Homayoon Ershadi ’18 (Economics) says the idea came to him after a bike ride.
“That lightning bolt moment,” he said. “I’m a big cyclist, racing and competing for years now. I was living at home, out on my usual route — I came back and my mom had a pitcher of this apple cider vinegar drink she’s been making all my life pretty much, ever since we were in Iran. And I drank it after my ride and was like, ‘Wow.'”
Just like that, Jabin Beverage Company was born.
But Ershadi didn’t exactly have aspirations to become an entrepreneur while growing up. After moving to the United States in high school, he wanted to pursue a path in engineering, beginning his undergraduate studies in 2013.
“I was really involved but it didn’t seem to fit, so I took a step back and enrolled in Wake Technical Community College and started exploring classes in different fields from art history to design,” said Ershadi. “The plan was still to go toward engineering until I took a few economics courses and saw how math and science can be used to study human behavior.”
Ershadi says once he decided to switch gears to economics, he came across the Bryan School at UNC Greensboro.
“I hit the ground running,” he said. “I‘ve been so fortunate to have fallen into that and make it to Greensboro. My time there was so valuable, it was only a year and a half but I learned so much.”
Before graduating in the spring of 2018, Ershadi had made the rounds to various corners of campus, making connections with individuals in clubs such as the Student Government Association. Over the course of three semesters, he began to visualize his future a little more clearly.
“I was drawn to Economics. It wasn’t entrepreneurship or starting my own business while at UNCG. Originally, my plan was mostly to go into policy research but in the back of my mind, I knew at some point I wanted to have my own thing — whether that be owning my own company one day or advising companies with new products. Those thoughts always stayed in the back of my mind,” said Ershadi.
After graduating, in the midst of living at home in North Carolina and applying for jobs in Washington, D.C., Ershadi went out for what would turn into a life-altering bike ride.
“At that time I thought, ‘I don’t have a job, I don’t have any strict path in front of me, so why don’t I look more into this beverage space?’” he reflected.
Ershadi turned down a job offer in D.C. and began looking for jobs closer to home while pursuing his new dream. He went to local stores to scout other homemade craft companies, trying some of the other drinks that use apple cider vinegar.
“I knew this company wasn’t going to be profitable right off the bat,” he said. “So I reached out to my network, a lot of folks who I met at UNCG.”
An old student government mentor recommended a grant for early-stage ideation phase companies. Ershadi said the money would go to someone looking to explore an idea, interview people, and go to a conference or two to see if the idea itself was feasible.
“I applied and was able to get that grant and for the next couple of months I was working part-time at a bike shop and living at home to keep the costs low,” he said. “I was just interviewing people and working in my parents’ kitchen and looking at this thing my mom kind of eyeballs and worked to make it consistent, scaling it.”
Ershadi got involved in a coworking space in Raleigh and began doing samplings at area farmer’s markets.
“The feedback was very positive,” he said. “Obviously a drink that has apple cider vinegar in it isn’t something everybody’s going to immediately start chugging because the western palate is still fairly new to it, but our target market is not the same demographic as Pepsi or Coke.”
For Ershadi, the sweet spot was how the drink made him feel after his serendipitous bike ride. He loves when people get a chance to try it for themselves.
“Since we incorporate natural herbs and cucumber, the flavor of the drink is very mild and not just focused on vinegar. It’s funny, a lot of folks that take apple cider vinegar shots regularly in the morning and are looking for the strong vinegar taste think the drink needs to have even more vinegar in it. My favorite part is seeing someone really brace themselves for the intense taste but say, ‘Oh, this is very easy to drink.’ You smell cucumber and mint more than anything, and I wanted everyone to be able to experience the benefits of this drink, not just hardcore fans of apple cider vinegar,” said Ershadi. “In the Middle East a lot of countries have thousands of years of tradition, you have a lot of natural ingredients that have medicinal powers and they’re consumed both for pleasure but also for the way they make your body feel. This is something that was used in my family and where I grew up in Iran. But if you look at history the Greeks had their own version of a beverage that combines vinegar and a form of sweetener, even colonial Americans had switchel. Jabin, the word, is derived from Sekanjabin which in its Farsi root basically means vinegar and tree sap.”
In a pandemic, Ershadi says the focus has shifted back to research and development. He has moved to a larger production facility, planning to scale the formula when things get back to normal. He plans to start raising capital and find investors within the next year.
“The plan is to get ready and start looking at what needs to be done to be on store shelves,” he said. “It’s a whole different animal.”
Ershadi’s advice for current students? Start building your network. You never know when your life might change, and who you might need to call when it does.
“I interned for a marketing firm in downtown Greensboro and the CEO there has become a good mentor of mine. I’ve reached out and utilized his experience and expertise,” said Ershadi. “And I still go back to the network I made at UNCG. Reaching out to professors at the Bryan School has not only been helpful, but those very relationships also helped me find the confidence to make this back-burner thought into a reality.”