By Tim Omarzu Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This is a story of one the many wonderful small business women who have taken the plunge into entrepreneurship. Tiffany Malapanes's tea company is small but she is off to a great start (she had sales of more than 50k last year)
Tiffany Malapanes was a student at Middle Tennessee State University when she started her herbal tea business, Positiffitea, with $250 in cash -- no investors, no loans.
Now, four years later, the business (pronounced Posi TIFFI tea, a combination of positivity, Tiffany and tea) has annual sales of more than $50,000.
"Going from $250 to $50,000 -- that's a huge jump," Malapanes told an audience in late January that had crowded into the fifth floor of the Edney Building in downtown Chattanooga's Innovation District to hear entrepreneurs from 11 businesses talk at Co.Lab's "Pitch Night."
But Malapanes wasn't bragging. If anything, she was self-deprecating about herself and her business, which supplies tea to restaurants and cafes around Middle Tennessee as well as individuals who buy her organic blends at such locations as the Chattanooga Market, a warm-weather farmer's market at the Tennessee Pavilion.
"I will be honest," Malapanes told the crowd. "I don't know anything about business."
Malapanes, who only recently moved to Chattanooga (a city that she loves), makes enough to support herself in a self-described "minimalist" lifestyle. Malapanes blends tea at home as she saves money to open a herbal tea factory and store front.
Mentors -- not money -- were what Malapanes sought from the Pitch Night audience. She wants to make the world a better place through Positiffitea -- not only for those who drink her herbal tea, but for those who harvest it.
"A thing that I think is really important is fair trade," she says. "That's something I'm really passionate about -- but I know nothing about international trade."
To that end, Malapanes would like to travel to foreign countries where tea is grown on plantations, so she can see for herself that the workers are treated fairly. A number of people who heard Malapanes' Pitch Night talk offered advice and help afterward, she said.
Alex Lavidge, who served as the Co.Lab's Entrepreneur-in-Residence helping startup businesses last fall, said he thinks Malapanes is on to something.
"The fact that she went from $250 to $50,000 in sales, that sends a pretty strong signal," Lavidge says. "People really love her tea."