We all need some good news right about now. Let’s talk about the connection between 321 Coffee, a young entrepreneur, and the hot desert of Palm Springs, CA.
The connection is Lindsay Wrege. Wrege is the CEO and Co-Founder of 321 Coffee – a nonprofit coffee shop staffed by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Thanks to a $1,000 Entrepreneurship Fund award, Wrege had the opportunity to present at the 2020 Altitude Summit in Palm Springs, CA earlier this year to share her story of starting 321 Coffee as a freshman at NC State. The Alt Summit is a premier conference for creative women entrepreneurs that attracts thousands of entrepreneurs who are ready to make new connections. Participants can take part in classes, friendly networking, and share inspiring stories of grit and determination – a playground in the desert for entrepreneurs. At this year’s event, not only was Wrege the youngest speaker but she was also the youngest attendee, offering a much different perspective than many of the older entrepreneurs at the event.
Once she was at the conference she found herself surrounded by entrepreneurs from all stretches of Earth. As a true go-getter, it is no surprise that Wrege attended all sorts of sessions – even some that had nothing to do with her industry – and was pleasantly surprised by how much valuable information from other industries could easily translate to propelling 321 Coffee forward. She recalls a moment when she was searching for a particular session and stumbled upon a subscription box session instead. Wrege had no idea how applicable a subscription box model would be for her coffee shop business until she heard from these businesswomen. Wrege tells us, “You can make a subscription box for anything! I heard from a woman who sold subscription box stamps to elementary teachers.” The teachers would have new stamps coming in each month to grade their students’ tests with a charming new pun.
Talk about a niche market!
While speaking at the event, Lindsay had time to reflect on how 321 Coffee came to be. She remembers her first year at NC State and how she and her Co-Founder and CFO, Michael Evans, made their own cold brew, sold coffee at every event they could, and started to fulfill their mission. When Wrege describes how the basis of 321 Coffee’s mission was born she writes, “[Our mission is] to truly achieve the cultural-shift we’re aiming for, society needs a space where the community can learn from, interact with, and form lasting connections with members of the special needs community.” 321 Coffee functions as a business where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and the Raleigh community and can share love over a common favorite – coffee.
Wrege recalls a pivotal moment for 321 Coffee. It was her sophomore year and she got a storage unit! You read that right – a storage unit. Why is this exciting? This storage unit meant that every cup, table runner, piece of merchandise, and container of creamer now had a designated place to be (other than stacked high in Wrege’s dorm.)
When talking about how important the interpersonal and professional connections in RTP and the support of the community are to her and 321 Coffee, Wrege says, “If I don’t know the answer, I know someone who does. There’s never an uncomfortable ask.” In times like right now when local coffee shops and storefronts are struggling, 321 Coffee has a loyal following who happily supports them. A GoFundMe was started to pay for employees’ salaries all the way through April and the fundraiser reached its maximum in less than 24 hours. How amazing is that?
Here is a photo of Wrege and Evans having a Zoom call with their fantastic team.
Go check out 321 Coffee if you want to learn more about their story!
About the Entrepreneurship Fund
The mission of the Entrepreneurship fund is to support, promote and advance a culture of entrepreneurship throughout the university community by providing resources, fostering collaboration and enhancing communication in support of NC State students, faculty, staff and alumni. Please visit the Entrepreneurship Fund website to learn more about the fund and to find out about eligibility, who gets preference and examples for what the funds may be used for.