Do you prefer coffee or tea? For Monarch Tea Co. Founder and Mohawk College Alumni Katie Cyr, the answer is easy: tea. 

Katie’s love for tea has brewed her whole life, her passion steeping in knowledge until she was ready to pour it all into her business. 

I always grew up drinking tea,” says Katie. It was something I was really passionate about and always enjoyed with my grandmother growing up. I would create small loose-leaf tea blends at home for personal enjoyment or sharing with family and friends. About seven years ago I started doing small batch blends that I would sell as well as ‘tea talks’ at people’s homes or businesses - wherever they wanted to learn more about tea. I ran this little business on the side as I was working full time. 

Katie’s workshops – or ‘tea talks,’ as she calls them – would prove to be her first step on her entrepreneurial journey. The next step? Enrolling at Mohawk College. 

When I noticed Mohawk had a tea sommelier program I thought ‘oh, this is perfect,” says Katie. I loved tea so much, and I was excited that this would give me some kind of certification for what I’m so passionate and knowledgeable about, so I signed up. 

After Katie completed her program, she continued to grow her small business, but she never felt ready to give up her job and dive into the business full-time. 

For the first few years, I was running my business while having a full-time job on the side,” says Katie. I was always afraid to take the next step and be fully reliant on my business for my income. Then, when Covid hit, I was laid off, which forced me to take the business to the next level and give it a try. It has been 8 or 9 months of doing my business full-time since then, and it has been phenomenal. Last February my old job contacted me and asked me to come back, and I was actually able to tell them ‘No. 

As Katie spent her time in lockdown growing her business, she came across an opportunity that would help her grow as an entrepreneur. 

During the pandemic a postcard came to my house from City School by Mohawk, advertising the foundations for small business program,” says Katie. Even though I had been running my business for a long time it caught my eye. I thought it could be a nice refresher and that I might learn some new skills or brush up on some things that I wasn’t aware of. 

During her time in the program, Katie learned about the annual SURGE Pitch it to Win it! competition, where students pitch business plans to a panel of judges consisting of small business owners and Mohawk faculty for a chance to win start-up capital for their pitched business. 

My time in the program led me to apply for the pitch competition through SURGE, and I pitched a business plan for Monarch Tea Co. which won first place,” says Katie. 

While the pandemic created opportunities for Katie to grow her business, it also created hurdles that were difficult for many businesses – especially small businesses just getting off the ground. 

It was a challenge at first pivoting from in person workshops to now doing it through zoom,” says Katie. It was hard using technology and making sure it’s still interactive and engaging when people are just watching through a computer screen. I really wanted to make sure they weren’t dull or boring, and I wanted to make sure to instill a sense of connection.” 

Despite the challenges and changes that have come with it, Katie recognizes the role the pandemic has played in the growth and success of her business. 

The pandemic helped to elevate my business to the next level, allowing me to use it as full-time income,” says Katie. The support from folks wanting to purchase local and purchase with intention to support entrepreneurs, as well as the increased popularity of virtual workshops for corporate and private events really helped my business to grow. 

Having run the Monarch Tea Co. full-time for almost a year, Katie has gained a lot of perspective on what it’s like to be a business owner. 

It’s a really unique feeling,” says Katie. It’s a mixture of freedom but also the feeling of always having something in the back of your mind – to me, it reminds me of being in school and always having homework. It could be the weekend and my mind will wander to the things I have to do to keep the business on track. 

You can create your own schedule and you’re fully autonomous and in charge of what you want to do. There’s also a lot of responsibility because your income and the success of your business is entirely reliant on you. 

While she may be building a business of her own, Katie hasn’t forgotten her time as a student at Mohawk and does what she can to give back to the college and to new students. 

I’m now part of the alumni association, which has been really cool,” says Katie. I’ve been asked to come back and speak at the college a few times about starting a small business, and I was recently interviewed for a Mohawk podcast through The Centre for Entrepreneurship. I’ve been able to participate in a few different Mohawk things and it will continue to be a part of my life for sure. 

Katie wants to share what she has learned in her journey with other prospective entrepreneurs and Mohawk College students. 

Continue to speak to other people in your program and make friends, or at least make connections,” she says. These are people who you might connect with or collaborate with in your professional life. Always try to expand your network, and most importantly, don’t give up on what you’re passionate about. 

Monarch Tea Co. is one of the newest additions to the Alumni Business Directory. Get 15% off your order when using the code available through the Alumni Perks App. 

 

By Emmett SteeleJournalism Student 

More Featured Alumni

Business Administration

You could say that Doug Dreher’s business outlook is inflated, which is exactly the way he wants it to be.

Materials Engineering Technology

In Touch caught up with Mohawk alumnus Chris Dennis during the dog days of summer in early August just after he’d returned from vacation.

Electrical Engineering Technology - Control

“Don’t let things happen to you. Make things happen.”