Growing up in Philadelphia, grabbing breakfast, lunch, and snacks to and from school has become a deeply ingrained behavioral pattern. The corner stores that provide these foods (chips, sodas, candy, and hoagies) are everywhere and usually do not carry healthier options.
Kids have free access to breakfast, lunch, and snack at school. Unfortunately too few kids eat this nutritious food.
Kids, in almost all instances, make the final choice of what they will eat. This choice is ownership, and one of the first and few things kids can control. Adults are the authority determining what foods are available for kids to eat. Adults have a tendency to prioritize profit over kids health. So we rebel. To rebel means to resist authority. We believe that kids want to be healthy, we just need to listen to them, value them, and amplify their voice. We believe that through entrepreneurship kids can get kids what they want. Rebel Ventures is a youth-run business creating healthy deliciousness by, with, and for kids.
Recognizing the injustice in our current food system, Rebel Ventures seeks to cook by a different recipe. Radical creativity, courageous optimism, and tenacious hard work form the foundation of our business model for the creation of a healthier community.
Rebel Ventures sells affordable products that create healthier communities. Our business employs local high school students, leverages partnerships with local organizations, and retails products in our local stores and institutions. The idea is to run a business to grow the number of high-quality jobs available for high school students, increase the amount of enriching mentorship opportunities for experts, amplify our exposure to good food education, and expand our access to delicious and nutritious foods.
Rebel Ventures is a youth-driven operation, anchored by professional staff and mentors. High-school, college, and graduate students learn by doing – honing their entrepreneurial skills together. This diverse collaboration creates a potent environment for teaching and learning. As a crew, we keep each other focused and motivated through a system that fosters peer accountability. Among the high school students, a few are elected leaders, which comes with increased responsibility and compensation.
The Rebel Ventures staffing model is a crew of 6 high-school students, one part-time staff person, and department specific volunteer mentors.
Our business is made up of 6 core business departments- operations, marketing, sales, research and development, accounting, and design. Each department is staffed by an individual HS student (executive is co-staffed by HS leader(s) and part-time staff). The high-school students rotate through the departments, learning a diverse set of skills through one-on-one training and mentorship. The HS crew members work to master specific job-related functions (inventory, video editing, etc) and earn greater compensation for mastering these activities. Each department is also supported by one volunteer expert mentor, usually a college/graduate student or professional. These mentors are a significant value-add to Rebel Ventures, but the business can function sustainably without them.
The standard Rebel Ventures staffing schedule is 9 hrs/wk for HS students (3 days, 3 hrs/day), 10 hrs/wk for HS leader(s) (1 extra hour for executive responsibilities), and 20 hrs/wk for part-time staff.
Like any other businesses, the primary costs we incur are labor, supplies, and facilities. Using a partnership approach we work to decrease our costs as much as possible in all these categories.
When choosing supplies (like ingredients, packaging, etc), we always seek the best possible product we can find. We consider factors such as where an ingredient is grown, what types of techniques were used to produce the ingredient, and how transparent the supplies are in their treatment of workers.
Our production facility is the Center for Culinary Enterprises, and we deeply value our partnership with the CCE and the entire Enterprise Center staff.
For Rebel Ventures research and development, we work with academic partners at both the university and high-school level, working with our peers in food psychology labs at Penn and at culinary arts vocational programs in the Career and Technical Education academics in the Philadelphia school district.
We don’t spend money on marketing. Instead, we build in the documentation of our work into our operational plan and share these experiences with our customers through our social media and website. Since our crew is also our key customer demographics, we also encourage Word-of-Mouth marketing and outreach to our own networks.
Our product pricing strategy is based on the idea that healthy food, created with respect, should be affordable to everyone. This is the Rebel Ventures’ business. Our prices are similar to the competing snack foods in the markets we target, meaning we often sell below our cost of production.
At its core, Rebel Ventures is an educational activity. We learn about the food system by competing in the real-world competitive food marketplace- our pedagogy is deep engagement through projects, problem-solving, and partnership. Some problems are concrete, such as how to calculate and determine the nutritional content of a food product and create a nutrition label. Some problems are abstract, such as examining the variables and making a determination on whether to purchase conventionally-grown pumpkin seeds from the US or organic seeds from China (we chose US grown). To examine these issues we research, share knowledge, seek out expertise, and make decisions democratically.
Our partnership strategy exists for several reasons. Most importantly we believe that in the long-term, better outcomes are created when they are informed by diverse perspectives. This means that the products we sell will taste better and generate a greater impact if instead of being created by one individual or group, they are created by a team of high-school students (who live in the community the products are sold in), college students (who are learning about public health), and seasoned restauranteurs (who have vast experience launching food products into the marketplace). These types of partnerships range from working with an elementary school art teacher and his class to create Rebel Bar posters for the school hallways, to visiting business students at Morgan State University to enhance our marketing strategy, to engaging a retired journalist to support our videography instruction. We also believe that partnerships, if planned with intentionality and respect, are a long-term cost-savings strategy as they are built on sharing assets for mutual benefit.
All high-school students working with Rebel Ventures receive academic mentorship, professional skills development (public speaking, resume/cover letter writing, networking), and college access support.
Every week at our full crew meetings, the leader(s) facilitate a open converation called ‘real talk’, which each crew member shares a ‘pro’ and ‘grow’ for their peers related to their behavior and performance with RV. Every two weeks individual crew members complete a ‘progress report’ which is a tool used to provide anonymous feedback for our professionalism and performance. The ratings from these reports are used to better inform our professional development.
It was the spring of 2010 in a health class run by the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative (AUNI) at Pepper Middle School when a group of ten 8th graders came up with the idea for a project to create and sell a healthy snack to their peers. A small group of Penn students engaged in academically-based community service were brought on board to help start this classroom-based business, and a granola bar business was born. The first product, the Far Bar, included ingredients like apple sauce and nutmeg. The name of the bar was in reference to the long-lasting energy gained from consuming a whole grain product- the Far Bar will take you farther.
In 2010-11, students continued to create and sell healthy snacks to their peers at Pepper. This time, a class of 35 7th graders was split into two teams (Dynamity and Vitaminlicious) that competed against each other to run a better business. The students occupied rotating roles with specific responsibilities key to operating a successful enterprise.
While healthy snack entrepreneurs worked inside Pepper classrooms, outside the building a different group of students took a field trip to the nearby Eastwick Community Garden. They returned to Pepper inspired, formed into a crew calling themselves the Southwest Child Rebel Gardeners (SCRG) and built an orchard and garden with 20 raised beds.
Over the summer the older SCRG students were hired through AUNI’s youth development program to maintain the garden and sell their produce at nearby farmers markets. Southwest Child Rebel Gardeners became too long a name to write on all our signage, so we shortened it to Rebel Gardeners.
After the school district closed Pepper and the land was sold, it became impossible for RG to continue maintaining the garden. A decision was made to transition the focus of RG work from gardening to entrepreneurship, building off of the successful granola venture founded at Pepper. In another name change, the Rebel Gardeners became the Rebel Ventures crew, a small group of high school freshman and sophomores who worked on research and development of recipes, marketing strategies, accounting systems, and distribution plans in the basement kitchen at the People’s Emergency Center in West Philly.
In spring 2013, Rebel Ventures moved operations to the Center for Culinary Enterprises, where our kitchen R&D operations are currently housed.
Cannuscio, C. C., Weiss, E. E., & Asch, D. A. (2010). The contribution of urban foodways to health disparities. Journal of Urban Health, 87(3), 381-393.