The impetus to create an entrepreneurial beverage brand is often a simple one: profit. The genesis of Heart Juice, however, was inspired by – of all things – a heart attack. Ray Li and John Vitug, the creators of Heart Juice, an all-natural beverage formulated to improve heart health, were students at Rutgers Business School when a professor they both admired fell victim to a heart attack.
After hearing about their professor and his (admittedly) poor diet, Li and Vitug set out to create a beverage that could help protect individuals from high cholesterol and that could also support overall cardiac function.
Along with another colleague, Li and Vitug designed a business plan about a heart healthy ready-to-drink beverage, and entered the plan into the 2011 Rutgers Business School Business Plan Competition. The trio took second place in the competition, winning $10,000. Li and Vitug used the money to create Heart Juice, a beverage made with hawthorne extract, resveratrol, vitamins, antioxidants, garlic, pomegranate juice, and stevia. They have since managed to land the product with 75 retailers in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
“The Rutgers competition gave us the push to get our product up and running,” Li said. “The award confirmed our belief that we could be successful and win interest from venture capitalists down the road.”
Here is a press release from Rutgers about Heart Juice and its launch from the Rutgers business plan competition:
(PressZoom) – When a professor they admired confessed to a diet of hamburgers, sugar-laden sodas and a recent heart attack, Ray Li and John Vitug were inspired to create an all-natural, low calorie beverage that would contain cardio-protective ingredients and help combat high cholesterol.
Li, who graduated from the School of Arts and Sciences, and Vitug, a graduate of Kean University, explored the health-giving properties of hawthorne berries and resveratrol, a compound found in red grapes. After much research and meeting with doctors, herbalists, and natural food stores, a list of essential ingredients began to emerge. They concluded if they mixed hawthorne extract, resveratrol, vitamins, antioxidants, garlic, pomegranate juice, and a small amount of Stevia, (a natural sweetener), they’d have a bottled drink that would support heart health.
Their colleague, Shaun Bratton, an MBA candidate at Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick, began shaping a business plan around their idea of what would become “Heart Juice,” the first beverage on the market, say its inventors, that boosts cardiac function.
The trio’s innovation won them $10,000 and second place in the 2011 Rutgers Business School Business Plan Competition. They used their winnings plus their own limited funds to form a company, Genso LLC, and launched their product on Earth Day, August 23 of this year.
“In 2010, heart disease cost the United States $316.4 billion in health care services, medications, and lost productivity,” says John. “Heart Juice aims to support exercise and other prevention regimens advocated by such groups as the American Heart Association.”
Soft drinks are $50 billion dollar per year market with Americans consuming around 13 billion gallons of carbonated drinks annually. The industry is a monopolistic world and very tough for entrepreneurs with new products to penetrate. After many rejections, Li and Vitug finally found a company in Kentucky who would work with them to manufacture Heart Juice – in glass bottles, for greater purity. They stored their inventory in their garage and began personally selling their drink one store at a time.
More than 75 food stores in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania now carry Heart Juice. The drink, which has only 20 calories, retails for around $2.49 for a 16-ounce bottle. The Heart Juice team looks forward to the company’s steady growth and creating more products in the future designed to aid health and fitness.
“As our sales increase, we envision expanding our product line to single-serving shots of concentrated Heart Juice, heart healthy energy bars, and other similar products,” Bratton says.
“The Rutgers contest is all about helping real businesses get off the ground, especially a small scale, boot-strapped venture which might not require much capital,” says Richard Romano, member of the RBS Board of Advisers and President of the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation, which sponsored the competition by providing $40,000 in cash prizes.
“The Rutgers competition gave us the push to get our product up and running,” says Li. “The award confirmed our belief that we could be successful and win interest from venture capitalists down the road. However, we’re not just about selling a beverage. We very much believe in social change being a key part of our entrepreneurial vision. We want to create a social enterprise that educates consumers about preventing illness and leading a healthy lifestyle”.