By Si Chen
CHANGSHA, Hunan, China – A group of prominent tea researchers in China are crowdsourcing an educational institute to train business executives in management, tea marketing and sales.
The China Institute of Tea Business is the first of its kind in a country where educational institutions typically concentrate on agribusiness and the cultivation of tea. The institute’s eight founders are distinguished professors of business and economics responsible for some of the latest research in tea. They include Dr. Zhonghua Liu, Dr. Shikang Wang, Dr. Yuefei Wang, Dr. Zhengzhu Zhang, and Dr. Lizheng Xiao. They are joined by business executives Aiqin Jiang, Daokun Ouyang, and Zhibin Wu. All hold important governmental or non-profit positions in the Chinese tea industry.
Crowdfunding is new to China. Organizers are seeking investors willing to pay RMB ¥100,000 ($15,650) per share (maximum five shares) to launch the institute. The venture launched in July.
“The crowdfunding, though new, has been an ultra-smooth journey and all shares are fulfilled to date,” said Ouyang, the institute’s chief operations officer.
Ouyang said “the Chinese tea industry is calling for a more strategic and collective approach into a long-term business development for individual tea producers and marketers.”
He explained that the institute will train business executives using food and beverage industry case studies in a collective effort to promote Chinese tea products. This mini-version of a tea business school offers four executive education programs – senior and junior executive seminars, focused seminars, and tea garden management seminars. The intent is to develop entrepreneurs with a curriculum centered on strategies and tactics students can employ in the future. Students will learn about various marketing tools in advertising, brand building, customer engagement and social media and digital marketing. Students are expected to scrutinize case studies from the tea industry within and outside of China, as well as in the food, natural health, and wine industry. The intent is to learn how to provide uniform, mass-produced tea products for millions of consumers.
The institute fills a white space in China’s current educational system, as most programs are focused on either agricultural science or anthropological studies, according to Ouyang. “Business operations and management are given little attention in traditional tea education,” he said.
Dr. Liu, the principal founder of the institute and a prominent tea scientist, said that “in China there are great tea masters making top-quality specialty tea, but very few good sales people could do justice to the quality products and pass them into the customers’ hand.” Liu teaches at Hunan Agricultural University in Changsha.
Standardization of specialty tea processing has been resisted by the Chinese whose elaborate 6000-year-old tea culture prefers tailor-made (artisan) teas. “Tea growing and production has been small-scaled with independent tea manufacturing and regional trading practices,” said Dr. Liu. “We want to bring in business stories from highly-industrialized tea companies overseas, as well as learn technologies enabling mass-production,” said Dr. Liu. Innovation is critical, he said. Insisting on traditional methods of preparation and ceremony has lowered engagement with contemporary tea drinkers and impeded exports to the west where tea is mass produced.
“The courses will incorporate site-visits to food manufacturing centers and health products industries. The courses are business-oriented— not traditional degree programs or certification exam preparation courses for a tea sommelier,” said Dr. Liu.