BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – When a capella group Straight No Chaser comes back to Indiana University for a concert December 13, members also are returning to where the idea for their new venture, a branded vodka, was developed as part of an academic project at IU’s Kelley School of Business.
Students in the school’s No. 1 ranked Kelley Direct online MBA program developed the beverage concept in July during Kelley Connect Week, an in-residence experience that includes a live-case project. Students were asked to help the vocal group identify new sources of revenue and the winning team sold judges and the group on an idea of creating a Straight No Chaser vodka.
The renowned Straight No Chaser is partnering with Brown County-based Hard Truth Distilling Co. to market the beverage as part of its national “The Open Bar Tour” through April. Hard Truth Straight No Chaser Vodka will be featured at many concert venues, where people may purchase a specialty cocktail featuring the vodka. It is available for purchase at all Big Woods Restaurant locations around Indiana, as well as select liquor and grocery stores.
The initiative to produce the vodka was introduced — virtually to nearly every detail including the concept and producer used — by the winning Kelley Direct team.
“Our whole team was very surprised that Straight No Chaser didn’t just pursue our idea, but that they picked it in the first place,” admitted Vincent Holloway of Bloomington, Indiana, one of five students on the winning team. “It’s been humbling for our team to not just win the case competition, but to see Straight No Chaser take the idea and make it a reality in under six months.”
“It is certainly a moment of pride, but more importantly a great validation that we truly understood our client and were able to offer a solution for one of the challenges they presented,” added student Anthony Arbucias, from Pewaukee, Wisconsin.
Other Kelley Direct students on the winning team were Wyatt Craig of Stamford, Conn., Michael Hale of Ottawa, Canada, Dan Jamieson of Washington, D.C. and Ben Steffes of St. Louis.
While content for the Kelley Direct degree program is delivered online, students regularly interact with faculty, including when they come to the Bloomington campus for Kelley Connect Weeks during their first and second years. The live case competition is a key feature of the week’s agenda. Previous clients have included the Riley Children’s Foundation and Youth Employment Services in South Africa.
Regan Stevenson, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship, said sometimes it’s difficult to determine which case solutions will resonate with clients.
“When the team first presented the vodka concept internally, it wasn’t initially well received,” said Stevenson. “But as they began to test and validate the concept locally — talking to consumers, store managers and distillers as part of their primary market research — it became obvious that the vodka concept had high market demand, was technically feasible and was a highly scalable way to generate passive income for SNC.
“And, of course, it was entirely on brand for a band called ‘Straight No Chaser,’” he added.
Straight No Chaser (pictured above) was founded as a student group at IU in 1996 and has since released seven albums and four EPs internationally. Six of the nine original members continue to perform with the group.
“Straight No Chaser’s roots are firmly planted in Indiana University. Participating in the Kelley School of Business’ case study was our way of giving back,” said David Roberts, a member and the group’s business manager. “We never dreamed that the students would have such great, tangible and actionable recommendations.”
Will Geoghegan, clinical assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship, wasn’t all that surprised that his students’ idea has gone from concept to market.
“The ideas that the Kelley Direct students develop all have scope to succeed and we deliberately source clients that have real, strategic problems and want to implement the suggestions,” Geoghegan said. “In this case, the members of Straight No Chaser were hoping to explore avenues of growth beyond touring and were fully onboard in the process of implementing the best ideas.
“We have been involved in a number of live cases that have followed through on several recommendations,” he added. “We just talked to the client before Straight No Chaser last week about how they were still looking over the recommendations and had an acquisition bid for $20 million come about directly as a result of a Kelley Connect Week recommendation.”
But the professors acknowledge the uniqueness aspect of this latest success. They set out to create as much value as possible for both the students and clients.
“The winning team gets the ultimate validation of their work by seeing their recommendations actually come to fruition,” said Timothy Baldwin, the Randall L. Tobias Chair in Leadership and chairperson and professor of management and entrepreneurship. “The Kelley Direct development and judging process proves to be on-target because it was that process that equipped the team to make such an actionable strategy and surface as the champion.”
“It’s all the more special that I can drink some of the fruits of their endeavors,” Geoghegan added.