Javazen, University of Maryland Startup, Wins Cupid's Cup

Javazen, University of Maryland Startup, Wins Cupid's Cup

Originally published on Baltimore Sun by Jeff Barker.

As he pondered how to create the next great startup with his University of Maryland pals, budding entrepreneur Eric Golman didn't need to look further than the cup in his hand.

Golman, now 22, habitually drank three to four cups of coffee a day, "but it wasn't really making me feel the way I wanted," he said. "I wanted a product that is more balanced and gives you a better nutritional profile."

In an illustration of how creativity (and coffee) can happen organically, Golman and his friends decided to blend his two passions — coffee and entrepreneurship — into a company called Javazen that says it is "leading the world of coffee to a healthier place." Two-year-old Javazen, which turned Golman's campus apartment into a laboratory of coffee accessories and brewing equipment, won this year's Cupid's Cup, an annual entrepreneurship competition established by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.

Javazen claimed a $75,000 first prize after Thursday's event on the UM campus, in which Golman and the other founders presented its business plan alongside four other finalists. The competition was judged by Plank, alongside Huffington Post editor Arianna Huffington; Dan Gilbert, the Cleveland Cavaliers' owner and founder of Quicken Loans; and Wes Moore, founder & CEO of BridgeEdU.

The story of Javazen's founding has parallels to Under Armour's. Both were started by ambitious University of Maryland students rushing to fill a perceived need.

As a Terps football player in the 1990s, Plank felt weighted down by the cotton T-shirt he wore under his uniform and thought there had to be a new kind of undergarment that would wick away rather than retain sweat. From selling such shirts out of the trunk of Plank's car, Under Armour has grown to have sales of just under $4 billion in 2015.

Javazen also is attempting to put a "new spin on an old product," said Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, part of the university's Robert H. Smith School of Business..

"In these competitions, you're always looking at the potential impact of the idea and the market opportunity," said Fine, who worked with the Javazen team.

"What they've done in a crowded market space shows they're a good fit. They have the passion for it," she said. "It's a very analagous story to Kevin Plank's story."

Cupid's Cup is named after Plank's first business, a rose-delivery company he operated from his dorm room while he was a student at College Park.

Golman was a sophomore when he created the concept for Javazen with roomate Ryan Schueler and Aaron Wallach, who lived upstairs. All three have graduated now.

"It essentially was a dorm room argument between coffee versus tea, and we essentially started blending coffee with different teas," Golman said.

There are three Javazen blends, with more to come. One blend "consists of ground coffee, 100 percent cacao nibs, matcha tea, cinnamon, and vanilla," the company says. The company, which roasts the coffee at a shared Rockville facility, uses the hashtag "FindYourZen."

Javazen won't share specific sales figures, but Golman said: "Month-over-month we are growing almost 100 percent. We sold over $100,000 in our first full year of business, and that was when we were operating our offices out of our dorm room."

The products are now sold in about 200 retail stores, which account for 90 percent of sales, with the rest coming from online orders.

"Last week, we got Wegmans," Schueler said. "I grew up in the Towson area. I shopped at the Hunt Valley Wegmans, so it was a dream for me — I went there Saturday and gave out Javazen. It was the happiest day ever. Pretty much every weekend, you can find one of us at a demo table."

All of that pitching helped Javazen at Cupid's Cup, now in its 11th year.

To help combat nerves, Javazen also did some special preparation before facing the panel of judges.

"I Googled and then put up the scariest picture of every single judge on my computer," Wallach said. "And I would practice pitching to them. That's how I did it."

Besides cash, the winners also are promised professional assistance from Plank. Last year's winner was Christopher Gray, maker of a mobile app called Scholly that helps students find college scholarships. He has struck deals with Memphis, Tenn., the state of Montana and other jurisdictions to make the app available to students.

The previous year's winner was a graduate student who developed a small, inexpensive device that can quickly diagnose malaria before patients begin showing symptoms.

This year's second place — and $20,000 — went to Six Foods, a startup begun by Harvard University students that aims to popularize foods made from insects. It makes Chirps, a chip made of crickets milled into flour. "Eat what bugs you" is a company slogan.

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