University of Richmond students Grace Mittl, Eli Bank and Maeve McCormick will start their respective first jobs out of college this summer as the CEO, COO and CMO of Absurd Snacks, a company they created with 13 classmates this year that already has products on shelves throughout the city.
It wasn’t a route the three expected when they signed up for the yearlong Bench Top Innovations class with Joel Mier, UR’s lecturer of marketing, but now the three have turned down job offers to continue expanding their trail mix that substitutes traditional nuts with crunchy beans. The product is packaged in brightly colored bags with line-drawn anthropomorphic beans that appear smiling and bungee jumping.
The tagline of the class was “from idea to revenue in nine months,” Mittl said. In the first semester, teams of students created food products, with the nut-free trail mix — initially called Spill the Beans — winning taste buds. In the second semester, the entire class became one startup company with the goal to sell about 7,000 units of Absurd Snacks by the end of the spring semester.
Grace Mittl is the co-founder and CEO of Absurd Snacks.
The idea for Absurd Snacks came from a classmate of Mittl who has a severe peanut allergy and was well-versed in the lack of allergy-safe, low-sugar, high-protein snack options on the market. Mittl said emphasizing the words “crunchy” and “roasted” on marketing materials has helped make the snack more appealing for people who associate beans with a mushy texture.
“We see ourselves fitting into the allergen-friendly snack community, but more specifically in the trail mix area,” said Mittl, a business major with concentrations in marketing and business analytics.
The class had a revenue goal of $35,000 and it is about 60% there, Mittl said.
“Everyone in the class has a very unique and distinct role,” said Mittl. “Of course, there’s some overlapping responsibilities and people fill in gaps when needed, but we run everything ourselves.”
While producing, packaging and budgeting the snack products, students learned how to build a brand and run a business, including marketing, sales, operations, finance and tech.
Mier leads decision-making and assists with troubleshooting. The company’s expenses are covered by part of a $1 million donation to the university by the Jason & Jamie Brown Family Foundation and RB Charitable Foundation for entrepreneurial programming through its Creativity-Innovation-Entrepreneurship initiative, according to the university. The school did not provide information on Absurd Snacks’ total allocation.
This summer Mittl, Bank and McCormick will continue to work on recipe development refining the current maple cinnamon and chocolate trail mix flavors as well as adding savory options. Also on their summer to-do list: revamping the company’s branding and raising funding.