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December 14, 2022

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Brandcenter students team up with University of Richmond students to launch a new product

Brandcenter students joined forces with business/marketing students in University of Richmond’s “Bench Top Innovations: Creating & Commercializing Culinary Magic” program to launch a new beverage product.

According to the University of Richmond, “Bench Top Innovations: Creating & Commercializing Culinary Magic is a year-long program where students ideate, develop, and commercialize an innovative and practical food or beverage product. The course is a partnership between UR's Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative; the Robins School of Business; the Jepson School of Leadership; and the School of Arts and Sciences.”

Here’s how it works:
UR students in the program work in teams to create and develop food or beverage products. They are responsible for the product idea and development, R&D, source materials and manufacturing, supply chain and distribution, and marketing and sales. In November, each team presents its product to a panel of judges, including University leaders and food and beverage investors in a pitch competition, during the Bench Top Innovations Great Bake Off.

At the Great Bake Off, one team is deemed the winner, and, from there, the entire class rallies around the winning product for the remainder of the program. The goal? Obtain funding for further product development and take the product to market. Last year’s winner, Absurd Snacks—a roasted bean-based trail mix designed for people with food allergies—is available online and at many retailers.

Here’s where the Brandcenter comes in:
Second-year Brandcenter students join the UR teams to brand—and in some cases name—the products, develop brand standards and packaging, design the presentation deck, and assist with the story for the pitch. Brandcenter students know that branding and successfully selling your ideas are just as important as the ideas themselves. 

What develops is a two-sided partnership, where both our students and UR students are given the opportunity to learn from and work with each other to gain real-world experience in product innovation and entrepreneurship, among other things.

Dr. Joel Mier, marketing lecturer at University of Richmond, says, “By partnering with the VCU Brandcenter, our students got to not only have world-class branding and positioning developed for their products, but they also got the real-world experience of engaging in a client-agency relationship. The Bench Top Program is meant to be experiential and replicate ‘the real’ world as much as possible, and by working side-by-side with one another, all students—University of Richmond and VCU Brandcenter—benefited by the experience.”

Brandcenter Associate Director Ashley Sommardahl adds, “Collaborating with the innovation students and faculty at UR created a tremendous opportunity for our students to flex their conceptual, design, and entrepreneurial muscles. The best compliment came from the panel of judges—which included CPG food and beverage experts and investors—who said they spend a ton of money on identity/design work, and the Brandcenter student work rivaled what they see from their agencies.”

So, which product won this year?
Lume—a naturally flavored black tea with added caffeine and L-theanine, a chemical that offsets caffeine’s negative effects, was declared the winner of this year’s Great Bake Off. The following Brandcenter students worked with the UR Lume team: Becka Hammond (AD, 2023), Cameron Sharer (CW, 2023), and Peyton Spangler (XD, 2023). We congratulate them on all the work they did to help the UR Lume team successfully brand and pitch the product.

Peyton Spangler (XD, 2023) shares, "This was a really unique opportunity that I was excited to be a part of. At the Brandcenter, we make and brand a lot of fictional projects, but rarely do our designs come to life in the real world. This collaboration with the UR students allowed us to be on the ground floor of the creation of a new product and brand. As part of the winning team, I’ll get to see my team’s designs live in the real world on shelves. That’s super exciting (and something to brag about)."

And, now, as UR continues their quest to have Lume launched and available in the market, we at the Brandcenter wish them the best of luck and hope to see it on shelves in the future.


Notable mentions to professor KT Schaeffer for serving as the faculty representative and mentor from the Brandcenter and to the following second-year Brandcenter students who worked on the other UR products:

IOATA: A new grab-and-go oat milk/sweet potato drink
Brandcenter students: Martin Rees (CW, 2023), Jaime Ikley (XD, 2023), Nica Mendoza (XD, 2023), Joe Kuhns (CW, 2023)

Pulped: A new protein drink that changes the way people think about protein; it’s citrus-flavored
Brandcenter students: Meaghan McFarland (XD, 2023), Nina Stitt (CW, 2023), Elizabeth Gatlin (XD, 2023)

Uncannies: A line of plant-based beverages that taste like desserts
Brandcenter students: Morgan MacLachlan (AD, 2023), Nate Villaire (XD, 2023), Mark McColey (CW, 2023)

(Brandcenter concentration abbreviations: AD = Art Direction; CW = Copywriting; XD = Experience Design)