Penn State student-run beer delivery startup Aqua Vitae works to gain traction

This article was picked up by USA Today College.

Penn State students are working on creating a beer delivery service in State College. Suresh Rajan, the creator of Aqua Vitae, hopes to launch the student startup later this semester.

“This is a brand new industry of Pennsylvania,” Rajan (senior-economics and international politics) said. “We’ll be one of the first companies to be offering online ordering of alcohol for on-demand delivery.”

Rajan said he wants to create an environment that not only delivers a product, but also provides people with more information on what they may like to drink at a reasonable price.

Aqua Vitae is currently comprised of seven students with positions ranging from marketing and public relations to logistics and supply chain. Depending on the major, a student may receive a course credit for its work with the company, Rajan said.

Rajan and other members working on the project have reached out to their professors and university services. However, the company is entirely student-run, Rajan said.

“I have worked closely with the supply chain department at Penn State since logistics is a huge part in the company,” Rajan said.

Fiachra “Feek” McDermott, who was recruited by Rajan, said he was able to use the skills he has learned to develop the startup’s website.

“I’m not a developer so I started looking for people who could develop a site,” Rajan said. “Later I started looking for anyone who could help advance the project.”

This is also how Rajan met his co-worker, Jordan Smith, who now works as an event planner and marketing specialist for Aqua Vitae.

While McDermott’s (senior-information, sciences and technology) major relates to his position at Aqua Vitae, most employees have no connection to their majors, Rajan said.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 5.19.30 PM
Photo courtesy of Jordan Smith

Aqua Vitae will not offer any original beers as the license only allows the startup to transport products they do not own. The startup is currently in the process of partnering with local retailers and breweries, Rajan said.

“Essentially whatever is available at a bottle shop or beer distributor is what will be available to order on our website as long as we have partnered with that company,” McDermott said.

Smith (junior-mechanical engineering) said the opportunity to expand markets is a high incentive for retailers, which makes companies more open to partnership.

However, there are more businesses Aqua Vitae would like to partner with, Smith said.

A few friends and family have donated money to Aqua Vitae but the startup has no official angel investors.

Currently, Aqua Vitae cannot pay its employees as the company has not yet launched but Rajan said his team of co-workers have been determining the price they will pay their drivers.

“This summer we are looking at acquiring some sort of angel venture capitalist investment after we launch the company and have more numbers,” Rajan said.

Rajan said he and his co-workers have applied for grants through the university and small business development centers.

Another factor that has kept Aqua Vitae employees busy is identifying customers since deliveries will be made online.

“We plan to have age verification processes in place before the company launches,” Rajan said. “Our ambition is to have a third party verify your age and ID before your order even goes through.”

Rajan says the age verification feature is a bit expensive and Aqua Vitae may not be able to afford it when the company first launches. However, whoever picks up the beer delivery will be asked for identification and that name has to match the name on the order form.

Additionally, Aqua Vitae delivery employees will take a photo of the person who picks up the delivery as an extra precaution, Rajan said.

A promotional event was held at the new Champs, 139 S. Allen St., Feb. 29 for Aqua Vitae. The event was open to everyone over the age of 21. Any attendees who provided their email to the company received free four craft beers from the Happy Valley Brewing Company, Jordan Smith said.

Smith said he believes many people that pick up beer at a bottle shop or distributor tend to only buy what they are familiar with. Aqua Vitae can allow State College residents to become more aware of what beers are available.

Rajan said he has run into a few challenges in terms of licensing but is pleased with the progression of the company.

“I believe most people who we take on this kind of project are people who want to explore outside of class,” Rajan said. “I do this because I feel like I learn more from my company than I would in any class because I have really pushed my boundaries.”

To read the article which was originally published on The Daily Collegian, click here.



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