Available to buy at Bridge Cafe and Rodin College House, Rebel bars may at first appear similar to any other granola bar. However, local company Rebel Venture’s uniquely nutritious granola bars have resulted from the collaboration of Penn undergraduates and alumni and Philadelphia high school students, in the hopes of creating job opportunities and promoting healthier diets.
Penn graduate and professor Jarrett Stein first conceived the idea for Rebel bars inadvertently, when trying to engage and make his students at George W. Pepper Middle School in Philadelphia care about nutrition. After his students agreed that their school needed to offer healthier snacks for sale, Stein broke his students into two groups, which then competed to create the healthiest granola bar.
“This was the most engaging class I taught,” he said. “I figured, if this is engaging kids in school, it should engage kids out of school.”
After the successful project, Stein and his students founded the company Rebel Ventures, where they continued to perfect their healthy granola bar recipe, which now consists solely of six ingredients: rolled oats, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, honey, cinnamon and salt. The project is run by the Urban Nutrition Initiative and is focused on creating empowering jobs for high school students.
“We really want students involved in every aspect of the business, from social media to blogging to product testing,” Stein said. “That ownership factor is really important.”
In addition to providing Philadelphia students with empowering jobs, students working for Rebel Ventures learn a variety of life skills, with workshops on building resumes and creating five-year plans. Employees who struggle academically also attend tutoring from Penn students.
“I realized how hard it is to have a job. It’s helped me mature, it was life changing,” said Tiffany , a high school junior and one of three business directors. “Once you have a job you look at things differently.”
In fact, Rebel bars are subsidized and sold for two dollars at locations such as Bridge Café, so that bars can be sold for a cheaper price of only fifty cents at schools in Philadelphia.
“At Penn, there are opportunities for healthy snacks everywhere. On 52nd Street, there aren’t,” Stein said. “Not only are we providing that healthy snack but we’re also making it affordable for people who otherwise wouldn’t have healthy snacks.”
To assist with the production of granola bars, Rebel Ventures has also employed Penn undergraduates. Through programs such as the Wharton Social Impact Initiative and various Penn courses and independent studies, students assist in running multiple aspects of Rebel Ventures, including marketing, packaging and delivery.
“The analytical frameworks I learned at Wharton have helped me establish systems and processes here and teach them to the kids,” said Wharton junior Matthew DeGagne, Rebel's chief operations officer. “In the same breath, you can’t really know what something is like until you actually try it out. Working here is really complementary to what we are learning in school.”
Penn students also describe the feelings of reward and satisfaction from working in a hands-on environment at Rebel Ventures.
“I really feel like I am making a difference,” Wharton senior Amanda Langhorne, the chief marketing officer, said. “My main goal is that, regardless of whether we’ve made a granola bar or not, I want to know that I’ve left an impact on their lives.”
In the future, Rebel Ventures hopes to expand and spread the word about their business. The company faces obstacles as their major source of clients, Penn students, prepares to leave for the summer. As a result, Stein and his coworkers are looking into forming new connections with Penn students and opportunities to ship Rebel Bars.
“It’s hard to downplay how critical Penn support is at this stage in our business,” Stein said.