What started as a grad school project for TRU Bachelor of Tourism Management alumnus Max Rivest (‘10), quickly morphed into the buzzworthy start-up company Wize Monkey after a global business plan competition led him and business partner Arnaud Petitvallet to uncover their future, coffee leaf tea.
What they discovered when searching for project ideas was that, not only did this up and coming commodity boast an array of health benefits, but the coffee industry is plagued with socio-economic issues that could greatly benefit from the year round production and exportation of coffee leaves. After graduating with a Masters of International Business from KEDGE Business School in France, the two decided to embark on a journey, to Nicaragua, that could potentially revolutionize the coffee industry.
Following this new found passion, the partners travelled to Nicaragua in search of coffee farmers. After meeting dozens of farmers they were introduced to Armando Iglesias and something just clicked.
“He gave us a crash course on coffee farming – we spent weeks with him just learning everything about the industry,” said Rivest.
Coffee farms are only profitable three months out of the year, resulting in unemployment for those involved, negative socio-economic impacts and even famine during the remaining nine months of the year. By utilizing the coffee leaves, this export could become a year-round business that employs families and changes the landscape of the industry.
Rivest credits much of his business success to his experience as an adventure tourism major in the TRU Bachelor of Tourism Management program. Most importantly the lessons learned in sustainable community development, cultural sensitivity and risk management.
“A class that was so essential for me was Risk Management, Jon Heshka (prof) is such a legend and I got a horrible mark, but the lessons I learned in that class have been incredibly important when dealing with an agricultural product coming from overseas, there is a lot that could go wrong and managing risk is so essential,” said Rivest.
He also credits a TRU field study course that took him to Chile where he gained the Spanish skills that have enabled him to have success working internationally.
“Gilles Vallade and Ross Cloutier were also extremely important in my education and the lessons I have utilized going forward with starting a business. I owe a lot to my experience at TRU and the adventure program,” he said.
With their office based out of Vancouver, and a packaging facility in Richmond, Wize Monkey has hired over 40 people to make this project a reality. Their goal is to employ 20 people year-round by next year as they expand their product line and grow the business.
You can find their products, including Armando’s Original Blend online at: wizemonkey.com/shop