Straight from Italy: Smith student’s new company helps bring olive oil from Italy to customers stateside

  • Libellula olive oil comes in a wooden box. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A ceramic carafe is included when you adopt a olive tree from Libellula. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Libellula olive oil GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Libellula olive oil GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Libellula olive oil GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Julia Franchi Scarselli, who is the owner of Libellula, dips bread in olive oil in her dorm room at Smith College, Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Libellula olive oil GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Julia Franchi Scarselli, who is the owner of Libellula, displays her product in her dorm room at Smith College last week. A ceramic carafe is included for customers who adopt an olive tree from Libellula. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS PHOTOS

  • Julia Franchi Scarselli, who is the owner of Libellula, displays her product in her dorm room at Smith College. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

@kate_ashworth
Published: 4/2/2017 3:16:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — What started as an assignment for class turned into a business venture for Smith College student Julia Franchi Scarselli. In March, she launched Libellula – an olive tree adoption company.

For a year of adoption, customers receive 9 liters of cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil shipped from family farms in Italy to their front door.

Twenty-year-old Franchi Scarselli, originally from Milan, said the business venture started when her father moved from an Italian city to Sabina, a medieval town outside of Rome. Franchi Scarselli said they discovered the region is covered with a “sea of olive trees.”

“Right outside of Rome is this gem of a region that nobody knows about,” Franchi Scarselli said. “Not even Italians.”

She said many families in Sabina have inherited olive trees and culivate extra virgin olive oil. But Franchi Scarselli said it’s not a duty to these families.

“It’s a passion, a tradition, an honor,” she said.

However, Franchi Scarselli said some olive trees in the area are abandoned. So she connected that potential supply of olive oil in Italy to the United States, where she saw a demand for the product, especially given that many American consumers will pay $30 for a liter of extra virgin olive oil.

And with organic and non-GMO products being a large part of American culture, Franchi Scarselli said people like to know where their food is coming from.

She said she wanted to help both the farmers earn a profit and revive the abandoned olive trees, while also supplying quality olive oil to those outside of Italy. So the Smith College student began to dream up an idea of how to make it work.

Last year, Franchi Scarselli submitted her business plan for the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.

Rene Heavlow, the program director of the Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Smith College, looked over Franchi Scarselli’s plan.

Impressed by the business idea, Heavlow said she told Franchi Scarselli “you need to think bigger”and encouraged her to participate in the 2016 Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs at Smith.

Heavlow also had an opportunity to taste what Franchi Scarselli calls the “gold of Rome.”

“I love the olive oil,” Heavlow said. “I think she’s got a winning combination.”

While students enter the Draper competition for the experience, some move forward to launch their own businesses.

Franchi Scarselli won third place and $2,500 in the competition, as well as the spirit award. She used her prize money to take a trip back to Italy where she began to launch her business.

Libellula, which means dragonfly in Italian, is a symbol of prosperity, community and purity, she said. On March 10, the father and daughter launched the website to their business venture. In the first 10 days, she said, 26 trees were adopted.

The $140 adoption fee includes 9 liters of olive oil, a personalized ceramic pitcher, funnel, cork stopper and adoption certificate with the name of the family farm. Libellula sends three shipments of 3 liters throughout the year with a $65 fee per shipment. Customers name their adoption and it is printed on the ceramic pitcher.

“It’s a great idea,” said Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, who was the first to adopt an olive tree, naming the adoption “Occhipinti” after her Italian grandparents.

For this year’s Draper Competition, scheduled for this Friday, Franchi Scarelli will be a vendor, offering tastings of her olive oil as well as a discount for a year-adoption package.

She plans to continue her business after she graduates in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and policy as well as architecture.

In the future, Franchi Scarselli said she hopes to partner with restaurants to serve her olive oil, as well as tourism industries to offer trip packages so customers can visit their olive tree.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.




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