The new face on the Hamilton business scene, a small, sustain-able office supply distributor, is slowly converting departments at Colgate to its high quality green products. This new player hap-pens to look a whole lot like a pair of Colgate students.
Juniors Ryan Smith and Bren-dan Karson, owners of the small sustainable office supply distribu-tor EcoCampus, LLC, became the company’s co-founders when it was created about a year ago. The idea was initiated earlier, through Smith’s involvement in Colgate’s Thought Into Action (TIA) program last fall, but has evolved dramatically since then. Today, the company is expe-riencing its first month turning a profit and boasts office supply sales to about 12 Colgate departments – including all of the paper in Case Library and the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop).
EcoCampus is currently a seller and distributor for the online re-tailer TheGreenOffice.com. Smith and Karson have developed a part-nership with Alex Szabo, CEO of TheGreenOffice.com, such that the students have taken on account management, desktop delivery and sales at Colgate while Szabo re-mains in charge of e-commerce, op-erations and administration of the larger company. This partnership, however, is not something Smith or Karson initially predicted.
“My first idea was that paper should not be made from trees and we went from there,” Smith said.
“After getting ripped off by Chinese paper mills peddling fake tree-free paper, to realiz-ing we didn’t have enough money to launch our own website and finally to signing a stra-tegic alliance with TheGreenOffice.com, the business was constantly changing. The most important thing was to let it grow organi-cally and overcome challenges systematically. Getting approved to sell goods to the Uni-versity took almost a year of preparation and negotiation. As it stands, Colgate has three approved office suppliers: Staples, Office Max and EcoCampus/TheGreenOffice.com,” Smith said.
Smith and Karson worked closely with the sustainability department at Colgate as well as their TIA mentors as they faced their early obstacles one by one. Although they changed their plans in many ways, they never lost sight of the goal – to offer Colgate a feasible alternative to its mass consumption of non-sustainable paper and office supplies.
“Colgate generates 195 tons of carbon emissions just through their paper usage each year, and this would be a way for them to reduce that to zero, by their own students being inventive,” Karson said. The paper product distributed by Eco-Campus, CaneFields Carbon Balanced Copy Paper, is made from an agricultural byproduct of sugar cane. Its manufactur-ers use various strategies to attain almost complete carbon neutrality in production and distribution.
“This is the first semester we’ve had the ability to sign whoever we want,” Karson said. “Last semester we had a beta version, or pilot, with the sustainability office and the purchasing department.” But after the pilot went smoothly, Smith and Karson got to work pitching their products to each department.
“EcoCampus has done a great job of ral-lying support among a wide range of key de-cision makers at Colgate University, which has been the key to our early success,” Szabo said. “By doing the legwork and convinc-ing buyers on campus to begin purchasing with TheGreenOffice.com, EcoCampus is removing key barriers in the sales cycle.” In this way, Smith and Karson have continued to develop and build their relationship with TheGreenOffice.com, making the business relationship mutually beneficial.
“In IT we have a Green Initiative team and we have just recently started to pur-chase recyclable products and buy paper that is not harming the trees,” Administra-tive Assistant for Information Technology Denise Sheeley, who is in charge of pur-chasing supplies for the library said. “We are currently buying the sugar cane paper and it is working great in our machines.”
“I purchased the tree-free paper to try in our office and was completely satis-fied,” Bookkeeper for the Facilities De-partment Tracy Hull said. “No one in my office noticed that I had switched the paper, so I continue to buy paper from EcoCampus LLC. The delivery was same day in most cases for the paper. Other items were delivered within two business days. I am very pleased.”
EcoCampus, LLC would not exist without Smith and Karson, the two mo-tors behind all operations. Although still learning by trial and error, they are de-veloping the skills it takes to run a busi-ness. But their continuing participation in TIA has given them both a foundation of mentorship on which to build.
“TIA is about helping mentor stu-dents on the craft of doing, as opposed to knowing,” Andy Greenfield, one of the founders of the TIA program at Col-gate said. “Entrepreneurial activity refers to making something happen that didn’t exist before. When a student comes to TIA, they come with an idea. The alumni mentorship provides guidance, support and discipline.”
“[Smith’s] business is a great example of the transformation of an idea,” Wills Hapworth, another program founder, said. “TIA became a sounding board for him. He tried three or four different things before backing in to this EcoCa-mpus idea, which has obviously been the most successful.”
The two juniors have managed to success-fully run their company while completing their duties as college students.
“It’s time consuming, but extremely rewarding. The real life skills are amazing – you’re an accountant and a salesman at the same time and you learn everything – you really learn what it takes to run a business,” Karson said.
Smith and Karson are happy, but not satisfied by their overwhelming success thus far and have plans in the future to expand their business.
“At this point, our continued success is based on the green-conscious Colgate administrative assistants who kindly give us their time and make the switch to Eco-Campus,” Smith said. “We are speaking with several other colleges in the area and preparing for our multi-school launch in fall 2012.”
Contact Rebekah Ward at [email protected]