Coyotea, a sleep-aiding bottled tea company started by one student and two alumni from the McDonough School of Business MBA program, launched this month after over a year of planning.
Christian Hyland (GRD ’17), Matt Harb (GRD ’17) and Nick De Gregorio (GRD ’18) founded the startup. The founders claim their organic tea promotes a good night’s sleep, and it has a list of organic ingredients, including lemon balm, hops, valerian root, chamomile and peppermint. After its first production run in June 2017, Hyland, Harb and De Gregorio launched the company earlier this month.
Hyland, who served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for five years, started developing Coyotea in 2016 while experimenting with herbal teas as a sleep aid after returning from the military and experiencing trouble sleeping.
The teas can now be found in select natural food stores in the Washington, D.C. area, and they can be ordered online and delivered anywhere in the continental United States.
After the co-founders started brewing in Harb’s kitchen in October 2016, Coyotea was featured on the online food blog Spoon University and MSN.com. The next spring, Hyland, Harb and De Gregorio received 1,200 preorders of Coyotea — before they had enough money to begin production.
The co-founders each put $6,000 of their own money into the company, and they earned another $19,000 in funding from donors they found through the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative. The founders are now seeking $100,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to launch a larger-scale production line and go from producing about 10,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles per production run.
De Gregorio, who met Hyland through the MBA program, also served in Afghanistan and struggled with the transition back to civilian life.
“I was having trouble sleeping, so I was all about the idea,” De Gregorio said.
According to Hyland, Georgetown University helped the company grow by providing resources including mentorship that guided how the company presented itself in pitch competitions and later influenced their 30-second Kickstarter ad.
“Professors and entrepreneurs-in-residence made themselves available to spotcheck our assumptions in our financial forecasts, help create compelling investor pitches, and craft a scalable business model,” Harb wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown offered the entrepreneurs a way to move their idea forward, according to Hyland.
“Sleep tea is a great idea, but an idea is not a business,” Hyland said.
The company also embraces a social mission, by giving 10 percent of their profits to Friendship Place, a nonprofit combating veteran homelessness in the D.C. metro area, according to Hyland. Before coming to Georgetown, Hyland spent about a year working on the issue of veteran homelessness by connecting veterans in the District to resources to help them access housing.
The company is also working with The Headstrong Project, which aids veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, by donating Coyotea to veterans in need, De Gregorio said.
The three founders first joined forces while taking a course together in fall 2016 called “Lean Startup Principles.” When Hyland and De Gregorio presented their idea in class, Harb said he was interested in joining the venture because of Hyland’s story and his own issues with sleep.
“Christian and Nick presented their idea and I was instantly drawn to it because of Christian’s story behind creating the product and identifying with the problem he was addressing from my personal experiences suffering from sleepless nights,” Harb wrote in an email to The Hoya.
In the long term, the company hopes to build brand equity in the realm of sleep beverages, ramp up the distribution of products through retail and online selling and scale production to lower per unit costs, Harb said.
Coyotea stands apart in a crowded beverage market because of the founders’ personal connection to their social impact, according to De Gregorio.
“I think it’s important to note, we want to do this to kind of be the change we wish to see,” De Gregorio said.