Student startup off to a running start

University students, with our busy schedules and hectic lives, are renowned connoisseurs of ramen noodles, frozen meals, and Kraft Dinner—on-the-go staples, perhaps, but devoid of most nutritional power. With commitments tying us down, a lack of ready vehicle access, and a dearth of preparation time, many students have difficulty purchasing the products they need for a balanced diet.

Enter The Grocery Runners. Started by a team of commerce students as a project for their Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation class this semester, the Runners have a simple strategy: take grocery orders from students and community members, drive to Amherst to pick up the supplies, and return to Sackville to deliver them for a fee of five dollars on every hundred in the order.

“We tried to see what people needed in Sackville,” said Nicholas Alberts, the company Chairperson. “We came up with a lot of ideas, and this one seemed like the best.” Entering their second week of business, the Runners have had nine clients, with numbers increasing on each order, and they’re hoping for a consistent customer base moving forward.

The class—taught for nine years by Nauman Farooqi, a commerce professor—is designed to teach independence and give experience for the students.  “It’s not about theory, it’s all experiential,” Farooqi said. “It’s about juggling a lot of different things, and that’s what real business is all about.”

Some of the projects have lived on. The Flying Bean was another business started as a project for Farooqi’s class years ago. It was later sold to the University after a profitable year. “[The class] sets up a real, living, breathing business,” he continued. “They take it very seriously.”

With the considerable workload associated with a startup, the team had to work together to get over many of their hurdles. “We had to incorporate, open a bank account, set up so customers could use credit cards, our website required experience we didn’t have,” Alberts said. “As upper-year commerce students, promotion has been the most natural part of the process for us.”

They were also able to strike a deal with Sobey’s in Amherst. “We’re really grateful to Sobey’s for being so helpful, they were really excited,” said Alberts. “We were really hoping it would be more of a partnership.” With a special store account, exclusive deals, and reserved checkouts, the team has already seen the benefits of that close partnership.

Since the students have total independence to use the skills they’ve learned over the course of their degrees for the company’s benefit, it’s a new experience for the class every time. “It’s as exciting for me as it is for them,” Farooqi said.

Students can choose their own strategy for closing down at the end of the term—they can run with the project, sell their shares to other students or community members, or close the business down. “It all depends on the success of the company,” Alberts said.

The Grocery Runners have started working with orders from students, but hope to expand into the wider Sackville market.

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