“We’ve counted on the SBDC to get our product off the ground. We hope for the continued support to continue to grow it from the fledgling company to a model Sonoma business.”
Michaela Biaggi and Mollie Sitkin are enough to restore anyone’s faith in business partnerships. The duo met while attending a Green MBA program at Dominican University and they are both passionate about business and kombucha – a fermented tea beverage, which they made at home to fuel their busy lifestyles. After writing a business plan for a kombucha beverage company in a business planning class, Biaggi and Sitkin realized that the product was not only viable, but something they both had an interest in pursuing.
As a product, kombucha had already been established in health stores as a nourishing probiotic beverage. What Biaggi and Sitkin sought to do was to create a great tasting kombucha – better than anything on the market. They experimented with handcrafted batches and flavor infusions – what would become their Lonjevitea Kombucha product line. Says Sitkin, “We knew we were doing things right when people would take a drink of our beverage and say, ‘Wow, this is kombucha?’”
The biggest challenge the partners faced, however, was simply launching a product in which they had no formal experience. Beverages are a notoriously difficult product to launch, especially with the issues of shelf space, distribution and cost of production. The details went beyond anything they’d experienced: how to price the product, contact and evaluate distributors, and plan new product marketing and public relations – all within a tight budget.
Working with the SBDC, Biaggi and Sitkin worked over the months to navigate the modest startup. Lonjevitea Kombucha was launched within a year of the graduate school class that spurred the idea, offering three handcrafted flavors of the sparkling beverage: GravensteinApple, Ginger, and Chamomile.
Even in a tough economy, private funding was lined up quickly thanks to the winning flavor and thorough business plan. The partners secured a Petaluma location to produce the product and finalized product design, received label approval, and mastered the operational aspect of creating and shipping the products.