WPI's Latest Innovation? Goat Cheese...'Made by the Smartest Goats in the World'
Three enterprising WPI students have launched a new business as part of their senior year course work—but this one more dairy than digital. Instead of launching a tech business, these students have decided to pay homage to WPI's revered goat mascot, Gompei, and have gone into the cheese business.
The trio—Joseph Botelho, Rodrigo Calles, and Diana Nguyen— have launched Gompei's Goat Cheese as part of their Major Qualifying Project, a WPI degree requirement in which students tackle professional-level challenges in their major area of study. In this case, the students are all pursuing majors within the WPI School of Business, which stresses innovation and entrepreneurial skills.
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"These students recognized a strong passion among WPI alumni for the school's mascot and developed a strategy to capitalize on that," says Sharon Wulf, professor of practice in the School of Business, who serves as project advisor. "Their tagline, 'Made by the Smartest Goats in the World,' is a humorous tribute to the kind of people that WPI attracts. It definitely puts a smile on the face of WPI alumni."
While less than a month old, the student-run business has already sold more than $2,000 worth of Gompei's Goat Cheese, offered in plain, herb garlic, and hickory-smoked varieties, through online sales and in the Rubin Campus Center food court.
"At WPI, we're taught to encompass both theory and practice in our project work, which is how we built our business plan," says Nguyen, 20, of Lowell, Mass., who is majoring in management and psychological science. "Gompei has strong appeal to our alumni, and goat cheese is a very healthy product, much more nutritious than cheese from cows or sheep. So we stress these benefits in our marketing."
The university's mascot (and now the company’s name) comes from Gompei Kuwada, a 1893 WPI graduate who, due to his initials, served as the university's first "goat keeper" after students obtained a goat to serve as a mascot.
The seniors formally launched Gompei's Goat Cheese on Nov. 11, Founders Day at WPI, but the project actually started two years ago when Jim Wolken, editor of WPI's alumni magazine, introduced the idea to WPI students Nick Mondor and Tim O’Neil, who turned the concept into a student-driven project. Last year, WPI seniors Jeremy Berman and Danielle Payne conducted market testing. "Our research revealed a very competitive market with tight margins, but no dominant brand," says Payne. "We also discovered that the WPI name has strong appeal around Worcester, as several local businesses expressed interest in carrying Gompei's Goat Cheese."
Prior to the launch, the students presented their business concept to a number of campus organizations, and were successful in securing a commitment of $15,000 to help sustain the business over the next three years.
The students hope to find a distributor who will expand the product throughout Worcester County. The cheese itself is made fresh daily by Westfield Farms in Hubbardston, Mass., and then private-labeled for WPI. Westfield owner Bob Stetson says his company has done private label ventures for other companies, but never with college students. "It’s a unique idea," says Stetson. "And it's been enjoyable for us to see the enthusiasm these students bring to their venture. So far, it's been a good partnership."
The current crop of students is tasked with officially launching the business, and the plan is for future students to seize the reins and keep the business growing. "Transitioning to a new group of student leaders will be a big challenge," says Botelho. "But we have moved this idea forward two years now with a different group of students. Plus, it's a tremendous learning experience, so we're optimistic other students will want to keep the business growing."
All of the students involved say they have gained valuable experience from the project. Calles, of Calexico, Calif., who is majoring in business management engineering, has enjoyed developing marketing concepts for Gompei's. Botelho, a management major from East Providence, R.I., says he learned that creating a business is different than classwork, as "the business needs to be constantly refined."
Profits from goat cheese sales will go back into the business in order to make it a sustainable operation. Future plans call for the proceeds to support student scholarships.