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By Kelsey Wagner
Eller Marketing ’12

Student and sisters

Eller MIS student John Leavitt with Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and Prayerfully Popped merchandise.
Photo courtesy Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual

Since the economy tanked in 2008, the environment for small businesses has been especially tough. Call it divine intervention, but one new Tucson venture is off to a good start: Prayerfully Popped. Eller students are one ingredient in its recipe of innovation and local resources that have yielded promising results. The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration launched Prayerfully Popped: Corn from the Cloister, which sells flavored gourmet popcorn online and, on a limited basis, in a retail store that will be staffed by Eller students.

Prayerfully Popped’s relationship with Eller started last semester when the Sisters realized that demand was shrinking for their altar beads and handmade vestment. Between the financial crisis, high expenses, and aging facilities, it was clearly time to try something new.

The Sisters approached Eller vice dean Leslie Eldenburg for help. As word spread of the nuns in need, a few students thought they might be of service. “My accounting professor, Jennifer Marshall, heard from Professor Eldenburg and told my class about the nuns’ needs,” said master’s in MIS student John Leavitt. “In that class, every student needed to help start a new local business. Being a Catholic student and fifth-generation Tucsonan, I thought the sisters were a great match for me, and I helped form a group with four other accounting students.”

Leavitt, now a member of Prayerfully Popped’s board of directors, also helps manage the company that he helped launch with a team that includes undergraduate students Megan McConnaughey, Christopher Wheelock, Daniel Stone, and Dustin Damashek.

Along with consultants Sarah Caniglia and her 5K9 Consulting, Inc. partner Cindy Griffith, the team developed a business plan for an easy-to-produce, easy-to-package, low-cost product that would survive the financial crisis. “Monastic products are recession-proof,” said Caniglia. “People will buy the product because they know the money will help the nuns.”

The company launched on September 1, 2011, and has already generated buzz internationally. The Sisters hope to make enough money to sustain their monastery, and a little extra to give back to local nonprofits. The nuns laugh about the idea of their new business: “It’s probably one of the most unusual projects because it’s not overtly religious,” Sister Joan said.

Sister Lucia Anne Le added, “This is fun for me, and I have a new challenge.”