UTM grad does business one cup at a time

Safina with teabot device
Monday, March 9, 2015 - 9:25am
Blake Eligh

Safina Allidina thought she was headed for a career in healthcare management, but a cup of tea changed her mind.

The U of T Mississauga alumna planned to combine her interest in life sciences with her passion for business, but while completing her Masters of Management of Innovation, Allidina got involved with an entrepreneurial project. Now she’s putting her skills to work as the business manager for teaBOT, an exciting new startup that delivers custom-blended tea to order.

teaBOT is the brainchild of engineers Brian Lee and U of T aerospace and robotics PhD candidate Rehman Merali, who were looking for a way to help customers avoid long lineups at Lee’s family’s teashop. The pair created an automated robot that can deliver a custom-blended cup of tea in less than 30 seconds.

As the project grew big enough to require business direction, Merali and Lee turned to Allidina. As teaBOT’s business manager, she manages business development and marketing initiatives. The team launched a prototype in 2013 through Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab, and is now part of the JOLT business incubator at the MaRS Discovery District.

Allidina loves the diversity of experience that comes with working for a startup. “Things move very quickly, and I can have a large impact,” she says. She credits the MMI program with teaching her the skills she uses on the job. “It really helps to have high level knowledge, like knowing how to create value propositions and develop business strategies,” she says. “MMI also taught me the important technical aspects, like accounting, metrics and market research.”

teabot kioskThe teaBOT kiosks target high-traffic urban locations where tea lovers need a quick on-the-go cup. Using the company’s app, customers can order a customized blend, choosing from 18 loose-leaf teas, and collect their specialized hot beverage in under 30 seconds.

The project has been piloted at the St. George campus, Harry Rosen stores and at the MaRS Discovery district. In December, the team launched an ecommerce site that lets customers reorder their blends to drink at home. According to Allidina, next on the development list are “tap to pay” capabilities, adjustable water temperature and new locations around university campuses, transit hubs and malls.

“With entrepreneurship, you can get a product to market very quickly,” Allidina says. “If you’re willing to work really hard on it, you can be very successful. You just need that great idea.”

And what’s Allidina’s favourite teaBOT recipe? A custom blend of masala chai and chocolate latte. “It’s the perfect balance of spices and sweetness, with a nice caffeine boost,” she says.