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The Univeristy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Univeristy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Nov 29

Students Give Back to UNC ‘One Cup at a Time’

By Scott Diekema, Morehead-Cain Scholar from the Class of 2019


A few weeks into my freshman year, Keegan McBride (Class of 2017) approached me with a radical idea – opening an entirely student-run café in the Campus Y, UNC’s Center for Social Justice. The concept was not novel; I soon learned that students had been toying with the idea for almost seven years. The reoccurring issue, however, was that each time a business plan was developed, the student team would graduate before they could bring it to fruition. With four years ahead of me, I, alongside Keegan and Lauren Eaves (Class of 2018), was in a position to make this vision a reality.

For the remainder of the fall semester last year, our team conducted market research and began putting together a business plan for The Meantime Coffee Company, an entirely student-run, non-profit coffee shop. Our first big break came at the start of the spring semester, when we were selected to be a CUBE venture.  The CUBE is UNC’s Social Innovation Initiative, and as a participant in its social incubator, each venture receives mentorship and training from local entrepreneurs as well as $5,000 in seed capital. The CUBE lifted us out of the planning stage and guided us in taking concrete steps towards executing on our idea.

Lauren Eaves and I stayed in Chapel Hill this past summer to bring the project to life. We first met with campus administrators to secure the physical location in the Campus Y lobby and then began designing and building the space. Next came our legal identity; for this task, we partnered with the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce, which offers pro-bono legal and financial advice for local non-profits in an effort to promote social entrepreneurship in greater Chapel Hill. On a quest for the highest-quality beans, we chose Carrboro Coffee Roasters as our wholesale supplier, a mission-oriented roastery just down the road. In addition to supplying beans, they helped us build out our product plan and find all the necessary equipment. The last task of our summer was securing additional funding; we were very fortunate to receive grants from the Campus Y as well as the Food For All Steering Committee, the governing body of UNC’s current academic theme.

The Meantime opened on September 12 and took off like we never could have imagined. The line of customers stretched out the door, and within days we were going through more volume than almost any other coffee shop in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. This was a hectic but rewarding time for our team, as we worked to keep up with the overwhelming demand. There were many pivots in that first month, for we learned that The Meantime had to operate on an entirely different scale than what we had expected. Eleven weeks after our launch, we’re ready to look ahead and reassess how The Meantime can maximize its positive impact on UNC’s campus. All of The Meantime’s residual profits are reinvested back into UNC students in the form of scholarships and grants, and we expect to announce our first major grant within the next few months.

As an Economics and Asian Studies double major with a minor in Entrepreneurship, I have found The Meantime to be an in-depth, practical application of what I’m learning in the classroom. I can speak on behalf of my team when I say that this has been an incredibly rewarding experience for all of us, and I cannot wait to see future Meantime employees benefit in the same way.  While UNC students built The Meantime from the ground up, it would not have been possible without the incredible resources afforded to us by UNC-Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle community. This University is working within the Triangle’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem to position itself as a hub of student innovation nationwide. As a student entrepreneur, there is no place I’d rather be.