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CO4: Student-run coffee business
By Sriya Chatterjee and Mary Olson
Coffee is something that unites people no matter what the location may be, and CO4 is a company set to revolutionize the world. CO4, a small student-run coffee business at Pakuranga College, Auckland, New Zealand.
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CO4 is run by four, Year 13 student, namely Helen Lam, Hubert Lai, Sheenu Ragunathan, and Jackshen Lee. This group of young entrepreneurs works towards creating a barista-quality instant coffee while incorporating certain environmental values. They make a variety of flavors of coffee, embracing the unique and marginalized cultures in society. They do this by taking certain aspects of culture and integrating it into different flavors. Their first flavor comes out in mid-July 2020, called Mōrena Marshmallow. This coffee product is inspired by the New Zealand culture and based on Chocolate Fish. A well-known Kiwi confectionery item. Mōrena is the Maori greeting meaning Good Morning.
Most coffee companies use products that contain plastics and harm the environment; however, CO4 uses biodegradable bags. These bags can be used as compost for one’s gardening. Compost is extremely good for enriching the soil, allowing retention of moisture, and preventing diseases and pests, which is a key differentiator in CO4’s business.
The first two letters of the name represent the first two letters of coffee hence ‘CO.’ The group keeps four values in mind, i.e., taste, culture, convenience, and sustainability. Their target market is busy students and workers who cannot afford barista coffee—also, those who are environmentally conscious and culturally aware.
Helen Lam is the Chief Executive Officer, and her favorite coffee is Caramel Macchiato. Helen states that she loves coffee and started drinking at a very young age. When she found out that she had a chance to combine her passion for bettering the environment and promoting the diverse cultures in New Zealand, she started the development of CO4.
Sheenu Ragunathan is the Marketing and Sales Manager, and his favorite coffee is Latte Macchiato. Throughout the years, he had seen cultural identities and inclusions of them become lost & less prevalent in society. He states that CO4's vision in embracing and powering these cultures made me take upon the opportunity to join them. We hope to empower and promote the vast range of diverse cultures through our barista-quality instant coffee! It is a great privilege to be a part of an amazing team, and I am excited about the future of CO4!
Jackshen Lee is the Operations Manager. He says that CO4 provides an opportunity for our collective voices to be heard as an Asian-NZ business. I was inspired by Proudly Asian Theatre's mission to empower Asian talent through theatre, which made me want to create my mission: to empower the voices of the Asian community in NZ, using coffee as a platform for our stories to be told. Especially during COVID-19, now is the time for NZ to unite, and what a better way to do that than with a cup of coffee!
Hubert Lai is the Financial Officer, and his favorite coffee is Café au lait. He says, ”The idea of integrating cultural flavors and looking after the environment in a coffee is quite interesting. This crazy idea intrigued me into joining CO4!"
One requires a minimum amount of capital to start a business. CO4 came up with a video explaining their product and its benefits. This video was submitted to Lion Foundation’s Young Enterprise Schemes’ (YES) equity seed funding competition. YES supports two rounds, and CO4 managed to win the second round as one of 18 teams out of 140 applicants. Here they were awarded $500 seed funding from the University of Waikato to help run their business. Hubert Lai states, "The amazing start-up capital will allow us to purchase the necessary materials needed to create our first batch, our advertising, and the ability to pursue new ideas. The Young Enterprise Scheme has helped CO4 become more innovative and make us think critically to ensure our brand's rise and success."
Aaron Wyatt, Roma Coffee's master roaster, has helped CO4 in many ways by providing materials for the packaging and the production of their coffee bags. In addition to this, they have helped the teenage entrepreneurs gain knowledge in the development of coffee flavors.
Along with this, CO4 has two great mentors helping them through their venture, viz Chris Scullin and David Dunlop. Mr. Scullin is their marketing mentor who helps them market their company and the great story behind it. Mr. Dunlop helps them every week as their business teacher in class at Pakuranga College. Mr. Dunlop is one of the main supporters of CO4 as he can guide them through their problems and act as a soundboard for their ideas.
CO4 is a new company run by teenagers, and they are off to a great start! They plan to scale up their brand internationally in the coming months and introducing new coffee flavours, which is inspiring by the different cultures around the globe while shedding light on them. They plan to educate consumers on marginalized cultures and to be more environmentally conscious. They also plan to promote and donate a portion of our proceeds to charities in countries that inspired our flavors. And encourage composting as an eco-friendly alternative to everyday household items. They are out to transform the world, and we wish them all the best!
Sriya Chatterjee is a contributing writer. She is in her final year of Btech in EIE from SRM Institute of Science and Technology from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
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