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Betty Tang ’21 and Thu Ra ’20 headshots side by side

Startup Stories: Upright Dairy Alternative

In this series, we talk to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.

Venture: Upright’s goal is to create delicious food that’s better for people, and for the planet. The company is starting with an instant oatmilk as nutritious as dairy in three delicious, creamy flavors: original, vanilla, and chocolate.

Team: Betty Tang ’21  and  Thu Ra ’20

What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?

Betty was introduced to oatmilk for the first time in a trendy café while traveling with an SOM classmate over fall break. Growing up, she’d always felt forced to make tradeoffs between taste, health, and the environment. Oatmilk actually tasted good in her coffee, was allergen-free, and was more eco-friendly than anything else she’d ever tried.

When she got back to New Haven, Betty looked for oatmilk in stores, but the only place she could find it was online, for $200 a case (this was during the “great oatmilk shortage of 2019.”) She saw an opportunity to create Upright and shared the idea with Thu Ra, who immediately got onboard. They combined their complementary skills and experiences to create Upright.

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?

Milk is a staple, but current options aren’t great. Dairy, too, is a dietary staple, but it can be tough on our bodies and our planet. Two-thirds of people are lactose intolerant, and cows contribute nearly 10% of annual global greenhouse gases.

Plant-based milks exist, but they force tradeoffs. Other alternatives often lack key nutrients, contain allergens, and take a toll on the environment (just one cup of almond milk takes 90 liters of water!). Upright was created to fill this void.

What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?

Like any good startup, we got started in a basement. We didn’t have our parents’ homes to work out of while in New Haven, but the Honest Tea Entrepreneurship Suite in Evans Hall provided us with physical space, resources, connection with other student entrepreneurs and Yale mentors, and, of course—ample snacks to facilitate our progress.

What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit?

We just launched reservations for our equity crowdfunding campaign on Republic, a leading investment platform that accepts less than 5% of the startups who apply.

We chose to take a new approach in the startup world: an open investment campaign. Instead of Silicon Valley investors, we’re opening up the investment opportunity to anyone interested in owning a stake in our growing business. We hit our minimum goal within 24 hours and within the first week, have already had 69 investors reserve over $60,000 of our upcoming fundraising round. We’re excited to use these funds to launch our inaugural instant oatmilk product later this year.