KALAMAZOO — A pair of Western Michigan University students will have a chance to get hands-on business experience by running professional beverage brand Bronconess Wine.
The program offers two $5,000 scholarships yearly, or a total of $50,000 over the five years it’s been in existence.
“This program really allows us to learn business by doing business,” said Megan Rooney, a fourth-year WMU finance student who works as the public relations coordinator on the seven-person Bronconess Wine team. “It has been very exciting to be a part of a team and watch the brand grow.”
Bronconess Wine currently offers four products: a cabernet sauvignon, a white blend and a red blend produced on the Tremonte Vineyard of Chile, and a peach bubbly from the St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw. All revenue WMU students earn from sales goes back into growing the Bronconess brand and funding future student scholarships.
“The students are not raising money for themselves,” said John Green, a serial craft beverage entrepreneur, the former executive chairman of Grand Rapids-based Founders Brewing Co., and mentor for Bronconess students. “They are doing this to genuinely help other students that are in need and could benefit from this scholarship.”
Since 2019, WMU students have sold 26,729 bottles of wine and expanded the product into more than 100 stores and restaurants across Michigan, including University Roadhouse, Dime Store and Meijer stores.
“Bronconess Wine is about celebrating the grit that Western students have, and that alignment resonates with consumers,” Rooney said.
To be awarded the scholarship, students must submit a five-minute video explaining how they persevered through a difficult challenge to honor Bronconess’ values of courage, enthusiasm and grit. If selected, the student recipients take a five-semester-long class about brand management in the WMU Leadership and Business Strategy department.
Kamola Makhmudova, a fourth-year finance student from Uzbekistan, is one of this year’s scholarship recipients.
“Coming here and going through the pandemic away from my family was very difficult, and the scholarship made me feel acknowledged and seen,” Makhmudova said. “I wanted to give back to the community, and that’s why I joined the team.”
This year, students are launching a new product, a raspberry bubbly, inspired by the success of the peach bubbly, which launched in 2020 and now accounts for more than half of Bronconess Wine’s sales.
“The peach bubbly has been pretty successful because it is that sweeter kind of bubbly wine that’s more trendy now,” Rooney said.
The raspberry bubbly is described as having “notes of fresh raspberry and a bubbly finish” that “pairs nicely with cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, and other cream-based desserts,” according to a statement from Bronconess Wine.
Nikki Miller, a fourth-year WMU business student and Bronconess Wine marketing and social media coordinator, said the brand has been focused on growing its Instagram presence and marketing the raspberry bubbly to alums.
“We want to show how you can help students continue their education and give scholarships through a bottle of wine,” Miller said. “We are hoping that message will hit home with alumni – a good tasting wine that has meaning behind it.”
Moving forward, Bronconess Wine also plans to expand into the Chicago market and continue supporting students through scholarships.
“I remember seeing the Bronconess students when I was earlier in college, and I was really inspired by their courage and enthusiasm,” Makhmudova said. “I always wanted to join and help be part of a team that helped a brand grow.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that Rooney is not a former scholarship recipient, and that the Bronconess Wine team includes seven people.
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