One day last year, Ray Fraser, Richmond College ’11, was sitting in a coffee shop when he noticed that the trash can near him was quickly filling up with the one-use coffee sleeves meant to keep customer’s hands from getting burned. At first, Fraser didn’t make much of it, especially once the barista initially came over to empty the overflowing can. Not long after, the trash can was filled again with the same one-use coffee sleeves. This time, when the barista came back to empty the can, Fraser asked how many of these paper sleeves were thrown out each day. He was blown away by the response—roughly 400 each day—and he decided to do something about it.
That was the birth of Tree Sleeve, Fraser’s now seven-month old company that sells reusable cup sleeves made entirely from 100-percent recycled silicon, and helps to eradicate deforestation by planting a tree in an affected area each time a Tree Sleeve is sold. Based out of Hartford, Conn., Tree Sleeve has been much more successful than its competitors thus far. There have been more than 2,000 Tree Sleeves sold from more than 35 coffee shops. Fraser said the company’s success was due to his meeting with coffee shop owners.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sold until I was validated by the people who would be buying from me,” he said. “You need to meet with people and get an honest opinion.”
The Tree Sleeve team consists of a group of six people, two of which are Richmond graduates Kate Heyer and Alex Sacco (Westhampton College, ’12 and ’13). Although Tree Sleeves are mainly carried in coffee shops in the Northeast (the exceptions are the University of Richmond Bookstore and a location in Maryland), the company will soon be looking for interns to help sell their product all over the country.
At the time of his entrepreneurial epiphany, Fraser was working on a different start-up idea, Snooze Systems, a tech start-up that was aiming to make university course registration simpler. Snooze Systems never got past the prototype stage, but Fraser knew he wanted to be entrepreneurial. More importantly, he knew he wanted to make an impact.
“Money is going to come and go,” he said, “but it comes down to what’s your legacy.” Fraser said he hoped his legacy would be a lasting impact on the environment.
Fraser knows a thing or two about leaving a legacy. As a marketing and finance double concentration in the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business, he used his skills to found Stepping 101, the beloved sorority step competition that still draws large audiences even after Fraser’s graduation.
“It really creates bonds,” Fraser said. “I’ve even met some girls who didn’t really know each other before the competition become great friends afterwards.” Bonds were important to Fraser when he was on campus, as many of his professors helped him develop his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I loved my teachers,” he said. “Jeff Pollack really helped me with my ideas. It was 110 percent the best choice to go to the University of Richmond.”
For other budding entrepreneurs who are taking Pollack’s courses (or who are just interested in starting their own business), Fraser advises: “Start early. Go for it. Surround yourself with good people. Listen to the teachers at the Robins School.” Fraser said he was always open to giving advice and wanted to give his email to anyone who might want to contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for further developments with Tree Sleeve. On April 22 Fraser will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for the company’s newest product.
Contact reporter Michael Woitach at email@example.com