Q&A: Female founders bring a cup of goodness

This week we chat to Julie Hirsch and Nicole Lamond, co-founders of Melbourne-based certified Fairtrade tea business Eloments. The small company – comprised of just Julie and Nicole – is celebrating a big win with recent entry into the tea aisle in 75 per cent of Woolworths supermarkets around Australia, making them one of the few female-owned companies to sit in the category.

ISB: One of you already had experience introducing a tea brand into the market – how did you do things differently with Eloments?

NL: Eloments is different from every tea currently on the market in Australia, as it’s actually the world’s first 100 per cent natural vitamin tea. We’ve blended plant-based nutrients with Fairtrade tea so that it has 40 per cent of your daily needs of nine essential vitamins and minerals.

Tea in Australia is a very competitive category with big multinational players so we had to do something unique to win shelf space. For a small Melbourne start-up, our innovation meant we were lucky enough to launch in partnership with Woolworths within our first year of trading.

ISB: As female business founders are finding it so hard to win funding, how did you go about it and manage to break the $1 million mark?

JH: It’s really a challenge for women in business to win venture capital investment, and we can see from the statistics that globally only two per cent of venture capital funding goes to female founders. While this was a big hurdle for us as female founders, we also want to acknowledge that the statistics are even more challenging for women from ethnic minorities.

The key for us was finding an investment partner with values that aligned with our mission. At Eloments, we believe the best things in life are free, and everything else should be fairly traded. We partnered with Organic X Labs in our Series A funding round, who were incredibly supportive of our commitment to the Fairtrade standard, which is the most rigorous ethical trade certification in the world.

ISB: Funding aside, what was the biggest challenge you encountered in getting the business off the ground, and how did you overcome it?

NL: I came up with the idea for Eloments as an enjoyable way of getting your vitamins without having to take pills, but there were immense manufacturing challenges with blending nutrients into tea bags whilst keeping the product 100 per cent natural. But we still chose to use

binders and fillers that other supplements use. And so we spent two years in our research and development phase before coming up with a unique manufacturing process that is now patent-pending.

ISB: Sustainability is clearly important to you – how does that manifest itself in the ingredients you use and the way you run the business?

JH: My background is in the Environment NGO sector, so we are committed to creating a sustainable products. There are opportunities to make ethical decisions at every level of a business, from using vegetable ink in our printing to making sure there is no labour in our supply chain.

For example, the majority of the tea for our Ceylon Breakfast blend comes from tea gardens less than an acre in size – truly small-scale family farming. The Fairtrade collective for these farmers also offers micro-loans that can help create biodiverse gardens, which is great for the soil and gives the farmer more economic stability.

ISB: How do you continue the drive for innovation in your business?

NL: We are always looking at what people want, and then we work backwards and innovate as necessary. For example, when developing Eloments we found that many people hate and forget to take bottled vitamins, but no one ever forgets their cuppa. There was no readily available solution, so we created it.

I think driving successful innovation comes out of an attitude of “how are we going to do this?” instead of “we can’t do that”.

ISB: And finally, what is the #1 lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with other aspiring entrepreneurs looking to set up their own business?

NL: Have a product or service with a clear point of difference that people care about. Always run the numbers, be prepared to work hard and back yourself. And then persevere!

Also ask yourself “why am I doing this?” For us, it goes back to our mission to grow the Fairtrade market, as only three per cent of tea sold in Australia last year was Fairtrade. Knowing that every cup makes a tangible difference in the lives of farmers in developing countries is very motivating, and providing an ethical choice for tea drinkers who care about their health and the world keeps us going.

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