Portable coffee company Bring Coffee wins Innovation Challenge

When Michael Griffin travels for work, he often spends his flights invested in a book or work — tasks that make him crave a good cup of coffee. But, he said, “as many people know, coffee on airplanes is pretty miserable.”

So, he had an idea: What if making a strong cup of coffee was as easy as brewing a cup of tea?

The concept, which developed into individually packaged portable coffee bags, won the seventh Innovation Challenge in May. The win awarded Griffin and a team of Regis students — Sierra Gilbride, Brett Foss and Kallie Welton — $10,000 and the opportunity to expand the business further.

The Innovation Challenge, hosted each year under the direction of Professor and Director of the Innovation Center Ken Sagendorf, takes participants through months of mentorship and preparation for a Shark Tank-style competition in which teams present ideas to a panel of judges. During the competition, their business ideas are judged on desirability, feasibility, viability and presentation.

Bring Coffee, which offers consumers portable coffee in tea-like bags, is individually packaged to seal in fresh coffee. Similar to tea, users may brew the coffee in hot water for as long as they wish, depending on their taste preferences.

Griffin said his idea brought him deep into the world of coffee.

“The first thing to note is that coffee is like wine or chocolate. There are so many varieties, and you can be a casual consumer, and not really care too much about the notes or the nuances of the flavors, or you can go really deep. There's a whole subculture of coffee people and information out there,” he said. “And as my tastes have become a little bit more refined, I started to notice that I was just never satisfied with single serve coffee.”

When he developed the idea, Griffin met with coffee suppliers to see which product managed to be both portable and tasty. He ended up partnering with Denver favorite Huckleberry Roasters to offer an Ethiopian blend.

For the Bring Coffee team, the Innovation Challenge was an opportunity to flesh out the idea even further. Mentors could poke holes in the idea to help make the concept stronger.

“The mentorship was really great. It was nice to have a dedicated faculty member or business executive tied to us who was also focused on how to bring this business to market,” Griffin said. “That was really cool to have experienced individuals out there in the real world testing my product and company in what I think was a mostly unbiased way.”

Gilbride, who completed her Master of Business Administration at Regis in December, said the experience provided her with the opportunity to engage directly in strategic work.

“I really want to apply some of those MBA skills to more strategy and products, specifically” Gilbride said. “When the Innovation Challenge first came out looking for participants, I thought this could be a really cool way to learn some things and pick up ideas from mentors and get acquainted with some really, really smart founders here.” 

Regis junior Brett Foss, a business administration major, said the experience gave him an idea of how he might apply classroom concepts to a company.

“My goal for joining the Innovation Challenge in the first place was to take what I was learning within the classroom and apply it — not in like different scenarios or projects within class but something within the real world that could help me build my resume and give me experience as.”

Bring Coffee faced competition from four other businesses, who walked away with prizes of their own: 

  • Second place:10K Academy ($5,000 prize): Blake Wellington's 10K Academy offers a revolutionary management platform for student-athletes, demonstrating ingenuity and practicality in educational technology.
  • Third Place: Bake It With Sass ($2,000 Prize): Ruth Jackson's Bake It With Sass introduces an inclusive online baking community with ASL and English subtitles, embodying Regis University's commitment to accessibility and diversity.
  • $1,000 prize: Greener Grass: Freshman Easton Baier and his brother, Eli Baier, presented Greener Grass, offering Sustainability as a Service to lawn care companies through solar-powered equipment.
  • $1,000 prize: Yum Dum: Arrupe Jesuit High School seniors Julissa Fernandez, Krystal Martinez, Cristina Ramirez and Lorenzo Segovia presented a toy with sensory components intended to help blind and deaf dogs stay active.

As Bring Coffee moves forward with the Innovation Challenge prize in hand, the next step is to expand the product line with more roasters and flavors. To learn more about Bring Coffee, and to order coffee, visit bringcoffee.co.

group of people smile on stage

Bring Coffee, comprised of founder Michael Griffin and students Sierra Gilbride, Brett Foss and Kallie Welton, won the Innovation Challenge.