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Students Take Blue and White Chips from Class Project to Full-Fledged Business

by on May 03, 2016 12:49 PM

What started as a class project has grown into a full-fledged business start-up in the State College community that is bringing Blue and White Chips to the marketplace.

Agribusiness student Deanna Spaniel was asked by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences entrepreneurship coordinator Mark Gagnon to work on a student-run venture that could be passed on to the next group of students each year. Horticulture student Ben Nason soon joined the effort and they began immersing themselves in the world of potato chips and their different varieties.

Penn State’s risk management office didn’t think the project would be viable for the university, but having put in hundreds of hours of work on the project, Spaniel and Nason decided they would continue to pursue it.

“The end of the spring last year we started working on making this an actual company,” Spaniel said. “We had a ton of time in, so we created our company What the Chip? and started looking for producers to make our first product Blue and White Chips. Our research proved there was a market for this kind of food item and people got extremely excited just by the idea of it, so we figured it was worth pursuing.”

While their business is based in State College, the chips are produced by Bickels Snack Foods in York, Pa. The chips are naturally colorful.

“Our chips are different colors because the potatoes we use actually grow in those colors,” Spaniel explained. “The same thing that makes blueberries blue makes the variety of potato we use that color. We don't use dyes of any kind, just slice and cook the potatoes. There are tons of varieties out there and we can make almost any color chip from pink to black.”

It hasn’t been easy managing the schedules of full-time students and growing a new business that required some three-hour drives to York before class.

Spaniel said that while she was working on the recipe, she would wake up at 4 a.m. to drive to York, make runs of chips for their orders -- usually around 1000 bags -- then drive back to State College in time to get to class.

“It takes persistence and dedication, but we manage,” Spaniel said. “We luckily have a lot of people who want to help us and guide us to being successful. Plus as students there are so many resources available that it really makes anything possible if you are willing to put the work in.”

Nason and Spaniel worked closely with Gagnon and Professor of Vegetable Crops Bill Lamont to learn about potato research. A Penn State accelerator course taught them about networking and making business connections. That led them to the Small Business Development Center, which assisted in setting up the legal aspects of the business.

After they started making the chips, word began to spread around the College of Ag, and Nason and Spaniel were able to participate in Ag Progress Days last August, which led to more events and exposure.

“The Penn State network is incredible and has brought us so many opportunities and connections we otherwise wouldn't have,” Spaniel said.

In April, the College of Ag’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program awarded Blue and White Chips first place in the Ag Springboard business pitch competition, which came with a $7,500 prize.

Nason will graduate this week, and Spaniel has about three years left before she earns her degree. But now they plan to continue to grow the business. They will develop What the Chip’s web presence and finish packaging design. The Ag Springboard prize will provide enough money to launch a fall run that will make them a full-fledged business.

And, Spaniel said, they plan to make the State College community the home for their business.

“We love this community and it has become in a way part of our business. We definitely plan on staying and growing here.”


Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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