SDSU alumna Teal Cooper hopes to bring a high-quality coffee vending machine to a location near you.
When some people think of a cup of joe from a vending machine, they might imagine watered-down coffee that tastes terrible.
Recent San Diego State University graduate Teal Cooper is trying to change that perception with her startup company VendiBean.
Cooper came up with the idea for VendiBean while studying abroad at Florence University of the Arts in Florence, Italy during the spring 2015 semester. In a country full of coffee and espresso lovers, high-quality coffee was accessible at all hours of the day and night via a java vending machine.
One night, Cooper received a call from her younger brother, Tristan, who was cramming for a test at the University of Texas in Austin. He couldn’t find late-night coffee to help him study. At that moment, the siblings envisioned VendiBean and soon started researching how to build their startup company.
“In Europe, people see coffee from a vending machine as high-quality, because quality is not compromised for convenience,” said Cooper, who majored in journalism and media studies. “Here in the United States, coffee from a vending machine has a negative connotation. VendiBean is trying to change the mindset of the consumer.”
Studying the coffee industry
To learn about the coffee industry, Cooper reached out to local roasters. She also applied to be a route driver for a vending machine company to learn the ins and outs of that industry.
“I knew nothing about vending machines when we started this process,” Cooper said. “I didn’t understand the difference between American and European manufacturing.”
VendiBean launched its first machine at the BLVD63 Apartments near SDSU’s campus. After receiving feedback, Cooper realized there were opportunities to improve in many areas, including the quality of the coffee.
She found that coffee drinkers are often willing to try new flavors, which allowed VendiBean to work with local roasters, introducing their customers to coffee closely connected to their own city.
“It really drives the idea of buying local in San Diego and staying connected with the community,” Cooper said. “If people like a particular roaster, they will know where to buy their products.”
A caffeinated collaboration
Cooper collaborated with friends to help brand the entire VendiBean concept, from the cup to the machine to the logo.
The cups are designed to promote engagement on social media. Each cup is printed with the slogan “Coffee Because…” and consumers are encouraged to fill in the blank and post their creations on social media. The engagement establishes a VendiBean community online and in-person, Cooper said.
Initially, VendiBean looked to market specifically to millennials, but soon realized there was more opportunity. They found their target niche in large office complexes, college campuses and health centers where there is a high demand for coffee and an appreciation for quality.
Cooper credits the SDSU community for giving her advice and guiding her as she works toward growing her company.
“SDSU alumni have such a soft place in their heart for other SDSU alumni,” Cooper said. “It has been great to connect and get advice to steer me in the right direction.”
Growing the business
Currently, VendiBean has seven machines in San Diego, but will expand to 19 throughout the city by August. In five years, Cooper hopes to have 300 to 350 machines in both Southern California and Texas.
Though she was a journalism and media studies major, Cooper said SDSU gave her the opportunities to be a successful entrepreneur.
“What’s so great about SDSU is that the university emphasizes and supports entrepreneurship,” Cooper said. “Whether you are successful or not, this is a learning experience and SDSU will support you.”