RocketHub campaign spurs Zest Tea founders to launch

When James Fayal and Ricky Ishida moved to Cincinnati last summer to focus on start-ups, they had given little thought to launching their own.

But, before a year has passed, the Milton Street housemates have embarked on one of eight national Venture for America initiatives (two from Cincinnati) that demonstrate just how much they have come to embody the entrepreneurial spirit.

As members of the inaugural Venture for America class of fellows, the Zest Tea founders exemplify the essence of the national, startup-generating project designed to attract top collegiate talent to and retain them in “flyover” cities like Cincinnati.

Both moved to Cincinnati to work for start-ups that intrigued them. Fayal, a University of Maryland grad, chose to work with CincyTech, while Ishida of Cornell landed at ZipScene

Given the intense work schedules of start-ups, it’s no surprise that their idea for their own start-up grew out of a blend of personal experiences and frustration.

Both preferred tea to coffee—Ishida based on experience dating to his childhood in Japan and Fayal from his high school days. 

Still, neither could locate traditional teas with enough caffeinated punch to help them get through the extended days of the start-up world.

Instead of complaining, they started on a search for a coffee-caffeine alternative. They found no tasty tea product on the market that provided coffee caffeine levels. That's when Fayal and Ishida knew they were on to something. They just didn’t know what.

“We started developing our own [tea] blends,” Fayal says. There was Cinnamon Apple Black Tea and Pomegranate Mojito Green Tea; Blue Lady Black Tea and Moroccan Mint Green Tea.

“We started playing around with some tea extracts, with additional antioxidants, and caffeine,” Fayal says.

By blending tea extracts with high quality teas, they focused on good (read: not bitter) taste while boosting caffeine levels. 

What began as a beverage born of personal interest became a business plan very quickly over the last month thanks to another VFA innovation. The non-profit launched a national awareness campaign through RocketHub aimed at nurturing their young Fellows’ community involvement and start-up aspirations. Members of the first class of VFA fellows were encouraged to enter a start-up competition of their own, with cash prizes awarded to the top three already crowd-funded ideas. 

They created a RocketHub site for “Zest Tea - Bold Teas With An Energizing Kick,” and started raising money. 
To sweeten the pot, they turned the very funding process into a bit of a game—folks who donate get to help decide which teas will make it to market first. 

"We figured we’d let the funders make the final decision on the first four," says Fayal, who enjoys all eight of the blends on the ballot, but admits to a particular fondness for Pomegranate Mojito and Cinnamon Apple blends as well as the more traditional Earl Grey.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.


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