When we launched Menno Tea from our Goshen College dorm rooms in 2010, our aim was simple: to brew delicious tea inspired by a family recipe from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. But as Menno Tea grew, we found that our Mennonite roots gave us more than just a name for our tea – they gave us a set of values to guide our practices.
In 2010 we started this venture out of our dorm rooms at Goshen College. Today you can find our bottled teas throughout the Midwest, Mid Atlantic and Ohio Valley regions. Throughout this time, we’ve leaned on the expertise of our professors and the support of our peers and mentors at Goshen College.
Our initial goal with Menno Tea was simply to re-create the traditional mint meadow tea that Lynn Sommer, Hans’ mom, made back in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and make it available to our friends at college. We started off brewing the tea in the campus coffee shop, but soon started hearing from local businesses that wanted to carry our tea. We couldn’t keep up with production anymore at the campus coffee shop, so later that spring we made the leap to producing our tea at a professional facility in western Pennsylvania.
Since then, we’ve grown our distribution and focused the company around the core values that have shaped us personally and guided our decision-making within the company. Those values are Simplicity, Community and Sustainability. We grew up in communities that valued simple lifestyles, and we’ve applied that simplicity to our recipe. Our shared background taught us that we’re inter-dependent members of community and that we can’t go it alone. We also both grew up in agricultural areas where we learned to cultivate a sustainable relationship with the land that makes wholesome beverages possible.
We’re grateful to all members of the Menno Tea community who grow, brew, bottle, pack, ship, sell and enjoy Menno Tea, and we’re committed to contributing back to this community. We’re also grateful to Goshen College for providing us with the resources to start and grow our business and for the support and mentoring that we received along the way.
Q&A with Hans and Niles
Why did you come to Goshen?
Hans: I attended Goshen College because of it’s unique culture, and strong business and music departments. The first time that I visited GC, I was impressed by its active student body and strong community. I also wanted a small campus, because I’m the type of person who likes to get to know as many people as possible, and would rather be seen as a person instead of a number by my professors.
Niles: The international SST (Study Service Term) program was a major draw — Goshen has one of the best international programs of any liberal arts college in the U.S. I went to Peru for SST, where I lived with host families in Cuzco, Lima and La Merced, and did service for a company that works with fair trade coffee cooperatives. Since SST, I’ve maintained my relationships in Peru and still work for my service partner and host family. Currently, Hans and I travel all over the U.S. to help sell Peruvian coffee using connections that have grown out of running Menno Tea.
What made you decide to major in business?
Hans: A degree in business can lead to many opportunities, and prepare anyone for various types of jobs. I felt like knowing basic accounting, marketing, management and operations skills could be used if I would want to work for a for-profit business or NGO. I’m a strong believer that business can be used to solve some of the world’s most complex problems, and Goshen College especially emphasizes that aspect of business in classes.
Niles: I applied for an entrepreneurship grant for the advertising bus business a few days after I arrived at Goshen College, though I wasn’t planning on majoring in business. In the process of drafting a business plan and financials for the grant application, I quickly began to appreciate the skills that were needed to start a business and wanted to learn more.
What’s the biggest advantage you’ve encountered as a Goshen College student?
Hans: Since Goshen College is a liberal arts college, I was encouraged to take classes that didn’t relate to my major, and that allowed me to receive a more well-rounded education. I now feel as if I have a good understanding of various different subjects, instead of just one certain job type or trade.
Niles: The small class-to-professor ratio allows for flexibility and tailored learning. The networks and recommendations provided by professors who know you personally are a major asset. The international program is exceptional — any school can send students abroad for a couple weeks of class; very few schools offer the length and level of immersion that Goshen does.
What’s it like applying for the Entrepreneurship Grant?
Hans: Applying for the Entrepreneurship Grant takes A LOT of work, but in the end it’s well worth it. While applying for the grant, you must think about the most basic principles of your business idea, and convince yourself and others why it will work. The final presentation in front of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs is a true test for your idea, and allows you to receive valuable and concrete advice from well-respected individuals.
Niles: Applying for the grant is a great experience because it forces you to organize and analyze your idea. It teaches you to use the tools you learn in classes in ways that are hard to experience in a normal class setting. When you analyze a case study, it’s easy to be impartial, but, when it’s your own idea, you are the case, and your emotional energy is tied up in it.
Can entrepreneurship be taught?
Hans: Entrepreneurship can definitely be taught. Once you get the “entrepreneurship bug,” whenever you see an opportunity, you act on it. In order to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be able to notice when there is a demand for a certain service or good, and then know how to satisfy that demand. That can easily be taught with formal education and real-world experience.
Niles: If you learn the tools that allow you to interpret and act on the opportunities you see, you will be more likely to become an entrepreneur. The business department will teach you those tools, and interactions with your fellow students can present the opportunities. Goshen has one of the most diverse student populations of any colleges in the region, and certainly among other Mennonite institutions. Diversity of life experiences, coupled with common underlying values of community and integrity are a great combination for finding a successful team and unique opportunities. So, yes, I think the tools can be taught, but equally important is the environment you choose to be in.
Our annual entrepreneurship competition has provided more than $50,000 in start up funding over the last 4 years. Goshen College students have launched design, technology, music, and many other kinds of businesses because of the funding they received from the business department.