Enactus students help local entrepreneur establish own business identity

Dec 03, 2014

Four North Central College business students were offered an opportunity of a lifetime—to make a difference in one man’s small, homegrown coffee shop, and help rebuild and restructure his business plan.

Greta Karvelyte ’16 especially felt her dreams of entrepreneurship coming true with this project. “My ambition has always been to own my own business,” she explains. “My parents and I moved here from Lithuania with the idea of the American dream. We’ve struggled through life, and from those struggles I’ve learned I want to be able to fulfill my own American dream.”

Karvelyte describes the project as a behind-the-scenes look at running a business, where she and her teammates are gaining real-world experience in small business entrepreneurship. “As an employee, there’s a lot you’re not exposed to. But as the owner, you have to be aware of everything. This experience will come in handy down the line when I finally run my own business,” she says.

A double major in accounting and entrepreneurship and small business management, Karvelyte is the project manager for the student team working closely with business owner Ashraf Elgezawy. He is the new owner of Arbor Vitae Java & Juice, a small coffee house and café business in Naperville. Several years ago, Arbor Vitae Java & Juice moved from its location on Jackson Street to the Naperville campus of Northern Illinois University (NIU).  

Elgezawy, who’s been the chef at Arbor Vitae for many years, took over full ownership of the family business following the retirement of his in-laws. Realizing a need to gain knowledge on the business and marketing end, Elgezawy connected with North Central College’s Gerald Thalmann, associate professor of accounting, and Neil Nicholson, assistant professor of mathematics. Thalmann and Nicholson are faculty advisors of Enactus, which has partnered with Arbor Vitae for years to roast its Conscious Bean Coffee. Enactus is a worldwide organization on college campuses that’s dedicated to educating people about the free enterprise system.

Thalmann and Nicholson invited Enactus members Karvelyte, Katie Cotter ’17, Patrick Rourke ’15 and Calvin Darula ’17 to join the project and assist Elgezawy in relaunching his business.

“We’re helping him reposition his niche and find his own business identity,” explains Darula, Enactus chapter president and triple major in management, finance and marketing. “From adjusting the pricing, product menus and store layout, to rewriting an entirely new marketing plan, we have the ability to help Ashraf transition seamlessly into the business ownership role and significantly raise his profit margin.”

To support these efforts, the students applied for and received a $1,500 grant from the Sam’s Club Step Up For Small Business Project Partnership. The North Central team was among 100 Enactus teams in the United States to receive the grant to be used to empower a small business to strengthen its foundation for long-term success through improved business practices.

“With this grant, there’s more we can do,” says Karvelyte. “This business is all he has, and the fact that we have the opportunity to change this man’s life and make a difference for him is incredible.”

The student team is planning a grand reopening of Arbor Vitae Java & Juice on Jan. 5—the day students return to the NIU campus.

Written by Jordan Johnson ’15