When she first arrived at Gettysburg College 20 years ago, Susan Buckwalter ’04 would have never envisioned herself becoming a thriving entrepreneur. Yet, as a student who always carried with her a notebook full of ideas, Buckwalter ultimately brought one of these inspirations to life with Recoup Beverage, Inc., a New York-based fitness beverage business.
After years of experience in brand management and innovation for companies including Unilever, Campbell’s, and eos products, Buckwalter decided to take the leap and create a brand of her own. Motivated to forge her own way, she launched her first business just over a year ago. It was a goal the Gettysburgian had long dreamed of achieving.
With Recoup, Buckwalter aspires to support her customers’ recovery and resilience, particularly when they need it most.
“Our mission is to help people feel better and live well. I see our product as something anyone can use to feel better—whether after a hard workout or a hard day,” said Buckwalter. “Self-care is more critical than ever, considering we are living in a time of uncertainty.”
An entrepreneur’s journey
Establishing her own marquee brand in a male-dominated market, Buckwalter has never felt out of place or undeserving of what she’s achieved. The entrepreneur has navigated the many twists and turns of starting a new business, and in the process, she’s assumed a variety of hats as the company’s co-founder—from negotiating with suppliers, to briefing design teams, to formulating products, to delivering to stores.
“You can only be a good entrepreneur when you believe in your product,” reflected Buckwalter.
Having launched Recoup at the beginning of 2020, Buckwalter was just beginning to raise capital, along with land distribution in grocery stores and fitness studios when the pandemic hit. From the outset, COVID-19 posed a serious challenge to her business. It halted her fundraising efforts as investors became more risk averse.
Creating a business from scratch is never easy. Doing it during a pandemic is even harder. But Buckwalter has approached these hurdles in stride. In fact, under Buckwalter’s leadership, her team at Recoup shifted their focus to e-commerce and bolstered their online channels amid the pandemic. She also charged her company to step out into the community to help those who were most intimately impacted by the economic downturn. A year into the pandemic, Buckwalter and her team are reigniting their capital raise with strong traction and a passionate fan base.
“A liberal arts college is where you can make follow your curiosity and chart your own path,” said Buckwalter, reflecting on the creative and critical thinking skills she cultivated on the Gettysburg campus. “I was able to pursue my own passion and create my own opportunities at Gettysburg. To me, that was a very entrepreneurial experience that prepared me well.”
Preparation for a successful career
“Spoiler alert: I never took a business or management class in undergrad. I was a psychology major with minors in French and neuroscience. I was a student-athlete in Track and Field and I studied abroad twice; entrepreneurship was just not on my radar. I didn’t think of myself as a business person. I was just interested in people,” said Buckwalter. “I had lots of entrepreneurial opportunities that were not necessarily focused on running a business in particular, but rather owning something, taking charge, and leading it. My experience as a student-athlete at Gettysburg also helped inspire me to develop recoup, a better alternative to the sugary, artificial sports drinks out on the market. Training for multiple events, I often struggled with inflammation and dehydration. I wanted to develop something all-natural that can help athletes recover, so we use plant-based hydration and the amount of organic ginger that is clinically proven to support muscle recovery,” Buckwalter noted. “It is amazing how your college experience can become such a powerful catalyst in your career, even decades later.”
As early as her first year at Gettysburg, Buckwalter had the chance to run lab experiments. Janet Morgan Riggs ’77, who would go on to become the 14th president of Gettysburg College, served as her faculty advisor in the Psychology Department. Buckwalter recalls Riggs’ constant encouragement and unwavering belief in her potential as a driver for her growing passion in human psychology.
“Under Dr. Riggs’ guidance, I was given access to extremely competitive opportunities, ranging from pursuing an honors thesis in neuroscience, to being given lab access and budgets, all of which would profoundly impact my passion for entrepreneurship later on,” Buckwalter reflected.
A Gettysburgian’s legacy
Now recognized for numerous roles and achievements, having benefitted from a unique non-linear college and career experience, Susan has chosen to dedicate her time to uplifting others, specifically the next generations of Gettysburgians. She is committed to sharing her story and mentoring aspiring leaders on ConnectGettysburg—an interactive, virtual platform designed for students and alumni of the College to connect beyond the campus.
“When I graduated from Gettysburg, my exposure to the business world was pretty limited,” said Buckwalter. “There were many career options that I just didn’t know about until I was older. I joined ConnectGettysburg to help inspire current students to think beyond their major when it comes to careers and see there are many unique paths that one can take.”
Recently, a biology major with a similar business-driven mindset, David Medina ’21, reached out to Buckwalter on ConnectGettysburg following a talk she gave for the College’s Entrepreneurship & Social Innovation Initiative.
“She had just released Recoup when the pandemic hit, and she managed to push through the hardships. I found it really inspiring,” said Medina. “My experience with ConnectGettysburg has been nothing but wonderful. I use the platform to talk to alumni, to better understand their story, and how they have used their liberal arts experience to learn and further their career paths, as well as their company’s culture.”
In advising today’s Gettysburg students, Buckwalter shared, “It is important for every undergrad to realize that your path is not set in stone when attending college. It is one thing to major in something that you are passionate about, but that is not going to dictate what the rest of your life will look like. You can always pivot, you can always learn something new and change your career.”
By Boba (Ngoc) Pham ’21
Photos courtesy of Susan Buckwalter ’04