Student-run business percolating along

Clemens Perk pays off start-up business loan

October 27, 2010

By Diane Hageman

Clemens Perk, a completely student-run operation, opened for business in early November 2005

Remember how good it felt to pay off a car loan or a mortgage? Student organizers from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University who helped launch a coffee shop on the CSB campus know that feeling.

Students have repaid a $40,000 loan from CSB for Clemens Perk - a popular coffee shop in Clemens Library which opened in 2005.

"What a fantastic feeling," said Nicole (Lindgren) Biskey, a 2006 CSB management alumna who was the first general manager of Clemens Perk, when told that the loan had been paid off. "It warms my heart to know that this business is still open and doing so well."

The repayment of the loan caps a long and successful run for the students and the business.

In the fall of 2004, a group of CSB and SJU students were walking from pier to pier in San Francisco after spending time with CSB and SJU alumnae/i who had become successful entrepreneurs. They were thinking about ideas of new businesses they could create. In unison they said "coffee!" after seeing an attractive coffee kiosk on one of the walkways.

One year later, after developing a feasibility plan and a business plan, securing financing and renovating the space, Clemens Perk opened for business in early November 2005. It has been percolating along ever since. Each year a new team of student becomes the managers of the student-run venture, learning from their predecessors and facing the new challenges that come along.

One of the biggest challenges the founding students faced was obtaining a $40,000 loan from CSB. After several rounds of tough questions from Chief Financial Officer Sue Palmer, the loan was approved with a planned payback time of five years.

Late this past summer, Sue informed Terri Barreiro, director of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship, that the original loan has been paid off. And per the recommendation of the founding students and other management teams, a portion of Clemens Perk's proceeds will now go into a sponsorship of the Entrepreneur Scholars Program.

"I learned a tremendous amount in a very short period of time, so many life lessons, from the process of a start-up to selling the idea to opening the business," Nicole said. "I really got a taste of the hard work it takes to start a business."

In her current position as membership services coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce in Wayzata, Minn., Nicole finds her experience very beneficial when meeting with new members who are just starting their businesses.

"I feel like I can suggest things from the big picture perspective as well as relate to what they are going through on a personal level," she said.

Cody Fischer, a 2007 SJU economics alumnus and Entrepreneur Scholar who wrote the financial section of Clemens Perk's business plan, echoed Nicole's sentiments.

"This proves what we all knew we could do and is a great testimony to the model of experiential learning the Entrepreneurial Center is holding up," Cody said. "And the fact that Saint Ben's put faith in the students and the Entrepreneurial Center demonstrates their willingness to invest in the students and their education."

Cody is currently the manager of membership services for the Alliance to End Hunger, based in Washington, D.C. He credits his experiences with helping to build his self-confidence.

"It taught me that if you surround yourself with the right people, think critically and creatively, you can accomplish many things," he said. "It just jumps off the page to potential employers. I've been asked about it in every job interview I've had."

Comments like Nicole's and Cody's are music to Terri Barreio's ears. She is currently working with six different student groups on business enterprises they have developed. In addition to Clemens Perk, there is Johnnie Java (a coffee shop at SJU), T-spot (T-shirt printing business), Extending the Link (creating documentaries that provide global awareness about issues which often go unheard), Banco Esperanza (micro-lending and coaching program) and the Yambiro Project (supporting women and girls in Ecuador).

"Clemens Perk was part of our first Entrepreneur Scholars Program, using a model we found at the University of Portland. Over the years, we've refined it and it's developed into something very exciting," Terri said.

"When I heard that the loan had been completely repaid on time, I had images of each of the student leaders come to my mind. It felt terrific to know that our students are learning, thriving and succeeding with these ventures. I am also particularly pleased that Clemens Perk will now be an Entrepreneur Scholar sponsor," she added.