaps. You just squeeze them together and slide them in.”

Eventually, the 10 George Mason University students at a table in Enterprise Hall got the hang of it, and in no time nearly 100 boxes were each filled with eight K-cups of tea infused with honey from George Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative.

Profits from the sale of the tea will go back into the initiative, a joint partnership between the School of Business and College of Science.

But this is more than a story about volunteer labor and entrepreneurship. It is a story about Mason’s commitment to experiential learning and how alumni give back to the university that helped launch their careers.

“This is where we differentiate ourselves,” said David J. Miller, director of Mason’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lab. “This is where the real learning is done, and it’s why students decide to come here.”

Mason already has the honey thanks to the Honey Bee Initiative’s 50 hives. It also has an alumnus, Chris Savage, BS Electrical Engineering ’10, with the machinery to make the K-cups, through his company True Honey Teas.

Seed money for the venture came from a $25,000 donation to the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Honey Bee Initiative from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. All that was left was to find students who wanted to learn about business from the ground up and do everything from understanding unit costs, sales, supply chains, and marketing, and even build the packaging for the product.

“It’s awesome,” said professor Lisa Gring-Pemble, co-founder of the Honey Bee Initiative. “This gets students involved in the project and gets them excited about it. They get to put into practice what they’re learning in the classroom and use business to make a positive impact in the world.”

That is something to which Savage can relate.

“I was a member of the Innovation Lab, and when I first started my company I was very involved with [Miller], fleshing out my business model and helping make contacts,” said Savage, who is charging the students a small fee for the use of his machinery. “This is a great experience to showcase to students how this process actually works. Now they have to go out and start selling.”

The question is whether to sell only within a five-mile radius of campus, join Amazon (and take on the extra storage costs) or sell through a product-specific website, all of which will be hashed out in the lab.

On this day, though, just getting the first K-cups into the packaging was enough.

“A big part of startups is being hands-on,” said Clark Gronek, a junior finance major. “You have to be part of the process. You have to deal with every part of it.”

“You can’t just say, ‘I’m the leader. I’m here to do everything,’ ” Reyes said. “You have to learn everything from the bottom to the top.”

Originally published on volgenau.gmu.edu and written by Damian Cristodero.