As grandma Joann and mom, Maryann, happily snapped photos with their phones, Kyle and Bryon White perched on the edge of the Pegasus ballroom stage taking a moment to catch their breath and contemplate the oversized $12,000 check between them.
Exhausted but elated, the siblings and their business plan to grow their Florida-based tea company had just taken the top prize at UCF’s annual Joust New Venture Competition. The Joust is one of the premier events of the UCF College of Business’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership where students present their models for a viable business venture and compete to win money and other resources to pursue their venture. It is open to all UCF students and all types of venture proposals.
Before an audience of more than 400 students, entrepreneurs, faculty, alumni and members of the community Friday, Kyle and Bryon pitched their Yaupon Brothers Tea business to local executives who served as judges.
Moments after the winning announcement, Kyle and Bryon already had plans for their winnings, which include more than $50,000 in essential business services.
“We need to bring our production facility back to Florida,” said Bryon, a 2009 UCF graduate with a degree in legal studies and an interest in plants.
Having their pitch down pat from years of explaining Yaupon tea to everyone they met did little to calm their nerves on stage.
“We were nervous,” said Kyle, who is a student in the UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “It’s kind of intimidating,” added Bryon, a 2009 graduate with a degree in legal studies. That is saying something considering both brothers work for one of the busiest public safety organizations on the East Coast as members of Volusia County Surf Rescue.
When they’re not out rescuing swimmers or helping boaters, the brothers have been refining their tea growing and production business since 2012. A self-described plant nerd, Bryon noticed the Yaupon Holly seemed to be everywhere in Central Florida, even on UCF’s Rosen campus. A little research showed the Florida native plant was rich in anti-oxidants and North America’s only native caffeinated plant.
“It wasn’t being used in any drinks so I assumed it must taste awful,” Bryon said, “but that wasn’t the case. It actually tasted really good.”
In 2013, they became the first processor, handler and grower of Yaupon to earn USDA Organic Certification. They grow the Yaupon in Volusia County and then ship it to South Carolina for processing. With their winnings, they plan to move the production facility back to Florida.
“We perfected it over time and built a supply chain,” Bryon said.
Their polished presentation and in-depth knowledge on the market and production cycle left an impression with the judges.
“The consensus seems to be this was the best Joust ever, so Yaupon Brothers really needed to know their stuff to edge out the competition,” said Cameron Ford, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at UCF. “This Joust was indisputably the yummiest. The judges enjoyed delicious fruit snacks served by Earthy Creations and washed those down with our winner’s innovative Yaupon Tea.”
Ford noted it was the first time a social venture, EsportsEDU, made the Joust finals and an education venture, Let’s C, inspired the crowd with their mission to teach English to students in Hong Kong.
“Today’s contestants are prime examples of how creativity and tireless research create impact by introducing innovations that enrich society,” Ford said. “We look forward to supporting their success and having them return to inspire future generations of entrepreneurial Knights.”
The Joust runner-up was James Kozachuk’s pitch for EsportsEDU, competitive, community and academic programs aimed at high school youth who are passionate about video games. He took home $7,000. In the fall, Kozachuk’s pitch took first place in UCF’s first Social Venture Competition.
Jasmine Yamini placed third and earned $4,000 with her Earthy Creations business, which offers juicy, nutrient-dense dried fruit snacks as a healthy alternative to candy fruit chews and dried fruit.
Let’s C: Learning English and the team of Mei Wang, Tze Fung Wong and Lauren Polson finished fourth with $2,000 for their online platform for real-time English language tutoring between tutors from English-speaking universities and students in Hong Kong.
In the Joust, students’ business plans are assessed by a panel of expert professionals representing corporate partners, area businesses and alumni. This year’s judges included Sean Hayes, ’95, principal and VP, Business Development, Voloridge Investment Management; Scott Keith, Regional President, North & Central Region, BB&T; Laurette Koellner, ’77, former president, Boeing International; Terry McNew, ’86, president and CEO, MasterCraft; Barry Miller, ’95, President, Voloridge Investment Management; and Rick Walsh, ’77, president, The Knob Hill Companies. This year’s presenting sponsors were Steven Felkowitz, ’79; DigiThinkIT, Inc.; Burr+Foreman; and Jim Balaschak, ’86 & ’92, and Debbie Balaschak,’88. Additional sponsors include Anidea Engineering, Inc., BDO, Nperspective, LLC and William Hendrickson Consulting.