Topic: Miller College of Business

November 5, 2008

A former physician who transformed a coffee shop from a vanity project for a Saudi Arabian princess into a highly successful business across the Middle East was honored as one of the nation's top entrepreneurs Nov. 1 by Ball State University.

Jason Araghi received the Ascent Award from Ball State's Entrepreneurship Center for developing a business that serves organic coffee, smoothies and pastries in war zones on more than 70 American military bases around the Middle East.

"Being an entrepreneur is the way to be," he said. "That is my spirit. I have a desire to make a difference in the lives of the people that we serve."

After moving to Saudi Arabia in 1995 as a physician to work for the House of Saud, Araghi was asked to build a coffee shop in a princess' lavish furniture store as a place where men and women could socialize.

After bringing his brother into the project, they created a coffee shop that quickly became popular place among American soldiers. Over the last 13 years, the company added stores throughout the Middle East. Most locations are portable 40-foot shipping containers converted to resemble an American coffeehouse. The company, which is headquartered in California and grosses more then $20.8 million, is expanding into the United Stated market by opening coffee shops near military bases.

Araghi was one of three finalists to attend the ceremony at the Conrad Indianapolis and make presentations to graduates of Ball State's entrepreneurship program.

The other finalists were Lyndon "Duke" Hanson, a co-founder of Crocs Inc., a company that sells the lightweight resin shoes, and Donald and Susan Southerland, owners of Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream company with franchises in 49 states.

"The alumni had a tough decision in selecting a winner because all three honorees are outstanding examples of entrepreneurial success," said Paul Staton, a Ball State alumnus and president and chief executive officer of Kaduceus Medical. "One area where Jason Araghi stood out was that he saw an opportunity and with precise planning found a way to meet the market's demand."
The process of finding an Ascent Award winner began earlier this year with a coast-to-coast search for 10 entrepreneurs who exhibit the spirit of Ball State's Entrepreneurship Center.