The business that senior Entrepreneurship major Mark Sotomayor ’20 started his freshman year at Grove City College reached a major milestone recently when Whole Foods began stocking their shelves with his product.
Treecup Tea went on sale at three Pittsburgh area Whole Foods stores on Feb. 25 after a four-month onboarding process with the national grocery store chain. The company’s motto is “Buy a tea, plant a tree” and proceeds from each bottle sold go to planting tree seedlings in Haiti, a country in desperate need of reforesting.
Sotomayor started the business in 2017 and it has grown steadily. The brand is at the intersection of what much of the market is currently demanding, Sotomayor said. “We have a biodegradable bottle, a philanthropic effect, unique organic and fair trade blends and have no preservatives,” Sotomayor said. He makes the tea himself in commercial kitchen in a local VFW. He boils the water, using organic teas and adding spices according to family recipes, then bottles and brands it.
Sotomayor has high hopes for the company’s future – and his own. “I study entrepreneurship, so I always thought it proper for me to try graduating into my own business,” he said. “I always thought the idea of having to get a job upon graduating was counter-intuitive to my major.”
Treecup Tea has benefited from the help of the College’s Entrepreneurship Program, which includes the academic department and the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation (E+I). Sotomayor’s effort was fostered by the E+I’s VentureLab program, which helps students explore and develop business ideas, and funded in part by money he won in the Wolverine Venture Battle business competition. E+I also provided financial assistance for Sotomayor to travel to Chicago for the U.Pitch competition in fall 2018, where he reached the semi-final round.
“Mark is a great example of a student who has taken advantage of all that E+I has to offer. He has participated in various competitions, attended our Venture U educational seminars, learned from a variety of speakers and mentors, and worked on the business concept in our VentureLab program,” Yvonne English ’97, executive director the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation, said. “He has worked incredibly hard to turn his vision into a reality, and I am most proud of the fact that he has incorporated a social mission into his business that will change people’s lives in Haiti for the better.”
Treecup Tea partners with Haiti Friends to plant trees in Deschapelles, Haiti, which lies in an area that is 80-percent deforested. So far, they have planted 14,000 trees and Sotomayor hopes to increase that number to 20,000 by the end of the summer.
“Ultimately, I want to reforest all of Haiti,” Sotomayor said. Though that would take 120 million trees, he has high hopes and big plans for the future. He first wants to take it to a national level and also try to get on “Shark Tank.”
“If Treecup goes national and is a success, it will be because of my mother’s belief in what we are building,” he said. Sotomayor’s mother, Vitalia Sotomayor, is CFO and production manager at Treecup Tea. “I never give my mother enough credit, but if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have made it this far,” he said.
For more about Treecup Tea, visit the website at www.treecuptea.com