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Students Start Online Grocery Store

Belmont students Jonathan Murrell and Bruno Silva are delivering groceries to students’ dorm rooms through their online care package business that aims to save students time and money.

The friends, both juniors on Belmont’s tennis team, joined Murrell’s brother James to begin MyDormFood.com last fall. The company delivered some 60 packages in the winter, before pulling its website to revamp it.  Now back online this fall, MyDormFood.com hopes parents will use its services to send custom-made care packages to their children and students choose the door-step deliveries over off-campus trips and expensive convenience stores.

(left to right) James Murrell and Belmont students Bruno Silva & Jonathan Murrell are co-owners of MyDormFood.com.

Jonathan said he pitched several ideas for new businesses to Dr. Jeff Cornwall, director of Belmont’s Center for Entrepreneurship, but had trouble narrowing his focus until an epiphany with friends.

“One of my friends was getting in the car and eating a PowerBar. She said she paid $3 for it, and I knew it cost half as much at the grocery store. I realized college students were paying super high prices just because of the convenience of having stores on or near campus,” said Jonathan. “MyDormFood is identical to grocery store prices. You will break even using us, but you will save time because you don’t have to leave your dorm room.”

Bruno, James and Jonathan own equal parts of the company, each contributing $2,000 to get their enterprise rolling. Belmont’s Center for Entreprenuership awarded Bruno and Jonathan with the 2011 Outstanding Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award and $5,000 after they won the Belmont Student Business Plan Competition sponsored by Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC. James won second place and $500 in Lipscomb University’s Elevator Pitch Competition in the spring.

The trio works from the Murrell family’s Franklin home where basement walls are stocked with snack foods, beverages, over-the-counter medicines, personal hygiene products and other dorm essentials from retail warehouse clubs. Customers can go online and select individual products to create their boxes to be delivered to residence halls nationwide.

“We teach them to bootstrap, so that is why a lot of businesses begin in a bedroom or the basement of a home,” Cornwall said, “because it is really hard to get money early on, and it allows them to really get their business model right because they start locking in expenses.”

This summer, they have used online advertisements and direct mailing to parents as well as on-campus flyers and vendor fairs to appeal to students. They are recruiting students at other universities across the country to give them a presence at schools outside of Tennessee. The campus representatives hand out promotional flyers and receive a commission based on the usage of their discount codes. MyDormFood.com already has connections at Middle Tennessee State University, Austin Peay State University, University of Tennessee at Martin and Martin Methodist College in addition to Belmont.

“We may not be able to do much marketing on campus or get in freshmen orientation packages,” due to non-compete clauses in preexisting vendor contracts, Jonathan said. “But sending packages to the mail room, anyone can send mail. We are just saving parents and students time and money.”

He has taken a leave from Belmont tennis to oversee MyDormFood.com’s website, customer service and products.  Bruno, a junior studying international business and finance, handles the company’s accounting and inventory. James graduated from Lipscomb in May with a degree in marketing.