Could this WSJ interview with Rooibee Red Tea CEO Heather Howell finally mark the beginning of Louisville becoming nationally renown for being a startup hub?
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s startup reporter included hometown startup hero Howell along with Portland, Ore.-based Little Bird and Manchester, N.H.-based Dyn. (Manchester is about an hour north of Boston.)
Howell was interviewed on the WSJ Accelerator webpage, which also includes the “Ask the Accelerators” webcast from yesterday, which you can see here.
(Editor’s note: The webcast is not “produced” in any way recognizable to most media consumers, so it’s a bit of a test. But it’s worth wading through what is a pretty shockingly amateurish webcast for a top national media company.)
In the 40-minute webcast, host Sarah Needleman asks Howell about what’s it has been like to start a company in that backwater Louisville, Ky.
Howell swats away the question with a major plug for our fair city: “We’re not Silicon Valley. We’re surrounded by one of the most phenomenal ecosytems here in Louisville, Ky.”
She goes to note that founder of Rooibee Red Tea, Jeff Stum, came from Brown-Forman, and that she came from Humana, “which is a Fortune 100 company.”
(Yes! A Fortune 100 company way out there in Louisville, Ky!)
That’s what happens, Howell adds, when you have big companies … they spin off talent who build new businesses, and she says she wants Rooibee Red Tea to become the “Brown-Forman of tea.”
You go, sister girl!
Howell also touts Lousiville’s low cost of living, talent pool and central location. She’s also candid about how tough it is to raise capital, “with a lot of money sitting on the sidelines.”
Howell and Stum have raised about $2 million, mostly in Louisville, on the way to building a national brand in all 50 states – as well as becoming the unofficial (non-alcoholic) drink of Louisville’s startup and entrepreneurial community. (Something of a debate in startup circles as to whether watermelon mint or pomegranate is better.)
Rooibee Red Tea just inked a deal with Kroger, the giant, Cincinnati-based supermarket chain. Giant Eagle, based in Pittsburgh, carries it along with Whole Foods, Dierberg’s in St.Louis and Earth Fare, based in Fletcher, N. C.
Rooibee Red Tea was featured with Little Bird, which determines which people are most influential on any given topic based on their personal connections, and Dyn Inc., which provides the technology to allow companies to make websites run better.