A tea company run by two brothers from UCF became the fan-favorite at a renowned entrepreneurship competition with international reach. Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company won the People’s Choice award and $5,000 at the Blackstone LaunchPad Pitch Competition on Feb. 23.

“It is always great to advance to the final round of any pitch competition,” Kyle White says. “This one does feel different as we are surrounded by some fantastic competition from ventures launched at schools such as UCLA, Cornell, USC and UC Davis. This event being in partnership with Blackstone and Google is also a bit surreal!”

Among a field of 60+ student startups from the U.S. and Ireland, Yaupon was selected as one of eight finalists to compete in the final round of the competition. In addition to the first-, second- and third-place finishers chosen by a panel of judges, viewers selected Yaupon as the winner of the People’s Choice award by casting votes online. The competition was held virtually as part of the Startup Grind Global Conference, an event that brings together leaders in technology and big brands on the forefront of innovation.

“Winning this award means a great deal for us,” White says. “Outside of the prize money, it validates our idea of using Yaupon to help Florida farmers while also providing a cleaner, more ethical and American-grown tea option. We are thrilled to bring home the award for UCF as this university has done so much for us.”

Yaupon tea is sold in more than 500 stores nationwide and is also carried by Amazon.

Founded by Kyle and Bryon White in 2012, Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company grows, processes and sells tea made from the yaupon holly. The slow-growing tree is North America’s only naturally caffeinated, antioxidant-rich plant and is also abundant in Central Florida. Earning more than $380,000 in revenue in 2020, Yaupon tea is sold in more than 500 stores nationwide and is also carried by Amazon. Four years ago, the brothers won the UCF Joust New Venture Competition with their business. Now, Kyle helps other students launch their ideas as a coach in UCF’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.

“The LaunchPad has helped us in every imaginable way, not just for this moment, but for every moment and challenge we have faced as a business,” White says. “Starting a business as a student can be scary and stressful. But there are so many resources at UCF. Between the free databases from the library, coaching from the LaunchPad, and utilizing your professors and the alumni network – there is an abundance of help.”