Venture: Beverage startup Bo-yi aims to make healthy, nutrient-rich East Asian superfoods accessible to consumers throughout the United States. The company is beginning with a healthy beverage line and has plans to branch out into other food products.
Founder: Tiffany Leong ’21
What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?
There wasn’t one clear moment. The idea had been building up for some time through a series of moments that seemed to click together when I started school at Yale SOM.
As a Chinese American, I grew up eating all sorts of Asian herbal foods and drinks my mom prepared. I didn’t appreciate these foods and their health benefits until I graduated from college and began working pretty intense hours in finance. I went through some health challenges, and I tried a lot of things to heal my body. One of my doctors told me to eat foods that my ancestors ate to heal. I found myself making the same Asian herbal drinks my mom made. I fell in love with them. It made me feel better physically, and I felt closer to home and my cultural roots.
I was living in San Francisco at the time and noticed different superfoods like turmeric and acai becoming super popular among my friends and co-workers. At the same time, every time I visited an Asian grocery store I noticed all the herbs and soup packets had instructions on them written in Asian languages.
Inspired by an entrepreneurship career panel during orientation at SOM, I decided to pitch my venture thesis at the Yale Pitch Slam the third week of school. I brought with me what is now our fan favorite beverage, the Jujube. And the rest is history!
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?
We’re making East Asian superfoods accessible to everyone. There are more than 500 plant-based East Asian superfoods that have been eaten in East Asia for thousands of years, for their health benefits and flavorful tastes. We’ve barely scratched the surface here, despite the fact that Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. These delicious and healthy foods shouldn’t be confined to Asian households or Chinese medicine pharmacies and grocery stores.
We’re helping health-conscious consumers invest in their health, and we’re allowing Asian Americans to rediscover their roots. We source our herbs from their native regions in Asia, making them of the highest quality in terms of taste and functional benefits. This is a really exciting time for Asian American products. At Bo-yi, we’re the perfect intersection of ancient wisdom, preventative health, and Asian American/ Pacific Islander representation.
What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?
I don’t know where to begin! I took Jennifer McFadden’s Startup Founder Practicum class for three semesters in a row. It was great to have dedicated time and space to work on Bo-yi (known as Qi Foods at the time) and learn from the many guest speakers and talented peers building really awesome companies down in the Honest Tea Entrepreneurial Suite (also known as “the bunker”). Jennifer was also a great resource in helping me navigate this new world of entrepreneurship. In addition, the SOM donor awards and fellowship opportunities were very helpful in getting my company started.
More than anything, I am grateful for my SOM classmates, who were the village I needed. Whether it was interning with us, helping me demo, providing advice based on their previous careers, or just general support, I am very grateful for my kind and intelligent classmates who continue to be a big part of my support system.
What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit?
We’ve recently launched our Jujube and Hawthorn beverages in New York City and Connecticut retail outlets (Chrysanthemum coming soon!). We sold out in a couple of stores three days after launching, and I’m happy to say our sell-through has been faster than expected. We’re working on increasing our retail presence as well as preparing to launch our website. We’ve already sold out of approximately 60% of our online inventory through pre-sales.
Prior to this, a huge milestone for us was creating shelf-stable formulations using only natural ingredients (no artificial preservatives or sweeteners) while keeping our beverages tasty and nutrient- and vitamin-packed. Our beverages received regulatory approval from the FDA. We did all of this in-house, in collaboration with our co-packer, herbalists, and medical professionals.