Irina Gribanenkova, co-founder of Sultana Tea

Photo of Sultana Tea Team

Meet the Sultana Tea team! With a deep appreciation for the smallholder farmers in Guatemala and a passion for sustainable practices, they have embarked on a journey to bring the captivating allure of Cascara Tea to the UK. Their company sources the finest dried coffee fruit husks, carefully crafting blends that capture the essence of the coffee plant. Through Sultana Tea, the team invites tea and coffee enthusiasts to indulge in the rich flavours and healthful benefits while supporting an eco-friendlier practice in the coffee industry and fair development for smallholder farmers.

What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
As a team of six female students from diverse graduate programs at Oxford University, we embarked on our entrepreneurial journey fueled by The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarship. Encouraged to address real-world challenges, we embraced the opportunity to combine our knowledge, skills, and passion to create an enterprise that aims to solve pressing problems and positively impact the world.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is the catalyst for personal and societal transformation. It empowers individuals to break free from the ordinary, follow their dreams, and make a meaningful impact. It’s a journey that ignites innovation, fosters growth, and inspires others to believe in their own potential. Through entrepreneurship, we unlock the limitless possibilities of human ingenuity and create a brighter future for all.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Sultana Tea Logo

We knew our idea was worth developing when we discovered an untapped market with minimal competition. Additionally, having context and access to the product gave us a unique advantage, allowing us to make a significant impact and thrive in this promising opportunity.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Adaptability, creativity, and shrewdness are paramount in pursuing entrepreneurial success. Developing a product requires time, patience, and the ability to learn from mistakes. Thinking outside the box becomes essential to tap into the untapped potential of niche markets, which is increasingly challenging in the face of existing opportunities and the rise of AI. To truly make an impact, one must be shrewd, possessing the ability to “read” people’s needs and desires, ultimately crafting a product that resonates with them. Through a combination of these qualities, entrepreneurs can navigate the dynamic landscape, seize opportunities, and shape a brighter future.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Our favourite part about being entrepreneurs is the opportunity to create value and impact through our business. We are working with a product that would otherwise be considered waste to ensure the farmers we work with have a higher return on their farming investment. We extract further value from the coffee husks that would otherwise be lost.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Electric Coffee and its Founder, Adnan Anwar, inspire the team. Over the past few years, Electric Coffee has grown to two locations in the United Kingdom. The organisation works closely with its farmers, pickers and baristas to ensure it delivers quality coffee. Electric Coffee’s focus on its supply chain is core to what it does. Sultana aspires to have close and impactful relationships across our value-chain like, what Electric Coffee has achieved.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
We would discuss Electric Coffee’s approach to building strong relationships across its value chain and how Sultana Tea can customize this for our partners in our supply chain, especially the small-holder farmers in Guatemala who are key in our business.

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
The pivotal moment of realization came when we witnessed the powerful impact of our business on both ends of the value chain. Seeing farmers uplifted and empowered, their livelihoods improved, while receiving positive feedback from our satisfied customers, affirmed our purpose-driven mission and ignited our passion to continue making a meaningful difference in the lives of all stakeholders involved.

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Mistakes: focusing more on the impact model rather than the business, which threatens the project’s sustainability.
Lesson: we can learn a lot from similar models that are more focused on the business side to evaluate the viability of our product.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire as a student brings a mix of advantages and challenges. The region’s vibrant startup ecosystem offers valuable networking opportunities, mentorship programs, and access to renowned universities. Engaging with like-minded individuals fuels creativity and collaboration. However, competition can be intense, making it crucial to carve a unique niche and differentiate oneself. The high living costs can strain limited student budgets. Balancing academic commitments with entrepreneurial pursuits requires time management and dedication. Nonetheless, the supportive environment and wealth of resources make Oxfordshire an inspiring place to explore one’s entrepreneurial aspirations as a student.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
We recommend directing them to EnSpire Oxford, an entrepreneurship program affiliated with the University of Oxford. EnSpire Oxford offers support, mentoring, and access to a network of experienced entrepreneurs and industry professionals. Additionally, the Oxfordshire Business Support (OBS) initiative provides a comprehensive range of resources, advice, and funding opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs in the region.

Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
As female students, we have faced some challenges during our journey. We have built strong support networks and sought mentorship to overcome these obstacles.

What resources would you recommend for other women?
Particularly for women, we recommend connecting them with Oxford Women in Business (OxWIB). OxWIB is a community-driven organization that provides support, networking opportunities, and resources specifically tailored for women entrepreneurs in Oxfordshire. Their events, workshops, and mentorship programs empower women to navigate the entrepreneurial landscape and succeed in their ventures.

Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
For aspiring women entrepreneurs: Embrace your ambitions unapologetically. Challenge the gender biases and systemic barriers you may encounter. Seek out communities and networks specifically designed to support women entrepreneurs. Advocate for equal opportunities and fair representation. Embrace mentorship, empower other women, and believe in your capabilities to thrive in the entrepreneurial world. Your unique perspective and resilience are assets that will propel you to success.

Any last words of advice?
Embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of Oxford, but remember that success requires more than just ideas. It demands perseverance, continuous learning, and a willingness to adapt. Surround yourself with supportive networks, leverage available resources, and seize opportunities with passion and determination. With the right mindset and hard work, your entrepreneurial journey in Oxford can truly flourish.