UST Business Students Find Inspiration in...A Tomato Fight

Three Opus College of Business students have taken their entrepreneurial, marketing and business skills to new and interesting heights by organizing 15,000 people to throw 200,000 pounds of overripe tomatoes.

Why? Well, it might be said that Kamal Mohamed, Kevin Walker and Tom Broich have a sixth sense about such things: They see red people. The trio of young entrepreneurs are the driving force behind Midwest Tomato Fest. It's a planned daylong celebration that includes food and music set for July 31 at the Afton Alps Recreation Area and will culminate with tons of fruit-turned-ammunition being deployed in a sodden, crimson-soaked donnybrook. - Jim Anderson, Star Tribune

Mohamed, with one year left at St. Thomas, along with Walker and Broich—recent UST grads—have been planning this day long celebration since January, when Mohamed learned about the original Spanish tomato fight during a J-term trip to India. La Tomatina, held every year in Buñol, Spain, is a village-wide tomato fight that has inspired similar events all over the world and intrigued Mohamed enough to bring the idea back to his roommates in St. Paul.

Since then, the three men have needed plenty of business savvy and ingenuity to put together this large event. From attracting sponsors and gathering insurance to finding a source for tons of tomatoes and a way to clean up after the fight, Mohamed, Walker and Broich have spent the last few months planning and working diligently.

These UST students are taking everything into consideration, including the social aspects of this event. In order to refrain from wasting perfectly good tomatoes, the group found a vendor who will provide overripe fruit past its expiration date. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Fight Hunger MN, an organization working to end hunger in our state. Also, every participant who brings a canned good for donation to the event will receive a free t-shirt.

As for cleanup, special trucks with showers and blowers will allow participants to hose off the residue. A Bobcat loader will clear the other remnants of battle in the parking lot.

Along with being biodegradeable, the acidic nature of tomatoes will leave the site cleaner than it was before, Broich said. "Once it's washed away, it actually leaves asphalt sparkling clean."

While these students don’t believe their futures lie in tomatoes, they are taking advantage of an inventive idea while creating their own opportunity in an inopportune job market. Sounds like true entrepreneurship.

"What we like about this is we've been able to minimize our costs and set up things with businesses that if it all goes south, we can cancel on most of our expenses," Walker said. "What we see is potential for the next few years. We see something that can grow. We see something that is a lot bigger than just a one-year event.

"I don't know if tomatoes are my life's destiny, but with these two guys, I can definitely see something pretty successful."

Grace Hertel is a marketing intern here at the Opus College of Business.