When chemical engineering graduate Brian Lee saw the problem of impatient customers in lineups at his family’s tea store, he realized it could be solved with the touch of a button—and help from a robotics engineer.
“I went home to visit and realized that my mom was losing customers as they didn’t have time to wait in line,” he recalls.
“We live in a new age where the lunch hour has shifted to lunch minutes, people are busier and have less time to wait. By using technology, we can solve the problems of convenience, quality and customization all at the touch of a button,” Lee added.
Enter the teaBOT, an automated kiosk that allows users to select their tea ingredients from a tablet app and pay through a credit card. It then dispenses the ingredients, along with hot water, into a cup. The user walks away with their tea in under 30 seconds.
Currently in BETA stage, having been developed at the MaRS Discovery District’s accelerator program, JOLT, it is undergoing testing at various locations across the city.
“We are validating our assumptions and gathering consumer feedback. As we learn more from the end user, we will iterate our technology and roll out more units,” Lee says.
Lee and his partner in tea, Rehman Merali, see bots like this as the way of the future. The aim is to place teaBOT in high traffic locations where users can easily grab one of our products.
“Our philosophy is that, ‘Just because you’re in a hurry, doesn’t mean you can’t get a great, healthy and personalized product.’ In the future, the machine will also feature a bag sealer, a dispenser for milk and sugar, and the ability to order from a mobile app,” Lee says.
“We are relying more on technology to make our lives easier and ultimately more enjoyable. Incorporating robotics into the retail experience is something we see now with high tech vending machines and will see more of as those concepts explore new values. For us, teaBOT is pushing one of these values by incorporating personalized blends for each user that can be tailored to a specific flavour profile, water temperature and caffeine level,” Lee says.
Lee says being part of JOLT has been a great help.
“Beyond the resource benefits they provide an atmosphere of like minded individuals who are going through the same startup pains as us. Together we share resources and lessons learned in order to tackle the many challenges of building a startup.”
And while funding is always a challenge, Lee says the startup “ecosystem” in Toronto has a lot of support.
“Taking an idea from conception to product is a complex challenge but having a great team and network of friends is paramount,” he adds.
The Creative Destruction Lab, an accelerator located at the University of Toronto, also helped to get the business going, by accepting it into the program with just a cup, a bag of tea and a vision pitch. “They played a key role in pushing our first set of milestones and provided very valuable mentorship in the early stages of our business,” says Lee.