Bronconess Offers Students True Taste of Running a Business  | WMU Alumni Skip to main content

Bronconess Offers Students True Taste of Running a Business 

Cheers to the latest Haworth College of Business Leadership and Business Strategy students who are helping the brand Bronconess charge forward with the release of a new sparkling wine!

2023 Bronconess team
2023 Bronconess team members outside Heritage Hall 

Continuing the partnership with St. Julian Winery, Raspberry Bubbly is the second sparkling wine released by Bronconess. It joins Peach Bubbly, also produced by St. Julian, as well as three varietals through Tremonte Vineyard of Chile: Bronconess Red Blend, White Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon. Collaborating with distributor Imperial Beverage, the portfolio launched in 100 stores and restaurants across Michigan, including University Roadhouse, Dime Store, Meijer stores, Harding’s markets, MEGA-BEV stores and several others. 

“The Bronconess wine project is all about experiential learning, and it has been a privilege for Imperial Beverage to have been part of this project from day one,” said Brice Dowling, wine category manager, Imperial Beverage. “I have been continuously amazed by what the students have accomplished with each step of the process. They have been imaginative, resourceful and relentless. Everyone involved with Haworth College of Business and WMU should be proud of and excited about this program—it is truly a differentiator!” 

Raspberry Bubbly Label
Bronco Raspberry Bubbly label by Josh Feltman, an art education major at WMU

The Bronconess name derives from how students involved in the project envision the identity of Broncos. “Bronconess is about a mindset of courage and enthusiasm in challenging situations,” said Sylvan Benton (B.B.A. ′22), a past student team leader for the wine brand.

This hands-on program helps ensure preparation for the job market, offering students critical experience in everything from logistics to collaboration to marketing.  

“In the leadership and business strategy program, we say experience is our best teacher,” said Dr. Derrick McIver, associate professor of management and co-director of the Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy. “Bronconess provides a special opportunity for our students to learn by running a real wine brand.”

All proceeds from Bronconess go directly back to WMU in the form of scholarships. Since its inception in 2018, the program has awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to students like Devon Kelly, slated to graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration from Western in spring 2023. 

Wine with a Worthy Impact

Devon Kelly chose to attend Western Michigan University for two reasons. The first was the culture and personality of WMU’s student body. He toured the campus for the first time during the Medallion Scholarship competition and was amazed by the kindness and helpfulness of everyone he met. “This made a huge positive impact on me, and I continue to see how awesome Western’s student body is as a whole,” he said. 

Devon and President Montgomery
Devon with WMU President Edward Montgomery

Secondly, Devon appreciated the diverse opportunities WMU offered. He was not only drawn to the smaller class sizes and campus that WMU and the Lee Honors College provided, but also the vast amount of extracurricular activities, clubs and experiential activities available. One of his most memorable experiences was his participation in the Bronconess program as a sophomore.

“The idiom goes that the only way to truly understand business is to run a business, and I wholeheartedly believe in this statement because my experience as part of the Bronconess program drastically improved my understanding of small businesses and the business world in general,” Devon said. “I was able to learn about and contribute to almost every part of running a business, and specifically a wine business, by working on sales, IT, marketing and product design for the brand.”

I cannot describe enough how instrumental this opportunity was to my growth and business knowledge,” he continued, “I am so grateful for it and the scholarship money that it generated for me and many other WMU students.”

Receiving a Bronconess scholarship helped give Devon the confidence and inspiration he needed to stay the course, even when his plate felt a little too full.

“The feeling had started to creep in that my efforts in a variety of academic and extracurricular experiences were not worth it or that it would just be a lot easier if I gave up a few of them,” he said. “However, being awarded the Bronconess scholarship for showcasing sustained courage re-invigorated me to continue and helped me realize that my hard work was worth it. Secondly, the financial benefit I received was incredible, as it took a large weight of potential debt and financial worries off my shoulders for a while.”

Outside of Bronconess, Devon has taken advantage of several activities while at WMU, such as the Business Association of Mentors (peer-to-peer mentorship program), Delta Sigma Pi (business fraternity) and Starting Gate (student business accelerator program). Other career-readiness experiences that have helped him achieve his goals as a student and will serve him well after graduation include:

  • Virtual externship at Thomson Reuters
  • Economic development internship with the Kinexus Group in Paw Paw, MI
  • Delta Sigma Pi LEAD conferences in Des Moines, Iowa and Chicago, IL
  • Financial analytics internship with LBS’s Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy
  • Competed (and won) the ACG Cup of West Michigan student case competition
  • Data analytics consulting internship with Plante Moran in Southfield, MI
  • Virtual sustainability study abroad experience with Dr. Timothy Plamer in Bangalore, India
  • Semester-long study abroad at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Finishing up an honors thesis through the Economics Department on the costs/benefits of solar energy siting in the Kalamazoo area

Devon 2

Devon’s active engagement as a student has led to many formative moments; one that stands out is his role as a team member and leader in his main leadership and business strategy classes.

“This experience forced me to vastly improve my business acumen and my leadership and project management skills, as well as just generally break open my naturally introverted shell to help my team excel in these projects,” he said. “There were many difficulties that my peers and I faced during these classes, including ambiguous problems, challenging teammates or teammate situations, and large-scale project and presentation management. These challenges forced me to grow, gave me an incredible amount of confidence in myself and my abilities, and led me to being a more prepared business student and professional.”

After graduation, Devon plans to work as a business and economics analyst in the energy/electricity generation industry. Outside of WMU and his studies, he is training for the Ziegler Kalamazoo half-marathon in late April, volunteers as a literacy tutor-in-training and ESL tutor assistant for the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, and enjoys reading, working out and traveling to new places.

He shared these final words about how donors make a difference in the lives of current and future Broncos: “I’ve spoken with many WMU students who have worked one and sometimes two jobs throughout the entirety of their time at WMU to support themselves. I have spoken with international students who’ve traveled the globe to attend WMU, parents going back to school to improve their and their kids’ situations, and individuals who have not had close to an ideal childhood. All of them work harder than most people would ever need to for the chance to go to college and they are incredibly grateful for the opportunities WMU has given them.”

Students or alumni, do you have a scholarship impact story you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear it! Submit your stories to