Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Neil Kittleson, CEO of The Great Coffee Project, located in Baltimore, MD, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

The Great Coffee Project is a direct-to-consumer fresh roasted coffee company formed by a group of neighbors, friends, and colleagues that came together around a single mission:

To make a positive and lasting global impact by delivering high-quality coffee through sustainable and ethical business practices. This mission is important to us because we want to make a difference in the world, and we believe that coffee is a powerful tool to do that. We truly believe that change can start with a single cup of coffee.

We are US-based and currently only serve US customers. Our reach for impacting change starts locally, but we work with people around the world to create the change we believe will create a brighter future. We start locally by donating 15% of every sale to the non-profit of the customer's choice. This option allows organizations to build no-commitment fundraisers around our coffee by doing nothing more than selecting their organization from our dropdown at checkout. We are proud to be able to keep our price point competitive with other high-quality coffee brands while making that donation.

When we source the coffee, we utilize direct trade to the greatest extent possible, though COVID has made that more difficult over the last few years. We do this because we want to make sure we understand the growing and processing practices of the farms that we are working with. We only buy coffee that has been grown without chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. That's better for the coffee, better for the farmers working with it, and the consumer.

To promote sustainable growing practices, we have made a series of loans and grants to farmers in developing nations to give them the influx of money they need to develop more sustainable growing practices. We started that effort before we ever sold our first bag of coffee. We believe sustainable farming is one tool to help establish a foothold in building a better life for farmers and their families.

We also believe in paying our farmers a fair price for their coffee. This is something we can control, and we want to do our part to make sure farmers are getting paid what their coffee is worth. We have built direct relationships with many of the farms we buy from so that we can have that conversation and be sure they are being paid and treated fairly. When you buy our coffee, you can rest assured knowing that you are supporting a company that is working to make a difference in the world in a sustainable and ethical way.

Tell us about yourself

This company is the culmination of experience in launching, running, and exiting a wide variety of businesses. I wanted to build a company that had philanthropy built into its core, and coffee provided me with that mechanism. As I shared the concept with friends and family, many wanted to join. Because of that, I've been able to surround myself with amazingly talented people who all believe in the giving mission as much as I do.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

For me, being able to provide other people with the ability to make money doing something they enjoy in an environment where they thrive is my greatest accomplishment as a business owner. It doesn't always work that way, but when you do fit all of the right pieces together, it is incredibly satisfying.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Owning a small business means that you feel like a tight rope walker every day. Each day, you climb the mast and make your way across the rope. At times you feel as though you're 1000 feet in the air with no safety net, and other times you're as comfortable as walking on the ground. Each day varies, and often you have no idea what that next day will bring.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Ideas don't grow in darkness. Share your idea. Collect feedback. Build prototypes and mockups. Find potential customers and get their opinions. But do not wait for perfection because it will never come. Once you validate the idea, start to run with it and continue to build and refine it.
  2. Have a purpose for what you do beyond making money. You likely won't make enough money for some time to get you through the hard parts of running the business unless you have a real passion for what you're doing.
  3. Be realistic. Things cost more and take longer than you ever expect. Sometimes a lot longer and a lot more expensive. Plan accordingly and seek advice from others on what resources you'll really need.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

We'd love to hear your thoughts on what we are doing and why you would or wouldn't want to help us make the world a little bit better through a cup of coffee.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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