Alex Bennett may be an undecided major, but he’s definitely an entrepreneur at heart. And he has the guts and determination to match.
On and off since 2008, he’s been building his business—Straw Straws, a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to plastic straws. The straws are made from dried stalks of winter rye (straw) and packaged in biodegradable cellophane and recycled cardboard in boxes of 40. They sell for $8.
To make the straws, Bennett’s using a technique he discovered while living in Germany. “Straws were originally made from grain. So, we’re essentially taking the product back to its roots, while having a positive impact on the environment,” he said.
Currently, Bennett is partnering with Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association-certified farms in Kingfield and Parkman to plant two fields of grain, and he just applied for organic certification. He’s working closely with Maine farmers Charley Henderson and Sean O'Donnell, as well as Maine grain expert Ellen Mallory.
In the meantime, as he gets ready for his first Maine harvest, his straws are being produced from winter rye grown in Germany, and they’re being sold in Portland, Maine, at places like Vena’s Fizz House. He hopes to expand to other markets in September.
It’s been a busy year for Bennett. Up until last December, he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. In January, he started taking classes at Suffolk. And then just six months later, he wrapped up a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising nearly $14,000 and surpassing his goal of $12,500.
It’s been a lot of hard work, but being in the city helps. “A big reason I chose Suffolk is because I wanted to surround myself with like-minded entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators. Boston is the best place to be,” he said.
His business classes have also helped jump start Straw Straws. Bennett has found a way to integrate the business into virtually all of his Suffolk classes. Whether it’s developing a business plan, conducting statistics research, or taking a close look at global markets, Bennett has been able to use Straw Straws as a live case study.
“The Center for Entrepreneurship has also been a great resource. It’s helped me connect with countless professors, students, and alumni, who have supported my venture,” he said, adding that Professors David Henchy and Sushil Bhatia, in particular, have been great mentors.