Student entrepreneurs keep calm while running coffee business

Posted on March 8, 2019

Sara Dooley, left, and Sheridan Butcher pose in Watkins Student Center with The Paper Cup. gear.

“We both find the roasting process to be rather relaxing. We put the beans in the roaster and the sound of the slow turn of beans rolling around in the drum is perfect for finishing up homework or studying,” says Erskine senior Sheridan Butcher, when asked how she and senior Sara Dooley manage to run their coffee business while staying on top of their classes.

Sheridan, a business administration major from Lexington with a minor in healthcare administration, and Sara, a sport management major from Pickens with a minor in chemistry, started “The Paper Cup.” in July 2016.

“We are both big coffee drinkers and [developed] a somewhat random interest in the way coffee is roasted,” Sheridan explains. The combination of Sara’s chemistry background and Sheridan’s “entrepreneurial spirit” helped them create “the perfect cup.” But they still needed assistance in developing and refining their business efforts.

The two friends sent a request for help to a number of professors, and heard back from Assistant Professor of Business Administration Tracy McCurry.

“Professor McCurry, although not a coffee drinker, had enough faith in the process to offer an independent study in January of 2018 that allowed me to ask important questions about running a business while also connecting with another professor, Mr. Ferreira,” Sheridan recalls.

The business department’s Erskine-style approach proved beneficial for the eager students. “One of the advantages of attending a smaller college is that we try to work directly with students to individualize their education,” McCurry says.

“When Sheridan came to me with the initial plan for The Paper Cup, we talked about ways that she could customize her course load in order to succeed. One of these ideas was to develop a [course] where she worked directly with Wilder Ferreira, an adjunct faculty member with extensive background in business entrepreneurship counseling.”

Speaking about the branded items pictured with them when they were photographed in Watkins Student Center (top photo), Sara notes, “We do have merchandise for sale on our website, thepapercup.coffee, but the silver cups and canteen were given to us by Sheridan’s dad and are not for sale.”

And now, back to those coffee beans, which Sheridan and Sara order “green and unroasted” from Colombia, South America.

“We order 25 pounds of beans about every other week. All of our coffee is roasted to order so each bag is freshly roasted the day before it is shipped or delivered,” Sheridan says.

Sheridan and Sara have many campus commitments.

“I have recently retired from the women’s soccer team here at Erskine,” Sara says, adding that she is a member of the Erskine Entertainment Board, serves as treasurer of Chi Lambda Sigma Little Sisters, and has been inducted into two honor societies—Alpha Chi and Sigma Beta Delta.

Sheridan shows off her Paper Cup silver cup, a gift from her father.

Sheridan, a member of the women’s softball team, is also on the Erskine Entertainment board, serves as president of the Chi Lambda Sigma Little Sisters, and is the day student representative for the Student Government Association.

Both students have earned high praise from their coaches.

“Sara has been a privilege to know and have in the program,” Women’s Soccer Coach Robin Smith says. “I’m so glad she transferred to Erskine and wish we were able to keep her longer! She is an amazing young lady who is going to be successful in whatever she pursues. I admire Sara’s passion on and off the field. She has one of the kindest hearts I have ever seen and is a strong, courageous, bright individual. I wish her the best and hope for her coffee business to thrive!”

“Sheridan is so creative is so many ways that I was not surprised to see her start her own successful business,” Head Softball Coach Alleen Hawkins says. “She brings a lot to the table in many ways for our program and I really have enjoyed watching her mature over the past four years. This coffee business is just another reflection of Sheridan’s growth as a person and a business leader at Erskine. I certainly will not be surprised when this business leads her down the path to a lot of success.”

Despite their pileup of academic and extracurricular activities, Sara and Sheridan seem to enjoy the added work of running a small business.

“Roasting coffee beans is just a waiting game, listening for the perfect crackling sound, letting us know that the beans are ready to cool off,” Sheridan says. “Most of the work comes the day after roasting when the beans are ready to be ground and bagged.”

So what is the secret of their success? Maybe it’s seeing things in perspective.

“We have noticed that running a business makes schoolwork seem like a much smaller task in comparison, which does relieve a good bit of stress,” Sheridan says.

Encouragement from loved ones might also lessen stress, and Sheridan and Sara have been able to count on that.

“Both of our families have been nothing but supportive,” says Sara. “They have both invested in The Paper Cup., which helped get us to where we are today, and which we are so grateful for.”

What’s next for The Paper Cup. and these enterprising students?

Sara holds one of the silver cups given to the entrepreneurs by Sheridan’s dad.

“We do plan on continuing The Paper Cup. after graduation,” Sara says.

“The nice thing about the way we have set ourselves up is that our roasting, grinding, and bagging process is easy to move and can be done wherever we end up. This has allowed us to be flexible when it comes to fitting our [business] obligations in and around our school and sport obligations, and it should work out the same way when we have professional obligations outside The Paper Cup.”

Sara will be seeking a job or internship in college athletic administration, she says, working in either student-athlete compliance or student-athlete development.

Sheridan is pursuing opportunities in marketing event coordination with an eye toward a future career in architectural design.