They say if life hands you lemons, make lemonade. But what if life hands you empty coffee bean bags?
If you’re Butler junior Jack Sigman, you start a company that turns the coffee bags into tote bags.
In the four months since Sigman and fellow Lacy School of Business students Cole Geitner, Maree Smith, and Jared Rushton opened Java Threads, they’ve already sold more than 200 bags and received some attention from the TV show Shark Tank.
“I think we are really solving a problem,” Sigman said. “Everything we do is hand-crafted, locally sourced, and environmentally friendly.”
Java Threads buys the empty bags from Hubbard and Cravens coffee shops, which means the sacks are kept out of the garbage. All of the money they pay for the bags is donated to charity. They buy the fabric lining locally and hire people in Indianapolis to sew the linings and handles on the bags.
Even the leftover scraps of material are donated to schools to be used as art supplies.
They sell the bags for $19.99 online at java-threads.com and in a couple of local store, The Good Earth and Pogue’s Run Grocer.
The idea for Java Threads came to Sigman while he was working at Hubbard and Cravens. He saw 200-300 coffee bean bags being discarded every month and thought about potential ways to put them to good use.
He and his classmates, now all rising juniors, started their company in fall 2015 as part of the Real Business Experience course, a yearlong class in which sophomores create and run their own company. They wrote a business plan, then had 40 prototypes made to test the market.
In February, they began selling the bags.
Roland Dorson, an Executive Career Mentor in the Lacy School of Business, worked with the Java Threads team for the entire academic year. He said he recognized from the outset that the students had a viable concept.
“What’s better than an idea that combines upcycling, practicality, a hint of fashion, and competitive pricing?” he said. “Plus, and maybe most importantly, the kids believed in the product—and I mean really believed.”
They believed so strongly, in fact, that they decided to keep Java Threads going. Sigman, who is from Indianapolis, has spent part of his summer selling the bags at farmer’s markets and trying to get them into stores, and his partners will join him in the venture once they return to school. They’re also hoping to hear back from Shark Tank, which asked them to make an informational video about the company—the first step in perhaps getting the businesspeople on the show to invest in the company.
Dick Halstead, their Instructor in the Real Business Experience class, said Java Threads did a good job identifying a market niche that supported a sustainable business model, partnering with community suppliers, and creating a heightened awareness of environmental issues regarding their product.
Their next step should be to focus on growth: new market and product development, manufacturing support, and distribution.
Sigman is confident they can succeed.
“I have a passion for this,” he said. “We all do. And Professor Halstead said this could be something special. So we’re going to run with this and see how far we can take it.”