Baking entrepreneurship
    Graphic by Priscilla Liu / North by Northwestern

    There’s a new cookie monster on campus, and this one’s happy to share. Founded in the spring of 2011, Project Cookie is a late-night cookie delivery service at Northwestern created by now-sophomores David Harris, Jenna Pugrant, and Eugenio Fernández.

    Harris, Pugrant, and Fernández—all freshmen at the time—met through an analytics training program run by Northwestern Student Holdings (NSH), a student-run holding company that funds and manages a portfolio of businesses including Wildcat Express Delivery, Northwestern Transit Co. and NU Tutors.

    In the winter, the three teamed together to design and propose their own business model. Their initial idea was closer to an Evanston-specific version of Craigslist that would match students and local Evanstonians with jobs. But they quickly changed directions.

    “We weren’t sure how it would exactly turn a profit,” says Pugrant. “Then we started to look at late-night food options on campus, and they weren’t very sufficient. Everyone loves cookies, so we kind of ran with that idea.”

    Together they wrote a business model for Project Cookie, presented it to the NSH board of trustees, and received approval for funding and a five day trial run in the spring. Project Cookie was open from May 22 to May 27, operating from 10:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Cookies were $1.25 apiece, with a minimum order of six cookies and an additional $1 delivery fee. Both on and off-campus students could order by phone or through Project Cookie’s website.

    The process was simple: the three founders met on Sunday to make the cookie dough from scratch and freeze it. Then, as orders came in, they took the information down and immediately put dough in the oven. The cookies baked in 12 minutes, and the average delivery took another five for a total time of just under 20 minutes. Most of the work was done by the three co-founders, but they did receive help from NSH volunteers—something they realize will have to change once they operate a full-scale business.

    Project Cookie is not the first cookie delivery organization to crop up on a college campus. Founded in 2003 at the University of Pennsylvania, Insomnia Cookies has a similar business conception of late-night cookies that operates on more than a dozen campuses.

    “Insomnia Cookies offers proof that cookies are in demand on campuses,” says Harris. “That said, Northwestern is such a unique campus with such a unique culture that we have to make certain that the product we’re delivering fits with our campus culture.”

    In the library, the founders positioned themselves as a study break opportunity; in dorms, they put up flyers with raunchy jokes. They also reached out to student leaders and advertised on Facebook. Fernández went all out to advertise the service.

    “I usually delivered with a Cookie Monster costume, and that was really cool,” says Fernández. “What we’re trying to sell is not just a product. It’s part of an experience. It’s laid-back, an opportunity to get a little break from studying, laugh a little bit.”

    The business was profitable by the second night. During the trial period it delivered more than 1,000 cookies to more than 100 different customers.

    In addition to individual orders, Project Cookie offers a catering service. “Last spring we catered to a Macro[economics] course and surprised Professor Witte’s students with cookies. We also catered to a dean’s meeting,” Harris says.

    Medill sophomore Megan McCormack was one of the students who received cookies during Introduction to Macroeconomics. Although this was the first time she tried the cookies, she was enthusiastic about the business. “I definitely would be interested in ordering from them,” McCormack says. “The hours are pretty convenient to late-night studying, and they understand that you’ll be sitting there at midnight and want junk food for whatever reason. It’s a really good idea for late-night studying at a college campus.”

    Project Cookie hopes to resume operation before the start of winter quarter, after making a few adjustments to the business model. “We’re entrepreneurs, and much of what we’re doing is about learning to operate and manage a successful business,” Harris said. “But more than anything, this is grounded in the fact that we love cookies, and delivering something so fun and so delicious to students who are often quite stressed was beyond satisfying.”

    Students who have already had a taste of Project Cookie agree. “I’m so glad they decided to do it as a long-term project,” says Weinberg sophomore Aanchal Narang. “Me and my roommate and my hallmates literally ordered cookies every single night.”


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