Tina Chen completed her full-time MBA at Imperial College Business School in 2018, where she was also part of the Entrepreneurship Club (now the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Club) and set up the North America Business Club.
We spoke to Tina about her time at Imperial and her path to starting her own business, HumaniTea.
Why did you choose to study at Imperial?
Prior to starting my FTMBA programme at Imperial College Business School, I studied Business Economics at the University of California, Los Angeles for my undergraduate degree. I then worked as a Technology Consultant at Accenture, where I performed project management and change management activities for software implementations across various industries.
I wanted to pursue an MBA degree because my goal was to enter the innovation sector and explore start-up activities in the food tech, sustainability, and social impact space.
With my interest in gaining international work experience, I researched MBA programmes in Europe. And with my love for London, I honed in my search to universities in and around this vibrant city of endless opportunities. When I found Imperial’s Full-Time MBA programme, I knew I had hit the jackpot: a one-year accelerated MBA programme with a strong entrepreneurial background and connections to the greater Imperial campus, which is renowned for innovations in science and technology.
What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?
The culture at ICBS was very warm and collaborative. We were one big family and although some friendly competition was useful for challenging ourselves, we were always there for one another. On the programme, I definitely gained teamwork and communication skills: we often worked in group settings and delivered in-class presentations.
In addition, there were also numerous Business School clubs that we could join. I was on the committee of the Entrepreneurship Club (now the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Club) and was in charge of external events and the technology sector. Since there was no North America Business Club at the Business School when I joined, I decided to create one to connect North American students with one another, as well as bring in North American companies to talk with interested students.
The leadership opportunities at Imperial College Business School were fantastic: I loved getting involved and making a positive impact on the School. Furthermore, I utilised the wider College resources, such as the Enterprise Lab which supports entrepreneurial ventures.
Can you tell us a bit more about how the Enterprise Lab has helped you in your career so far?
Participating in the WE Innovate Programme run by the Imperial Enterprise Lab allowed me to experience the entrepreneurial world in a safe setting. I decided that entrepreneurship was the path I wanted to follow after completing my degree.
I wanted to start a business that brought both positive social and environmental impact. Through utilising my connections at Imperial and the Enterprise Lab, I was able to receive the support and business advice needed to launch my drinks company, myTEA is Mighty, now known as HumaniTea.
The Enterprise Lab offers an array of useful resources for Imperial students, ranging from business coaching, entrepreneurial speaker series, experts-in-residence sessions, and pitching and networking events. It’s a great space to receive support and meet fellow entrepreneurs. I ran my first tea tasting and feedback session at the Enterprise Lab, which provided valuable feedback on the taste, flavours, and visuals and really helped me refine the recipes.
Can you tell us a bit about the start-up you are working on?
As a Taiwanese-American living in London, I was inspired by the Taiwanese bubble tea concept and British tea drinking culture. I started HumaniTea because I was frustrated by the lack of true tea beverages in the ready-to-drink sector, and wanted to create a healthy, well-balanced tea latte that was as tasty as it was naturally energising.
Through market research and analysis, I found out that one of the main causes of obesity is sugary soft drinks. On top of this, one in six people in the UK suffer from stress due to work, so taking a tea break can really help one find mindfulness! That’s why HumaniTea lattes are made with agave nectar instead of normal sugar. We craft vegan tea lattes brewed with actual tea leaves, creamy oat milk, and ethically sourced, quality ingredients. Our refreshing Matcha and Earl Grey Oat Milk Tea Lattes exclude artificial flavours and emulsifiers, contain low sugar (<5%) and low calories (66-68 calories per can), and provide a boost of antioxidants and natural energy without a caffeine crash.
We also support physical and mental wellbeing and sustainability initiatives through donating 5% of our profits. Ethical sourcing and eco-friendly design is at the heart of our business, so we actively choose to use Fairtrade, organic, and plant-based ingredients and utilise recyclable aluminium cans for our packaging.
What are your plans for the future?
Our next steps at HumaniTea include getting into more retail environments, like Selfridges, Planet Organic, and Whole Foods. We are also exploring business and office catering opportunities.
I look forward to continuing to grow our customer base, strategically plan for growth as we scale with our contract manufacturer, and raise additional funding as we are bootstrapping. Within 3 years, I plan on growing HumaniTea internationally beyond the UK market to the rest of Europe, US and Asia, and establishing ourselves as the leading oat milk tea latte drinks brand. Our goal is to continue bringing our delicious vegan tea lattes to as many people as possible, as well as increasing sales and generating additional profit to help us flourish as a social enterprise. I aim to develop our range of healthy, innovative products with people and planet in mind, and grow our tea beverage social enterprise to positively impact even more communities through supporting wellbeing and sustainability initiatives and expanding our areas of operation.
What would your advice be for students who are budding entrepreneurs?
Maintain a strong mission and value for your business. Understand clearly what your company stands for. Solve a problem with your business and fill a gap in the market.
Also, networking is key to building a community of people who share your interests and values. I attended numerous relevant events run by food and drink communities like Bread & Jam, Young Foodies, and YFood. For entrepreneurial startup support, I would recommend the Virgin StartUp StepUp programme, a two-day bootcamp that allows you to learn the fundamentals of sales and funding. And just as important, you should connect with people you meet on LinkedIn or exchange business cards in order to stay in touch.
Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I reached out to founders of successful drink companies via LinkedIn. Through a concise LinkedIn message, I was able to set up calls and in-person meetings with numerous founders, who generously offered their time to talk and meet with me and share their valuable experiences. This gave me insight to the steps I needed to take to develop a product and brand and start giving out samples to gather feedback.
I also attended many food and drink trade shows and conferences, like Food Matters Live, IFE, and London Coffee Festival where I met other founders, who have kindly shared with me their routes to market and knowledge on manufacturing and supply chain. And although asking for help is important, I think it is also equally important to give back your time as well, so I’m happy to help others.
Overall, it is so important to remain positive. Of course, there will be both ups and downs when starting a business, like low margins or legal issues, but just stay positive and you will come out winning at the end! Remaining proactive and persistent will allow you to stay on track to hit your actionable goals.
How would you describe Imperial alumni?
I truly feel that what made my Full-Time MBA experience so wonderful was my cohort; the calibre of students on the programme is extremely high. The type of people that Imperial College Business School attracts are not only motivated and entrepreneurial but also curious, kind, and fun! We definitely portray the work-hard, play-hard mentality.
The Imperial community is strong, and you should make use of it when reaching out for advice and feedback. Everyone you meet during your time at Imperial, from fellow classmates to professors, are forever a part of your Imperial family.
Check out Tina’s Women4Climate profile.