Founded: 2003 in Argentina
HQ: Buenos Aires
CEO: Guillermo Casarotti
BUENOS AIRES -- Tea enthusiasts Guillermo Casarotti and Ines Berton each launched their own companies before joining forces in a new venture to persuade South Americans to indulge in brews beyond the traditional and ubiquitous mate.
Fate and a shared passion for tea brought the entrepreneurs together, and after several years of independent success and informal collaboration, they formed a joint venture, Chamana, in 2008.
Yet Berton's own aspirations had been tested by terrible timing. Returning home after a decade of living in New York, her flight touched down on December 20, 2001, the day President Fernando de la Rua abandoned office during one of the bleakest moments of Argentina's financial implosion.
Then 29 years old, Berton was undeterred by the bad economy, convinced that enough Argentines still had disposable income and, given the markedly higher cost of international travel, would spend more of it at home. She also saw the middle classes turning to Asian cultures for inspiration in the crisis. So Berton went ahead in 2002 and launched Tealosophy in her apartment with just $132, preparing her own specialty blends using ingredients from all over the world.
Berton met fellow tea entrepreneur Casarotti after he learned of her similar business and contacted her. In 2003, Casarotti had founded his tea business, IntiZen, with $150,000 in personal savings and funds raised from family and friends. That same year, the two began to collaborate, his strong business background complementing her skill in blending leaves.
Originally from Uruguay, Casarotti become fascinated with tea in his 20s while backpacking in France, where he met his wife, French native Anna Sophie. He earned an MBA at Cornell University, moved to Buenos Aires in the 1990s and worked in marketing for a series of U.S. multinational corporations: PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Burger King and Monsanto. At Monsanto, he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. After water, tea is the most frequently consumed beverage in the world. It would give him the satisfaction of promoting a healthy product, he said.
With three children and a spouse to support, Casarotti described the first year as nerve-wracking. "I dove into the swimming pool without knowing if it was even filled with water," he said.
The anxiety has eased but a huge hurdle--for both...