Combining Coffee and Entrepreneurship for More Inclusive Communities

Written by Kasey Harris

“Blending communities” – This is more than just a slogan for 321 Coffee founder and NC State first-year, Lindsay Wrege; it is a personal mission which she has been pursuing since she was in third grade.

Inspired by Bitty & Beau’s Coffee Shop in Wilmington, NC, 321 Coffee is an NC State student organization that is developing a pop-up coffee shop which is staffed by individuals with special needs. Wrege hopes to recognize the special needs community for its uniqueness and contributions while promoting societal unity and community identity through meaningful and fulfilling engagements in a customer service environment.

As a Park Scholar, a member of the University Scholars Program, and a native Caryite, Wrege has been able to leverage her connections at the university and around the area to promote 321 Coffee and its mission. Shortly after arriving on campus, she began sharing her dream with friends, who enthusiastically offered to help Wrege develop 321 Coffee into more than just an idea. The team, made up entirely of first-year students, quickly began laying the groundwork for 321 Coffee. They developed a partnership with GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome achievement center in the Raleigh area. “GiGi’s Playhouse helps to prepare individuals with Down Syndrome to be active in the community,” explains Wrege.  “They do the training and we are able to help provide the practical application.”

Wrege is pursuing a major in biomedical engineering, with the hopes of working to develop prosthetic devices to aid in increasing the quality of life of individuals with special needs. She has also taken courses in leadership and entrepreneurship such as EI 201, Exploring Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Thinking, helping link 321 Coffee to her academic coursework and move her business forward. “EI 201 really helped progress 321 to operate like a small business,”  explains Werge, “we learned not only about different entrepreneurs’ successes, but also their missteps, which has really helped us think through some critical decisions.”

Even in its early stages, the 321 Coffee team is making a significant impact on campus and in the community. The team earned second place in the Social and Environmental Impact category at the 2018 Lulu eGames, NC State’s annual startup competition. They were also named the 2017 – 2018 Deborah S. Moore “Outstanding Student Organization” award winners. This award recognizes “an NC State student organization that has made a difference to NC State or the local community through service and volunteerism during the academic year.” This coming fall, 321 Coffee will also be a vendor at the NC State Farmers Market, giving them a more regular presence in the Raleigh area.

Wrege is excited about the future of 321 Coffee. “One of the unique aspects of 321 Coffee is the tie we have to our college campus,”  she explains, “we have access to a lot of resources and college is the time a lot of people really begin to form who they are going to be as a person. If we can solidify the tie to the special needs community, then students can take that out into the world with them and help to create more inclusive communities.” Wrege hopes to expand 321 Coffee to other college campuses in the future and eventually open a storefront. “One of the big goals of 321 Coffee is to shift the way in which society views the special needs community. I believe there is a lot to learn from individuals in the special needs community. I have experienced this in my own life, and I think a lot of that has come from the personal relationships I’ve formed” notes Wrege.

For more information or to get involved with 321 Coffee, please visit their website at 321Coffee.com or their Facebook page. NC State students can also join 321 Coffee by signing up on their Get Involved page.

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