Getting their first full taste of entrepreneurship, a group of University of Richmond students have taken a snack company they created in the classroom to market.
Absurd Snacks launched its line of roasted bean trail mixes through its online store this week, and its products are rolling out in Richmond area stores.
The company is itself the product of a new academic course at UR called Bench Top Innovations. Sixteen undergraduate students are enrolled in the year-long course to develop a packaged food concept.
Absurd Snacks sells both a chocolate and a maple cinnamon variety of its mixture of roasted chickpeas, fava beans, peas, oats and seeds. The mix uses roasted beans as an alternative to nuts to create a more allergy-friendly snack.
The company said the snacks are either currently or will be available in local stores such as Stella’s Grocery, Libbie Market, Shields Market, Garden Grove Brewing and Urban Winery, ShoreDog Cafe, Westwood Pharmacy and Good Foods Grocery.
Grace Mittl, who serves as the company’s CEO, said the company built out its retail roster by visiting the stores in-person clad in the company’s merchandise with samples in hand.
“We just drive around Richmond. It’s a fun team-building thing and everyone can be part of the selling process,” she said.
Two-packs of its 10-ounce bags sell for about $21 through its online store. The snacks appear on store shelves in individual 10-ounce bags at about $10 each.
Richmond-based food-and-beverage business incubator Hatch produces the company’s snacks.
Mittl said the company was able to get in with Hatch thanks to a connection with Brad Cummings, a Hatch co-founder and UR alumnus, and class adviser Shane Emmett, a local snack entrepreneur who founded health food company Health Warrior before selling to Pepsi in 2018.
Mittl said the company produces 3,500 units of product per month.
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 last year.
In the first semester of the Bench Top course, the class was broken up into small teams that each came up with a food product idea. Late last year, they competed in a judged pitch competition and Absurd Snacks came out on top. The ongoing semester is dedicated to the launch and scaling of the company with all the students now behind it.
Mittl, who was among the small team that developed Absurd Snacks, was elected CEO by the class. She then chose the leaders for the company’s marketing, finance, sales, operations and technology departments. Remaining students then selected the departments they wanted to work in.
“It truly is a very hands-on course. Everything we do is through our own initiative,” she said. “We built a supply chain. We have vendor relationships and supply relationships.”
Dan Wolfeiler, Tyler Quinlivan and Jeffy Joshy were part of the initial Absurd Snacks concept alongside Mittl. Initially they wanted to call the brand Spill the Beans but ran into a trademark issue before settling on Absurd Snacks.
“We wanted to stick with what the branding opportunities could be and not only how we could make it a good trail mix but make it a brand people could relate to and have fun with” she said. “We did a ton of research on our own like different languages and how to say ‘beans’ in Greek and other languages. Ultimately, we wanted the same vibe as Spill the Beans.”
The idea of a nut-free snack was born of Wolfeiler’s nut allergy. Roasted beans entered the picture because Mittl liked roasted chickpeas, which she discovered during her high school volleyball days because a teammate’s mom brought bags of roasted chickpeas to practices.
The Bench Top course was developed as a way to provide students an accessible business experience amid growing interest in the university’s entrepreneurship program, though it is open to any major, said course instructor and marketing professor Joel Mier.
“Given the unique value of experiential learning for some students, we thought that it was important to pilot a course of this nature and make it available to every undergraduate at UR,” he said in an email. “While there are amazing entrepreneurship programs at many colleges and universities, we feel as though what we have launched represents something unique. Students need not enter the program with an idea of their own.”
Absurd Snacks uses a classroom for a boardroom and Mier’s office for storage.
“There are boxes to the ceiling. It’s a true entrepreneurial, startup environment,” Mittl said.
A senior business administration major, Mittl said she and at least a few other members of the team are interested in continuing the company after graduation.
“I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t keep doing it,” she said. “There is a subset of us very seriously considering running with this after school.”