MBA Program: Columbia Business School
Industry: Beverages; Premium Mixers
Founding Student Name(s): Alex Doman & Denetrias Charlemagne
Brief Description of Solution: AVEC is re-imagining what people mix with their spirit for the modern day—healthier, tastier, and easier. No more tasteless vodka sodas or sugary mixed drinks—AVEC has created a line of premium carbonated mixers that are all-natural and low sugar.
Funding Dollars: N/A Friends and Family Round
What led you to launch this venture? We launched this venture due to our frustration with a lack of tasty, low sugar options at the bar, combined with the feeling that all/most mixer brands were aimed at a previous generation; we felt a fresh voice and product were needed in the space. For the most part, the bar industry’s belief that you can only have good taste with sugar is rather old school and male-dominated. We are here to change that.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with this venture? Our biggest and most recent accomplishment to date is probably persuading Florence Fabricant of the New York Times to include our launch on her famous Front Burner column. This is considered a major coup in our industry!
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? We found the Columbia MBA program to be very helpful and supportive. Both of us wanted to be entrepreneurs before we arrived – coming to the program with a bunch of ideas. We both took classes throughout our second year that enabled us to develop one of these ideas and incubate the business enough so that we were ready for launch on graduation. Plus – all importantly – we met at CBS!
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? We both have different inspirations!
Alex: I am inspired by both Richard Branson (Virgin) and Julian Metcalfe (Pret) who are both British consumer-brand entrepreneurs. Both looked to innovate entire categories by creating dramatically better products and brands. Perhaps, more importantly, they created brands that people love and that have heart—doing the best for their people, customers, and environment.
Dee: I am inspired by the close to only 40 black female founders who have raised over $1MM in VC funding. Given that Black founders get <1% of VC dollars and females get ~2.3%, they are truly going against the odds. I wrote about their stories in my application to CBS and got the opportunity to speak with many of them as part of the work I did for a female-founded media company—so inspirational. Being in beverage, I am also paying attention to Fawn Weaver, who started Uncle Nearest, a whiskey brand honoring the role of Nearest Green, a slave who taught Jack Daniels how to distill. It is now a top seller and rated one of the best tasting whiskeys in the world!
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it?
Alex: Either “Greenhouse”, the CBS incubator program, or Leader’s Voice. The former helped with giving us time and space to build our business; the latter taught me that a great pitch or speech can be nailed through practice.
Dee: Bridging the American Divide was my most valuable class. It talks about the causes and consequences of the American divide—and what we as business leaders might do to help bridge it. We got to truly see how decisions made in the boardroom can impact communities. We visited Youngstown, OH, a town that was once thriving, but today is suffering from many problems due to business decisions made in the past. It made me think differently about the kind of business leader I want to be.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why?There is still a degree of skepticism around entrepreneurship on the MBA. Discussions around becoming an entrepreneur often end with, “Have you thought about McKinsey?”. That said, those who are part of the CBS startup community are very helpful and include:
- Angela Lee for an understanding of the funding landscape and frank conversations about what it takes to be a good founder
- Dave Lerner and Brendan Burns for their teaching, mentorship, guidance, and contacts!
- Stephen Zagor for food & beverage. We met anyone who is anyone during this class from Jon Neman at Sweetgreen, to Siggi from Siggi’s Yogurt, to Cristina Tosi from Milk Bar.
How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? We went from wanting to raise a $1MM Pre-Seed with a big launch in summer, to raising a Friends and Family, (and Angels) round less than half the size and soft launching this summer. That said, it has probably worked out better this way. We have learned a lot in the process and have certainly benefited from certain at-home drinking trends!
What is your long-term goal with your startup? We want to redefine the “mixer” category in the US around modern values—high quality, all-natural, low sugar, diverse teams, sustainable supply chains, etc. In the process, we want to create a transcendent brand like Red Bull that operates both as a beverage and represents a way of life. In Red Bull’s case, it’s about being carefree and participating in extreme sports. In our case, it’s about living a balanced and healthy life and having fun along the way. Naturally, as business school students, we would love all this to be reflected in our market value.
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