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Chew This Over: Juniata Team Founds Beef Jerky Business

(Posted October 23, 2006)

John Hille, vice president for advancement and marketing, far left, and Mike Lehman, director of JCEL, far right, present a $5,000 check to Brandon Long, center left, and Julia Williams, center right.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Chew this over. Two Juniata College students have created a beef jerky product that combines unique flavorings with be-true-to-your-school brand loyalty, calling it University Jerky.
Brandon Long, a senior from Lebanon, Pa. studying entrepreneurialism, and Julia Williams, a senior from Bedford, Pa. studying accounting, have conceived a college student-friendly food product that will be packaged according to the school colors of each college market. The two will start their business by distributing University Jerky at a few locations on Juniata's campus, including the coffee shop in the von Liebig Center for Science and the college dining facility. The packaging will be blue and gold, mirroring Juniata's school colors.
The college did not jerk the two students around when it came to supporting the idea. The Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (JCEL) thought University Jerky was viable enough that Long and Williams received a First Steps grant, which gives new business ideas $500 in capital, a $1,500 credit at the college's business incubator and $2,000 in student wage stipends, and a $5,000 Seed Capital Award, which gives the team seed money to start their venture.
The college will be presenting Long and Williams with a $5,000 check at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 21 at the Sill Incubator at Moore Street and 14th Avenue. This is the first equity award the college has made to an entrepreneurial team. Previously the college has funded a gift basket business and an mobile ice cream-truck business.
Long credits Juniata's entrepreneurial business curriculum with helping him create and focus the business. Long started his idea in the college's Hands-on Entrepreneurial Leadership Lab, a course designed to introduce students to entrepreneurialism. He refined the business plan in the college's two upper-level small business courses, New Venture Creation and New Venture Startup.
Williams joined the team during the New Venture Creation course. "I had worked at JCEL since my sophomore year, and I knew from my experience there that many entrepreneurs don't know accounting," Williams explains. "So, I wanted to go through a startup process myself to better serve entrepreneurs as an accountant."
Long had been, well, chewing over the beef jerky idea from the beginning, but both partners decided that unique flavors packaged in university colors-themed packaging was a winning combination.
The company is marketing two flavors so far. Enfuego (Spanish for "hot") is a spicy hickory flavor. Hala-kahiki (Hawaiian for "pineapple") uses pineapple as a flavoring to give the jerky sweetness.
The company is starting as a distributor, buying the flavored jerky from a supplier. The two entrepreneurs have started with blue-and-gold packaging, and plan to expand to Penn State colors (blue and white) as their business grows. As they enter each college market, they can adapt the package to each market's school colors. The University Jerky itself is a thicker, juicier style. "We think the texture and the flavors are going to directly appeal to college students," says Long.
One of the inspirations for the University Jerky idea was the social Internet company Facebook.com. Long and Williams saw how students at the site, which is separated into college and university communities, flocked to interact with friends and acquaintances at a single campus. They felt that marketing a college-related product could use the social network model effectively. "I think we have a product that is healthier than other similar snacks and one that is a natural offering at many different outlets, whether it's a store, coffeeshop or a bar," Long explains.

"I think this is exciting, how many students can say they started a business at age 21?"

Where did the two jerky entrepreneurs do their research? On Facebook.com, of course. The two created a 25-question survey and advertised it heavily on the site. The University Jerky team received an outpouring of responses not only from Juniata but also a wide range of other institutions, including Penn State, the University of Delaware, the University of Toledo, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Richmond.
"I think this is exciting, how many students can say they started a business at age 21?" asks Long. "Even if it doesn't work out it's still a great experience because we learned so much," Williams adds.
Among the lessons learned was that food products often are marketed much more easily if the entrepreneurs are not involved in the manufacturing process. "When he started this process I had visions of being up to my elbows in marinated meat at 2 a.m., but we soon realized we didn't have to make the jerky to start the business," Williams laughs.
Long, who designed the logo for the company, a snorting bull, thinks the project has staying power. "I think once students try the product they will really see the difference between University Jerky and other brands," he says.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.