Anyone for a cup of tea? The answer, in Britain, is a resounding ‘yes’ – and thanks to an award-winning company set up under the auspices of Oxford’s Graduate Entrepreneur Visa (GEV) scheme, our teas of choice can now include those from artisanal tea-makers in Taiwan, Japan and Thailand.
Step forward, Marulin, the brainchild of Said Business School MBA graduate Dr Chau-Jean Lin.
Tea is in Chau-Jean’s blood – her family in Taiwan has produced Oolong tea for generations – and it was while working as a scientist in France that the idea for Marulin formed.
A passion for tea
“I’m trained as a materials scientist but grew up drinking Oolong tea from my family’s gardens in Taiwan,” says Chau-Jean, who completed her MBA in 2015. “It was always a passion, and while working in France I realised that other people viewed tea in the same way – as something enriching, health-giving and positive. I was working in the oil industry and selling tea on the side; before long, there was so much interest in tea that I realised there was the potential to start a business.”
So Chau-Jean, a Cornell University graduate with a PhD from Northwestern University in Materials Science and Engineering, enrolled at Said for her MBA – and found the experience invaluable as the idea for Marulin grew. “The MBA was great not just because of the financial and business skills that are taught, but because of the soft skills too – meeting people and networking,” says Chau-Jean.
Chau-Jean met her business partner, Tim Takacs, on the MBA. The pair undertook extensive research on the tea and food market in the UK, and market-tested prototypes in blind tests and focus groups. Feedback was enthusiastic, and Marulin was launched in May 2016, with the aim of bringing artisanal teas primarily from Taiwan, though also from Japan and Thailand, to the UK. Into the bargain, the company would also help reinvigorate the tea industry in Asia, with creative solutions to the problems of labour shortages and an aging population. As Chau-Jean puts it: “By encouraging innovation, in both markets and products, we can keep tea traditions alive and benefit local communities.”
Help from the GEV scheme
The University of Oxford’s GEV scheme was a vital part of the jigsaw. “Not only did the GEV scheme enable me to be resident in the UK for two years,” says Chau-Jean, “it also put me in a melting pot where ideas and expertise were everywhere. We showcased Marulin through a variety of events held by Enterprising Oxford, especially the Demo Night which brings together Oxford’s entrepreneurial community. The Oxford Foundry also helps entrepreneurs in a number of ways, and, for obvious reasons, the University’s Tea Appreciation Society was brilliant, too. And now, four years after my MBA, Oxford’s alumni network is a great help.”
Chau-Jean is resident in the UK under a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa (for which Oxford provided endorsement) – and Marulin is flourishing. The London-based company has bagged various industry awards, supplies more than 25 tea shops, restaurants and cafes in the UK, and exports to Holland, France and Kenya. The plan is “to grow and grow,” says Chau-Jean, who stays faithful to Marulin’s Oxford roots: “We’re based in London, but we often return to Oxford for market testing and brainstorming. It’s always good to be back.”