EvCC student makes ‘rocket pitch’ for tea maker’s investors

By Juergen Kneifel

Entrepreneurs with a great idea need to develop their rocket pitch.

The rocket pitch is simply a condensed version of a business plan’s executive summary presented in such a compelling package that, if done well, leaves investors champing at the bit. If you’ve watched the ABC television series “Shark Tank,” then you’ve seen a rocket pitch in action.

Students enrolled in the Small Business Essentials class at Everett Community College fall quarter recently participated in a live rocket pitch involving Harmony Chai, a small specialty brewer of various chai teas that are sold primarily at coffee stands and co-op stores in Western Washington.

The product is handcrafted by Holly Dennis, who has spent nearly two decades perfecting the blend of spices, organic sweeteners and tea leaves. Many of the ingredients come from local growers; the spices mostly originate in India.

The business was started in Homer, Alaska, and later moved to its current location on Orcas Island. And therein lies the problem — and tremendous opportunity.

The missing ingredient to Harmony’s growth is all about location. Orcas Island might be a pristine setting to enjoy a cup of gourmet organic chai tea, but it’s not the greatest location to serve a growing customer base, a customer base not on the island.

“We’ve really come to a point where we need to move our brewing facility closer to the I-5 corridor and expand our manufacturing space,” Dennis said. “We’ve hit our capacity, and I know there are great possibilities for the business to pursue.”

Dennis’ strategy makes perfect sense. But the move doesn’t come without a significant investment and a degree of risk. Welcome to entrepreneurship and the reality that there aren’t sufficient retained earnings from years of small scale sales in the business to fund a serious expansion.

The business will seek up to $100,000 to set up shop and establish the new location. Options include soliciting “angel” investors, applying for a Small Business Administration loan, bringing in partners willing to take an equity position in the company, and even seeking grants.

“I’m searching for the right location with a favorable lease and I also expect to hire more staff,” Dennis said. “There may be opportunity to partner with the local chambers and local economic development agencies that have creative funding or grants to help stimulate job creation.”

“Ideally we will need at least 1,200 square feet for the brewing and bottling operations. We will need an additional 1,000 square feet of warehouse space to house raw materials and bottled product,” Dennis said.

For our classroom setting, Holly Dennis handed over the rocket pitch duties to understudy and EvCC student Jessica Bjazevich. The pitch ran roughly five minutes, followed by more than 20 minutes of Q&A. The pitch was very effective, reinforced by the fact students were savoring product samples during the presentation.

If the students in the room had the money to bankroll Harmony’s expansion, my guess is that the company would already be set to move forward. But the practice for Dennis and Bjazevich was invaluable.

When the dust settles and the room clears, at the very least you have expanded your network within the business community. You never know where your business will become the subject of conversation by those who heard the rocket pitch.

Harmony Chai is bound to make its move very soon. And I expect there will be funding in one form or another to launch the needed expansion.

To learn more about Harmony Chai, go to www.harmonychai.com.

Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.