Handfuls of Whitney Coffee beans. Shawn Goff Photo.

SPILLING THE BEANS: WHY STARTUPS NEED NETWORKS

BY SHAWN GOFF

Ron Whitney works 48 hours a week, roasting coffee beans in his enormous silver roaster, packing each bag and taking them to the Boyce Farmers Market every Saturday.

His brother started Whitney Coffee in 1992, selling coffee by the cup. Ron Whitney took over in 2009, and while he said he isn’t getting rich, he’s doing what he loves.

He loves it so much, he decided to take a risk, expand and start selling Whitney beans to businesses and restaurants.

“I always had a plan of roasting coffee, but as a small business it was always a big leap,” he said. “I got my roasters in 2009. It cost me well north of $100,000.”

He didn’t want any help doing it either.

“I decided I wouldn’t get any assistance. I wanted to do it myself. I take pride in that,” he said.

While it was a big investment, Whitney Coffee had a secret to getting its beans all around Fredericton: contacts.

“I’ve been at the market for so long, and a lot of the businesses I deal with were customers at the market. It was just naturally after I started roasting coffee that they found out and it kind of evolved,” he said.

Ron Whitney said because of his reputation at the market, businesses and locals are familiar with the taste and trust of the Whitney brand.

Whitney Coffee now provides beans for Cafe Loka, Urban Almanac, Frank’s Finer Diner, Real Food Connections, and others around Fredericton and the downtown area.

If you eat at any downtown restaurant, you could be served a cup of Whitney Coffee with your choice of dessert.

Whitney Coffee’s evolution has benefitted by cooperation with other local businesses, most recently with the Abbey Cafe in downtown Fredericton.

Ron Whitney with his roaster. Shawn Goff Photo.
Ron Whitney with his roaster. Shawn Goff Photo.

Tabatha Smith, general manager of the Abbey, said Whitney Coffee works well with their restaurant, since it fits a consumer trend toward whole foods and buying local.

“It’s nice to support local. We all feel better knowing how healthy things are and that we’re supporting our community,” she said. “It seems like a message that’s carrying more weight than it did when I was in school.”

Whitney agrees.

“We have the same type of values,” he said.

The Abbey also partnered with Red Rover Cider, to work with another local startup and bring them into The Abbey’s space. These three businesses are able to work together in this one location, in one form or another.

Smith said it brings in a new chemistry where those who want cider can grab a bite to eat or coffee, and the other way around.

Heather Boyd-Kinnie is the funding manager at the University of New Brunswick’s Pond-Deshpande Centre that assists entrepreneurs and young companies. She said it’s common for established entrepreneurs, like The Abbey, to work with others businesses to cover more ground.

“Entrepreneurs find that others who have gone through the entrepreneurial journey, and are ahead of them in the process, have a more mature business and can be very helpful to those who are just starting out,” she said.

Since the Pond-Deshpande Centre provides mentorship for many new startup businesses, it makes entrepreneurs aware that communication and working together are keys to success.

“We have entrepreneurs who might be viewed as competitors actually work together to support each other,” she said.

Whitney’s advice for others looking to create a startup is to be patient and grow at a sustainable pace.

“There’s always a lot of exuberance when starting a new business. With any business one of the main challenges is being able to support yourself and have a proper cash flow,” he said. “If you grow too quick too fast, it can lead to financial difficulties.”

He said it’s also about having a good product.

“The people I’m dealing with right now are with me because they appreciate that I’m a local business, and the quality I provide them,” he said.

For those who want to start making contacts and working with other entrepreneurs as soon as possible, Boyd-Kinnie recommends attending startup conferences. In October, Invest Atlantic was held in New Brunswick for the first time, and brought entrepreneurs and investors together.

Boyd-Kinnie said there’s a lot for newcomers to learn, and they can find out what investors and other entrepreneurs are looking for in small-scale and large-scale startups.

“It’s the path to success in terms of being able to access funding,” she said. “It’s an important segue into the whole discussion around entrepreneurs working together, sharing information, networking, and collaborating. It’s all the same idea.”

Boyd-Kinnie also said that it’s not always good to keep secrets.

“For entrepreneurs or anyone who wants to explore the idea or starting a business, it’s very difficult to do that if you keep the idea to yourself, if you don’t share the idea, and if you don’t go out and establish really good networks and build relationships with other entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial ecosystem and all the people in the network who are there for help and support,” she said. “There are many ways collaborating and connecting are keys to business success.”