For two student entrepreneurs, winning the Ag Springboard competition was all that and a bag of chips.
Deanna Spaniel and Ben Nason, co-founders of the Blue and White Chips Company, won the first place $7,500 prize out of six finalist teams during the annual competition on Thursday, April 14.
Held by the College of Agricultural Sciences and Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the competition judges teams who develop and pitch innovative business plans which address needs in fields from food to agriculture to bio-products and energy, the competition website said.
The winner, Blue and White Chips, is a unique potato chip company that produces all-natural potato chips in a variety of colors. This is accomplished through the selection of potatoes that produce spuds of different colors, Spaniel (junior-agriculture business) said.
“The monetary prize will help us achieve full production. We’ll actually be able to be in stores by next fall,” Spaniel said. “It’s helping us to fully launch our company.”
While for now they are marketing to the Penn State community, hence the blue and white colors, their ultimate goal post launch is to market different combinations to fans across the nation, Spaniel said.
“We would like for this to become a nationwide product,” Spaniel said. “We’re starting at Penn State because our current chips are physically blue and white, but we have every color from bright pink to black, so we’ll move to other universities, schools and even into the fundraising market to become a nationally known product.”
Jean Lonie, director of student recruitment and activities and a judge for the Ag Springboard Competition, said finalists in the competition were very different in what they were looking at and in the topics of their pitches.
“[Blue and White Chips] was unique in that they really had something that was almost market ready,” Lonie said. “They managed to blend food science with agri-business management with consumer appeal. Their company is really the total package and is a product that we think, given the monetary boost, will take off.”
This was the second time Spaniel and Nason had entered the sports-themed potato chip brand in the competition. Following their loss in 2015, they put in extensive work and research to bring their business to actualization, Spaniel said.
Lexy Babcock, who served as a taste-tester for every batch of Blue and White Chips produced, said she thinks the company being a student-run initiative has the greatest appeal.
“I’ve been taste-testing the potato chips since the very first batch, so we’ve had some better ones and worse ones,” Babcock (sophomore–public relations) said. “Where the chips are now are the best they’ve ever been. I think what’s really cool about this company is that it’s run by students.”
Lonie said she definitely sees a future for the company.
“People are really excited about it,” Lonie said. “They are intrigued because they don’t know what potatoes can do, they’re curious because everyone loves potato chips and they think it’s really great because it’s a student-run initiative.”
Spaniel said she first became involved in the potato chip research project after taking a class with Mark Gagnon, the Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Scholar and entrepreneurship coordinator for the College of Agricultural Sciences. Because of this being Spaniel’s fourth college degree, Gagnon suggested she join in on the research.
Lonie said that when it comes to entrepreneurship, the best thing students can do is to get involved and communicate with one another.
“There are a lot of things that students at Penn State are going to come up with, create and solve, and it’s only because they keep asking questions,” Lonie said. “If everyone in the Blue and White Chip Company were in plant science, they probably wouldn’t be as successful as they have been. They needed food sciences, plant sciences, agri-business management, marketing and more. Building a strong team to tease the ideas out is key.”
Spaniel said she has been a part of many other start-up companies and initiatives, and that she encourages others to get involved as much as they can.
“Don’t get held down by failures,” Spaniel said. “They’re just there to teach you new things and to keep pushing you forward. Even when things get hard, it’s important to keep going.”