Student-run granola bar enterprise offers healthy snacks with a unique business model

In a world full of processed foods, it’s rebellious to make healthy snacks and encourage mindful consumption. At least that’s the idea behind Rebel Ventures, a socially conscious business run by young entrepreneurs with funding from University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Rebel Ventures’ main business is the making and selling of granola bars called Rebel Bars. 

These granola bars are made of rolled oats, honey, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, cinnamon and salt. Occasionally, chocolate chips will be added for special orders.  

Jarrett Stein, director of academic partnerships at the Netter Center’s Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, taught nutrition at the now-closed Pepper Middle School. In early 2010, he asked students how to create a healthier school community. By the spring of 2010, that conversation led to a small group of students producing granola bars—initially called Far Bars—to sell in the school store.

Over the next two years, Stein and the Pepper School community researched how to help students turn their granola bar sales into a business. In the fall of 2012, Stein, a small group of Pepper Middle School alumni and students from University of Pennsylvania moved into the People’s Emergency Center kitchen in West Philadelphia. There, the group developed a recipe and worked to figure out marketing strategies, creating Rebel Ventures. In the beginning of 2013, they moved to the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises (310 48th St.). 

“A goal of the project is for the students to improve their consumption of healthy foods by actually changing the supply—healthy, affordable, available and tasty," Stein says. "In the process they’ve become business people."

The Rebel Ventures staff is made up of six high school students, six Penn students and a part-time staff person from the Netter Center. Weekly production averages to about 300 large bars and 300 small bars, and happens in three-hour shifts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The company has sold more than 10,000 bars.

Angel Medina, a 17-year-old Connections Academy student, founded Rebel Ventures along with Tiffany Nguyen. As the manager of operations, he says he's learned just what kids can do when they put their mind to it. “Before I didn’t try as hard … because I couldn’t believe I could do it,” he says. “Now I’ve learned that a kid can actually do those things in this business.” 

Rebel Bars are distributed in local public schools, where they are sold for 50 cents. The bars cost more than $1 to make, so they’re losing money. In an effort to recoup those costs, the bars are sold for $2 to $2.75 in Huntsman Hall at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and around Penn’s campus, as well as the farmers market at Clark Park and Mariposa. 

The company is still in its growing stages. The staff meets regularly with a team of business students from Wharton. These business students are helping the Rebel Ventures team learn how to make a profit and expand the business, though Jasmine Jenkins, Rebel Ventures’ chief learning officer and 23-year-old graduate education student at University of Pennsylvania, says profit is not the company’s driving force.

“It’s really just to promote health and well-being in West Philly and underserved communities,” she says.

To learn more about Rebel Bars, visit rvcrew.com


 

Story by Rosella Lafevre.