By Ross Burton
With an unusual combination of used coffee grounds and re, a senior business major recently won the fourth annual Pitch your Passion competition.
The brainchild of John Isola ’19, Spark Logs, mimic Duraflame logs, but are formulated from coffee grounds and other environmentally friendly ingredients, offering an alternative to logs made of compressed sawdust and other less eco friendly ingredients.
Isola got his idea when Cold Brewtus, a local cold brew company, visited one of his classes and said, “We have pounds and pounds of coffee grounds. Once we are done with the brewing process we don’t know what to do with them. We are paying for other local organizations to take them off of our hands as of now.”
Isola began to research the topic and found that due to the high levels of acidity within the cold brew grounds, crops and plants wouldn’t be able to tolerate such an environment. Instead of composting he realized that it was possible to produce a product out of the material. “So I took that idea and ran with it.”
Three components helped Isola turn the concept into reality: free coffee grounds, low overhead costs, and the fact that the pro t margins were so good. “When I went to Pitch Your Passion I knew exactly how many logs I needed to break even, for the amount of materials I was buying, and how much pro t I was going to make after that,” Isola said. Since Spark Logs have a minimalistic manufacturing process, Isola said he can keep the cost down to compete with what is already on the market.
Unlike other companies that are altering the coffee grounds and extracting the liquid part that makes them wet, a process that adds chemicals, he takes the coffee grounds as is and adds other environmentally friendly components. In another gesture to the environment, Isola said, three percent of the pro ts from Spark Logs will eventually go toward stopping deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest.
Robert Letovsky, Professor of business, said “John did a good job at explaining his economic model,” which refers to how the company will make money while trying to consider all factors.
“If I do well in these next couple of competitions, everything is going to go straight into legal and financial advising, because being financially sound is the backbone of a company,” said Isola. As a reward for winning, Isola will receive $650, as well as the an invitation to the Launch VT Collegiate competition, where he will compete with representatives from other Vermont Schools who will also be pitching their companies.
The winner of Launch VT Collegiate is automatically entered into the finals for Lunch VT, “People in that competition compete for $30,000 in capital, and $30,000 in in-kind services. With the idea to stimulate Vermont economic growth with new businesses,” said Popovich.
Isola already has future goals for Spark Logs. “I want to have two employees in two months, I want to be able to not have to make the logs anymore [myself] and focus on the marketing,” he said and added, “Ideally I want to be able to scale it to a point where Duraflame has no other choice than to buy it out.”
In the meantime, Isola said “I’m going to pick up 100 pound of coffee grounds later this week, all of which would have ended up in landfills.”