Every May in Chicago, student entrepreneurs at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University compete for checks from investors during the colleges’ annual pitch competitions.
Usually, a startup’s founders attend either Northwestern or UChicago, and not both, meaning they compete in just one pitch competition. But this year, BrewBike, a startup that sells cold brew coffee to college communities via portable coffee stands housed in custom-made cargo bikes, lucked out and had team members from both universities.
UChicago MBA student Randy Paris and Northwestern undergraduate Lucas Philips made their rounds at each competition, quickly becoming fan-favorites and cumulatively raising $65,000.
BrewBike was originally launched in fall 2015 by Philips when he started riding his coffee stand and bike hybrid around campus, hauling around kegs of cold brew. He’d park it in high-traffic areas, catching students and faculty as they made their way to class.
Through guidance from Northwestern’s innovation center, The Garage, and financial support from $10,000 raised in an Indiegogo campaign, Philips had started the business he always wanted to.
“When I got to Northwestern, I knew my goal as an undergrad was to start a business—a real business,” Philips said. “It was quickly apparent to me that coffee options are just terrible at Northwestern. As quality gets better, lines get longer and it’s really inconvenient.”
BrewBike sources their cold brew from Chicago-based Limitless Coffee & Tea, and sells a small cup for $3.29 and a large one for $3.99. Philips said his prices are comparable to Starbucks, plus, according to him, his coffee tastes better. BrewBike has sold more than 40,000 cups of coffee on Northwestern’s campus and they employ about 36 students.
But during their first year of operation, the startup hit some road bumps. Chicago’s harsh winter weather conditions ended up taking a toll on the startup’s outdoor model.
“We almost went out of business because we didn’t have a way to generate revenue in the winter after it got too cold,” Philips said. “At that point, we had maxed out a few credit cards—classic startup problems.”
BrewBike pivoted a bit after that winter. They found an indoor space in a campus building and created a small retail shop. Now they operate both the bike on campus and the stationary shop, where they sell baked goods from local bakeries, such as Bennison’s and Great Harvest Bread.
Investors during the college pitch competitions appeared to believe in BrewBike’s mission and business model. At Norwesthern’s VentureCat, BrewBike was awarded $20,000, and at UChicago’s New Venture Challenge, they won $45,000, part of which was from the Pritzker Group.
While pitching at the NVC, one investor asked why Philips hadn’t dropped out of college yet to pursue BrewBike full time since it seemed to have so much promise. But Philips said graduating from Northwestern was high on his list of goals.
“It’s been really exciting,” Philips said. “I never expected to be in this position while I was still in undergrad.”
All the funds BrewBike won at the competitions will be put toward their expansion to college campuses in western and southern states, a move that aims to help them avoid winter weather.
Beyond their expansion to warmer climates, BrewBike is also partnering with Chicago-based real estate developer CA Ventures to bring its cold brew into the student housing facilities they own and operate.