Local Tea Company Finds Recipe for Sweet Success

Images via JC Sweet Ice Tea's Facebook Page.

Considered the best local small business resource in Columbus, the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI) is a hidden gem for small business owners in Ohio. As the third largest Small Business Administration (SBA) micro-lender in the U.S., and a U.S. Treasury Certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), ECDI is dedicated to delivering responsible, affordable lending and wraparound small business development services to help low-income, low-wealth, and other disadvantaged people and communities join the economic mainstream.

A majority of ECDI’s clients represent underserved communities without access to traditional lending or business development services. This includes African-American small business owners, low-to moderate-income entrepreneurs, those with little or no credit, those precluded from paying interest because of religious beliefs, and those unable to receive small business financing from a traditional financial institution. Exemplifying this commitment, since July 2017, ECDI has provided 68 loans to African-American clients, comprising 61 percent of ECDI’s total loan disbursements for this time period.

Jackie Chapman - Image courtesy of ECDI.
Jackie Chapman – Image courtesy of ECDI.

ECDI is a champion for Central Ohio food-based businesses, and a launch pad for Central Ohio’s prospering food truck scene. ECDI’s Food Fort, a commercial kitchen and food-based business incubator, has been a catalyst for Columbus cementing its reputation as a foodie city. This 20,000 square foot facility is currently utilized by 45 clients.

Clients also take advantage of ECDI’s specialty training workshops and small business loan program. The organization has secured funding for its Food Fort 2.0, a neighboring incubator that will house two growth-stage food businesses that are ready to operate independently. This new facility will create space for six to eight new food-based startups to join the Food Fort.

Today, we celebrate the success of one of our minority-owned, food-based businesses!
Jackie Chapman, owner of JC’s Sweet Ice Tea, embodies a successful African-American entrepreneur who has benefited from ECDI’s comprehensive small business services including the Food Fort, the small business loan program, and the Women’s Business Center (WBC) of Central Ohio. The WBC is the only center of its kind in the state and was recently honored as the top WBC in the Midwest Region by the SBA.

Chapman’s story begins in Greensboro, South Carolina. Growing up in a working-class family, Chapman and her brothers frequently helped their dad with his custodial work, cleaning offices after school and on the weekends. She recalls watching her father work for himself as her initial inspiration to follow an entrepreneurial path.

“It’s always been in my DNA to become an entrepreneur,” Chapman said.

After earning her MBA from Ohio University, Chapman was ready to embark on her own entrepreneurial journey. She started a company that provided billing services to local healthcare providers. However, she encountered issues with cash flow, and without additional training and support, this led her to close the business.

One holiday, as she gathered with family in her home state of South Carolina and drank sweet ice tea, a staple of the Palmetto State, she recalls her “epiphany” – to make and sell the very home-brewed tea they were drinking.

“This tea is so good, we should be selling it!” she said.

Her family was skeptical, but Chapman was not deterred. She and her husband decided they would go back to Columbus with their special recipe and test run the concept. They took the tea to church events and farmers markets, and everyone loved it.

One enthusiastic fan of the product encouraged Jackie to get in touch with ECDI. She was introduced to ECDI’s Food Fort, where she soon began producing tea for her business at a record pace. To secure the capital needed to get JC’s Sweet Ice Tea off the ground, Jackie worked with ECDI staff to create a business plan, allowing her to secure a loan needed to scale her business.

“Had it not been for ECDI, the first time that I went to make 20,000 bottles of tea, I would not have had the funding…If it wasn’t for ECDI, I would have been dead in the water,” Chapman said.

JC’s Sweet Ice Tea is now available at large retailers like Kroger, Whole Foods and Meijer, spanning six states.

For more information, visit jcssweeticetea.com

Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through their one-stop-shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they are in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their specific needs. Whether you merely have a business idea or are opening up your fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed nearly 12,000 individuals to take advantage of the services they provide. Visit www.ecdi.org today to learn more.