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I-Tri Students Present with All Their Heart and Soul  

Allison Vaughan, the founder of SoulFully Vegan, which operates two food trucks and has a restaurant in Berlin, Conn., walked away from Gilchrist Auditorium with a full plate.  

“I don’t think I’ve ever learned as much in one day, ever, ever,” she told the various groups of Innovation Trimester (I-Tri) students who presented to her on Friday, April 5.  

I-Tri students, all seniors, step away from their regular classes and daily schedule in their final term to offer solutions to challenges faced by local businesses and nonprofits. This year there are 16 in the program. 

SoulFully Vegan sought help in two areas: 

How can it leverage emerging social media platforms to connect with a broader audience and increase brand awareness? 

In what ways can it differentiate itself from competitors in the local market, fostering brand loyalty and repeat business? 

The students split into groups, some working on the first challenge, some on the second. The social media ideas included creating behind-the-scenes videos to “showcase the brand in an entertaining way,” continuing to leverage Instagram, interacting with customers via social media “to create a relationship,” establishing a social media internship position through a local college, and using a professional photographer for food shoots “to enhance the digital presentation” or partnering with the photography department at the University of Hartford, which one group contacted after coming up with the idea. 

A group that dealt with the second question suggested that SoulFully Vegan leverage Toast, a comprehensive restaurant point-of-sale and management system that the business uses, to create loyalty and fundraising programs as a way to “reward recurring customers and give back to the community.” As with most of the presentations, there was supporting evidence, in this case showing that many people regard loyalty programs as important.  

Though there would be an additional cost to having Toast managing that program, there is no cost involved in using a fundraising option on Toast. Since SoulFully Vegan already is involved with charitable giving, this would allow customers to get involved at no cost to the business. For instance, the student presenters explained, there is an “end of transaction” option, allowing a customer to round up the bill with that additional money going to a charity of SoulFully Vegan’s choice. Again, supporting evidence illustrated that people feel good when a company is charitable.  

Another group recommended that SoulFully Vegan use limited-time specials to “excite returning customers,” “distinguish itself” from competitors, and “increase brand loyalty.” The students also suggested seasonal specials, and the group went as far as making a vegan apple pie milkshake on the spot since one of Ms. Vaughan’s favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. She was handed a sample. “Don’t be upset if I steal this recipe,” she said with a laugh. 

After the I-Tri participants reflected on the experience of advising a real client, Ms. Vaughan told them she was proud of them. She said she was struck by how polished the presentations were. 

I-Tri SoulFully Vegan owner

I appreciate all of this work," Allison Vaughan told the I-Tri students. "It was high-level work and each of the presentations was the epitome of that.” 

“Something like that to me says, ‘Wow, you took the time to practice again and again and again,’” she said. “And this is very much the real world. SoulFully Vegan is my business, is what pays my bills, puts the food on the table, so you are impacting my life for real. Training wheels are off. This is the real thing. So I appreciate all of this work; it was high-level work and each of the presentations was the epitome of that.” 

The idea for the business came in 2020 when Ms. Vaughan, then in the corporate world, was working from home because of COVID-19. Her husband, Calvin, was diagnosed with extremely high cholesterol, and he was only in his late 30s. Something had to change. They went vegan, and he eventually was able to manage the high cholesterol through diet and not pills. Still, good vegan food was difficult to find, Ms. Vaughan said. They found that solution with SoulFully Vegan. 

“I cashed out my 401k. My parents thought I was out of mind,” she said. “We started the business with the first truck in May of ‘21. I had quit my job in February of ’21, hadn’t even sold a burger yet. We opened the second truck in October of ‘22 and the brick-and-mortar restaurant in November of ‘23.” 

At the end of the presentations, Ms. Vaughan encouraged  the students to continue to follow her on social media to see some of their suggestions implemented.  

The students will participate in two more major projects with local businesses. Each project is a surprise until their first visit with the client. But before they begin their next project, the students are analyzing the SoulFully Vegan project; their presentations were recorded. After viewing their team’s presentation, they were to reflect on how they worked as a team and their individual contributions and offer constructive criticism not only to their teammates, but also to themselves. 

Those participating in this year’s program are Mark Advena, Sylvia Barresi, Logan Elie, Leila Fournier, Julia Grant, Chloe Kahn, Nicole Levine, Hannah Lund, Alister MacLean, Lily Magliacano, Tahmir Murphy, Chelsea Ndzana-Zogo, Chichi Oreh, Jackie Ryckman, Emma Sage, and Charlotte Tobin. 




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