Fourth-generation Auburn Engineering student teams with All-SEC linebacker to create "grab and go" hot or cold beverage can

Published: Mar 27, 2024 9:30 AM

By Carla Nelson

Thomas Lester didn’t have time for his morning coffee as he rushed back to Auburn from a weekend visit with family in Florida. About two hours into his six-hour drive to make a 9 a.m. class, he had an idea.

“I thought, ‘I wish there was something I could just grab and heat up on the way out the door,’” said Lester, a sophomore in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), said. “There has to be a better way to integrate coffee into your morning routine, and that’s where the idea for Earlybird came from.”

Earlybird is a single-use canned beverage capable of heating faster than a Keurig. Through rapid interior heating, the product’s prototype can reach temperatures of 170 degrees within minutes, while the can’s insulated coating prevents burns. Lester’s idea impressed industry professional judges so much, he will compete with five other teams for up to $80,000 in startup capital at Friday’s Tiger Cage Student Business Idea Competition final round.

Other teams representing Auburn Engineering include AbGlo (Holli Michaels, engineering management, and Courtney Montague, computer science and software engineering), and ROME, or Roller to Optimize Material Efficiency (industrial and systems management students Alex Washburn, Jordan Snyder, Emily Glaze, Maddy McCutchin and Maddie Robison).

“There are all of these coffee companies selling tons of cold brew that’s ready to drink, but there’s nothing for the larger consumer base, which is hot and ready to drink,” Lester said. “I think it’s a great time to enter the market.”

Originally from Montgomery, Lester is a fourth-generation Auburn engineering student with a minor in Business-Engineering-Technology (BET). He found the combination of the ISE degree with the BET minor a perfect fit for his career path.

“I’m really interested in product development, and ISE definitely gives me the best tools to pursue that passion,” Lester said. “I've got a little book that I keep, and every time I have a new business idea, I write it down. I've got probably five or six right now that I’d like to pursue.”

There is currently a patent pending on the Earlybird can, which will be able to heat coffee, hot chocolate and tea.

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Eugene Asante

Auburn University football all-SEC linebacker Eugene Asante, a recent graduate in psychology who played football with Lester’s brother, believes in Earlybird so much that he has taken on the role as chief marketing officer.

“I really believe in the vision behind Earlybird,” Asante said. “Behind the leadership of Thomas Lester, we are well on our way to developing an affordable and sustainable product that will revolutionize the coffee game.”

Lester said Asante brings a lot of passion and energy to Earlybird.

“He’s very creative and great at branding,” he said. “He’s a real popular guy on campus and has a great following on social media. The partnership has been great.”

Lester and Asante are ready for the Tiger Cage finals but understand there is tough competition.

"We have a few tricks up our sleeves," he said. “We’ve got a whole other idea of how to spin off this product and really show the versatility of the idea.”

Presented by Auburn University’s New Venture Accelerator and the Harbert College of Business, Friday’s final round kicks off at 9 a.m. inside Horton-Hardgrave Hall’s Broadway Event and Space Theater. Awards are expected to be announced at 3:35 p.m.

Media Contact: Carla Nelson, cmn0023, 334.844.1404
Thomas Lester's Earlybird is a single-use canned beverage capable of heating faster than a Keurig.

Thomas Lester's Earlybird is a single-use canned beverage capable of heating faster than a Keurig.

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