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Teamwork brews up success for press

By Paul Mayne, Western News

Andrey Khramtsov, Alan Kalbfleisch and Kai Chen

Paul Mayne // Western News

Meeting through Western’s Engineers Without Borders, from left, Andrey Khramtsov, Alan Kalbfleisch and Kai Chen each brought their individual skills to the table in helping to take Kalbfleisch’s portable coffee brewer invention to the point to mass production.

If anyone were to tout the benefits of opening yourself up to new voices, it would be Alan Kalbfleisch.

Last summer, at the halfway point of earning his master’s degree in Engineering, Kalbfleisch satisfied his interest in learning more about business by taking the weeklong Business Acumencourse at the Ivey Business School. Since then, his life has taken an abrupt turn from engineering student to business entrepreneur, with more than $120,000 in public and government support brewing up his success.

“We (the class) discussed how to get an idea from paper to something,” said Kalbfleisch, a long-time home coffee brewer who had an idea for how to address his dissatisfaction with brew-on-the-go gadgets. “I starting thinking about it. I put a couple of hours of work into it. It was $20. So if it failed, then so be it, it was only $20.”

But it did not fail. Instead, the Pascal Press now sits on the rim of success.

Described as a “coffee press that combines full immersion and pressure brewing of coffee for coffee lovers on the go,” the device brews coffee in under one minute, separates spent coffee grounds preventing overbrewing and insulates with doublewalled construction. It is a solution to a guy tired of drinking bitter coffee from traditional travel presses.

A mechanical and thermofluids engineer by training, Kalbfleisch had the know-how when it came to the engineering behind his invention, but his business and marketing sense needed help. Enter Kai Chen and Andrey Khramtsov.

coffee_press2

Chen, currently completing an MSc at Ivey, is the brains behind the business plan. Khramtsov, who just completed his degree in Chemical Engineering and will be starting an MSc at Ivey in January, is responsible for the branding, website design and Kickstarter graphics.

The team initially met through Engineers Without Borders at Western. Earlier this summer, their Kickstarter campaign garnered $60,000 and, earlier this month, the team received a matching $60,000 from the Ontario Centres of Excellence SmartStart Seed Fund.

“With this new funding it allows us to speed things up a bit and start looking into other products,” said Kalbfleisch, adding the first run of the Pascal Press should begin delivery in March 2017, if not sooner.

Kalbfleisch is quick to laud the opportunities he leveraged at Western, which led him to focus his efforts on his invention full time – from the support of Propel, Western’s entrepreneurship accelerator, to the continued mentorship of Ivey professor Darren Meister to, especially, his Engineers Without Borders teammates. Without them, Pascal Press may still have been a $20 class project.

When asked to offer advice to Western students, Kalbfleisch’s added no matter if they are undergraduate or graduate students, “you want to get involved across campus because there are a lot of cool things and smart people at Western.”

“You can join any club, even in your masters, like I did. There are a lot of opportunities and funding out there for students. Be open to learning new things; that’s why you’re at school. Learn as much as you can, not just from the classes, but from other students and places on campus.”

Chen echoed his comments.

“We have a consumer product being brought to market very quickly, so you can easily imagine if a Computer Science student got together with an Ivey student they might have an app as opposed to a coffee press,” Chen said. “In all the various places you can cross-pollinate between the faculties, I’m sure innovation happens. We just happen to stumble across the coffee press. There is a lot of support here. Be aware of what is around you.”