Learning to be a social entrepreneur

Derrell Jackson ’01


Spring 2011

Missy Kuiper Jackson and Derrell Jackson with a Guatemalan coffee grower

Missy Kuiper Jackson and Derrell Jackson with a Guatemalan coffee grower

For Derrell Jackson ’01, the first important step in a career as a social entrepreneur came through a Calvin-brokered business internship at office furniture company Herman Miller. He was assigned to the communications and marketing department and learned the ropes from another Calvin grad, Bruce Buursma ’73

“Bruce was a great mentor to me,” said Jackson. “I learned how to present myself well in business settings, to network and sell myself and my ideas.”

Jackson went on to work for a variety of public relations firms, businesses and not-profits during the years after graduation, often staying in contact with Herman Miller (at times as a client) until he was hired by the company to do sponsorship and trade show marketing a little over a year ago.

The second step was in a graduate school marketing class in which the assignment was to promote an all-in-one coffee maker that would also direct profits toward coffee growers in Central America.

“I wanted to find a way to meld my business training, faith commitment and personal mission interests,” said Jackson. “When the class was finished, I asked if there was anyone who wanted to help me build this business from the ground up.”

That desire led to the formation of Bean By Bean, an e-commerce and personal delivery direct trade coffee business that had as a central goal to provide the Guatemalan farmers they bought from a fair and livable wage. 

Bean By Bean affiliated with local coffee roasters and international mission agencies to create a market for the beans grown by the Guatemalan farmers Derrell and his wife and business partner, Missy Kuiper Jackson ’01 (they became acquainted at Calvin as he tutored her in Spanish), had come to know.

“We did the roasting here and gradually built up the number of pounds of coffee we could handle and move to market,” he said.

In the process, the Jacksons learned much about coffee, the industry, the complicated process from grower to customer and how to connect a personal calling to a specific business venture.

“I didn’t even drink coffee prior to starting Bean By Bean,” Jackson said. “I think the only time I drank coffee was at Calvin to help me get through exams. But I became a coffee drinker and a student of the process and I learned so much.”

Jackson said it was a humbling experience to work closely with Guatemalan growers and to see how even a small business like Bean By Bean could make an important impact on the communities involved. Typically after transporting, exporting, roasting, packaging and marketing occurs, the grower makes a very small amount per pound. Jackson wanted to change the equation in favor of the growers, yet still maintain a viable business.

Bean By Bean was on a steady growth path when the recent economic downturn caused Jackson to merge the business with Paradise Bound, a ministry non-profit active in Guatemala.

“We are excited to see our work carried on by Paradise Bound so that the farmers continue receiving the income they deserve for their coffee beans,” he said. “And we learned an incredible amount from the experience. I am eager to find the next opportunity.”

He is glad to work at Herman Miller, a company with a commitment to service-related endeavors. In addition, he would love to see young Calvin grads network about ideas and experiences related to social entrepreneurship.

“What’s fun for me is trying to figure out the right equation that makes the entire project work on all levels—profit, fulfilling work, integrated mission,” he said. “I am open and eager to use my skills on the next exciting idea.”