Nov. 13, 2017

Batten Students Launch Self-Sustaining Social Venture, Reinvest Savings Back Into Capstone Course

As Batten undergrads, Alexa Riccolo (BA ’17) and four classmates launched a successful small business venture earlier this year to show young people in Charlottesville and Albemarle County the value of good food and healthy living.

Not only did the venture have impact in the local community, but the team also ended up with savings to invest back into the Batten social-venture course that provided the framework for them to launch their venture.

Called C’Full, the program got its start in fall 2015 in Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, a class taught by Batten Professor Bala Mulloth.

Riccolo and some of her fellow students came up with C’Full, which they pitched to the class. “There was no actual application; it was just an idea,” Riccolo said.

Then, next semester, in spring 2016, five fourth-year students tested out C’Full as their capstone project for Mulloth’s course “Developing a New Social Venture.” They started relationships with Zion Union Baptist Church on Preston Avenue, which has established after-school programs, and Whole Foods of Charlottesville.

“They basically spent their whole semester figuring out what would make C’Full work. They were basically setting it up for success,” Riccolo said. “They went to (Zion Union) a couple of times (for) their trial run.

“By the time I took it over, they had established (the) partnerships…I had their leads, and I was able, with my group, to follow those.”

They called the venture C’Full because, “as students, we always call Charlottesville ‘C’Ville,’ and we want our students full of healthy food,” said Riccolo, from Wheaton, Ill., whom teammates selected as program director.

Riccolo and her team—Bethany Ackerman, Aubrie Chaillet, Taylor Head and Courtney Morgan—met with youngsters and teenagers at Mt. Zion, an elementary school, and a soccer field to discuss nutrition and the importance of personal health. They held a half-dozen sessions and served about about 60 students during the semester.

They made apple turtles. They made zucchini noodles. And the young people in the program “were getting a chance to be involved, to form a connection between the food and the process of making the food. It’s terrific,” said Mulloth, Assistant Professor of Public Policy.

“It’s a great example of teamwork by Batten social entrepreneurship capstone students, developing a venture in which they wanted to give back to the community and support other students in that process,” said Mulloth,

At Jackson-Via Elementary School, where Riccolo also served as a tutor, the young students in third-grade class “were very excited,” she said.

“I liked their reaction the best, because they were so energetic, and they wanted to make more, and they wanted ziplock bags to take (food) home to their parents, which I was very happy about.

“But it was also very eye-opening because one of the kids came up to me and started asking me about fruits and what they looked like, and had never seen a pineapple and didn’t know what it was. So that was just very inspiring.”

C’Full at Jackson-Via Elementary School

To make C’Full work, the students took care of all the details from sourcing the food to running an ongoing  program, Mulloth said.

“It was definitely high social impact,” he said. “They were addressing hunger, addressing healthy living, and focusing on a marginalized community.

“They set up a relationship with (the grocery store) Whole Foods, to get their leftover produce, which they were donating to C’Full. C’Full would then get it to the kitchen of Zion Union Baptist Church, and they made this food with the students.

“They were able to create an after-school program, and they were able to do some really cool stuff. They were cooking with the kids, and making cooking exciting.”

Riccolo said C’Full benefitted from great relationships with Whole Foods and Zion Union Baptist Church, which had an established after-school program.

“The kids come (to the church) and do homework. We were there as a supplementary program. The kids would get their dinner from Zion Union, and then we would bring a fun, healthy activity.

“We would explain the nutrition facts of the food, such as apples and grapes. Then we would do an activity where they would build little apple turtles,” using toothpicks, raisins, and peanut butter, “and then we answered questions while they ate what they had just made.

“And then we would send home a little pamphlet, with directions if they wanted to do it again with their parents or grandparents or siblings, as well as other information.”

Their main supplier, “Whole Foods, was the easiest to work with because they were able to give us donations as needed, pretty easily, with little paperwork.

“They were great. We would just call them up and say, ‘We have a presentation this week,’ and they would say, ‘That’s awesome, what are you looking for?’ And we’d say, ‘We’re going to make apple turtles. Could we get some apples and some grapes?’ And then we’d go and pick that up.”

To build partnerships, Riccolo and her team “reached out to more than 140” schools and sports teams. They didn’t hear back or meet with most of them, “but we had a couple of schools, a couple of after-school programs.”

“It wasn’t so much like a weekly program, but it was just expanding what our ‘customer base’ would look like if we were a revenue-generating company.”

That included making a pamphlet for the Western Albermarle High School junior varsity boys soccer team with information about “staying hydrated and fueling for a game.” Riccolo, a four-year women’s volleyball player at UVA, sought out Kelly Rossi, Associate Director of Sports Nutrition at UVA, for assistance.

Lexi Riccolo 

“We were able to send her the pamphlet that we were going to hand out. She reviewed it and checked it to make sure we were on the right page. And then we could give those to the soccer team.”

Mulloth credited Riccolo with serving as a strong leader for C’Full’s success. “She’s the one who was the captain, the leader of the team, that took it forward. She was the one instrumental in making it happen at the later stage, and also getting access to the capital” to fund the program.

Riccolo spoke highly of the course’s requirement for hands-on experience.

“My group was not just in the classroom learning what social ventures do, where they come from, how they act, but we were physically doing it all ourselves,” said Riccolo, who graduated in the spring from Batten, along with her fellow C’Full teammates, and is now working toward a Masters in Management degree at Durham University, England, with a focus on International Business. She is applying to law schools and hopes to use her business degree in conjunction with a law degree in her future career.

C’Full benefitted greatly from “Professor Mulloth pushing us to go in the right direction, but we basically started this company,” Riccolo said. “We made our own business model, and we had to meet with our partners by ourselves.”

“Part of the reason for the donation is that I just want people to have that same experience. And we talked about it as a group and felt that was the best thing to do, to put the money back into the system,” Riccolo said.

“So not only can the community benefit from a program like (C’Full), but, also, students will be able to continue to learn in that interactive manner.”

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