Businessman Innovates Maple Industry

mapletapAROUND THE N.E.K. - Jack Beauparlant of West Danville has been maple-sugaring since he was ten years old. Over time, he's mastered the craft of tapping trees, growing familiar with its process and the tools needed for implementation.

Now studying entrepreneurship at Vermont Tech, Beauparlant saw a problem with this process, and decided to use a school assignment to make a change. "This whole maple- sugaring tool business started last Fall. I was in a class that was simply called 'Foundations of Entrepreneurship', and we had to do this business pitch competition, which was similar to a small-scale Shark Tank like you'd see on T.V. You had to come up with a business idea, validate it, pitch it to a group of judges or investors, and they pick you apart to see what they like about your business, and what they don't."

The problem Beauparlant recognized had to do with the actual tool used to tap trees, which he likes to describe as a set of pliers. "It takes a 90-degree maple spout, and one side goes into the tree, and the other side nineties and goes into the end of a small little tubing."

According to him, it's nearly impossible to push spouts into the tubing with only your hands, due to the tube's flared-fitting bottom. So what he did was create a tool that essentially pushes those spouts into the tubing, making the process much quicker and easier. Although there is a tool of this nature existing in the market currently, he said it's a one-size-fits-all mechanism, and in reality, all tubing fittings aren't the same. "I like to use the phrase that it takes three hands and a hip to run the thing. If you fumble around with it, it will work five times right and then the next seven times it won't. So it's just kind of a frustrating thing, and when you're replacing tens of thousands of spouts every year, time is of the essence, and it matters. So we're just trying to make everything a little more efficient."

For the assignment, Beauparlant decided to team up with his classmate Manny Aretakis from Pembroke, ME, who's studying Engineering and Manufacturing at the college. With Aretaki's background, Beauparlant knew he could successfully create the product. "I brought ideas to Manny, what it would look like, what it would do, and he took it from there. He made a CAD model, and 3D printed a plastic model before making it in aluminum."

The fact that the tool be aluminum was something important to Beauparlant from the start, as the metal is much lighter than steel. When walking miles through deep snow in the woods every day, not having to carry something heavy makes a big difference.

In February, Beauparlant and Aretakis brought their idea to LaunchVT Collegiate, which is a pitch competition for entrepreneurs of Vermont colleges and universities. Out of the six teams competing, their maple-tapping tool took first place, winning them $4,000 and a spot in the LaunchVT cohort in May.

At the cohort, winners will receive a prize of $75,000, which is a sum of money that Beauparlant and Aretakis intend to invest in the business. "After the competition in May, we'll see how we do, and then we'll get our money together and really hit hard with the final stages of prototyping. And after that we're going to contract all of our work out to a third-party machine shop, and then we'll start selling them."

When asked how he feels going into the competition, Beauparlant said he's confident. "You know there are some kinks we need to work out with the prototype, but I think we can only work out so many before we get a bunch out to people and let them tell us what they want to see changed. I feel confident with the validation of the product as far as being able to sell it."

Beauparlant says he's spoken with numerous maple-tappers, many of which have shown in interest in the product. However, at first many don't even realize there's a problem with the current tool because it's the only one in the market. "I like to use the analogy, if there was only a screw driver in the world and not a cordless, battery operated drill, people wouldn't have a problem with the screw driver because it was their only option. It's kind of one of those things that when you put something in someone's face that works a lot better, they're going to realize that what they were using wasn't really working all that great."

What started as a school assignment has grown into something much more. Beauparlant has been working for much of his life, opening his own landscaping business, Cuttin' it Close, when he was only 12 years old. He now works 60 to 70 hours per week landscaping in the summer, works full-time maple-tapping in the winter, and goes to school full-time throughout the year. Needless to say, the college student has a full plate in front of him and certainly wasn't anticipating another job.

Nevertheless, Beauparlant described his devotion to the product, saying that it outweighs all of the stress that accompanies the start-up of a new business. "It all happened quick, but I realized that I do want to be busy, I want to be making money, and I want to be out there in the public selling stuff. I think I'll look back and think it's awesome."

Beauparlant and Aretakis will continue to fine-tune their product until the LanchVT cohort on May 17th. At this point, the team isn't releasing any photos of the product, as they are still in the patenting process.

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