Startup Diary: From Startup Weekend Honolulu to Dave McLure's '500 Startups'

Build with your heart and the rest will follow.

For the past six years I’ve been involved with international development first as a Peace Corps volunteer and now as a social entrepreneur. During this time I’ve been driven by the same desire to make the world a better place, although I’ve learned the power of humility. I’ve come to realize that the more your mind and heart are open the faster development happens. Follow what you love, share what you love, listen to others, and you’ll be surprised how far you’ll get.

I began my first journey as an “entrepreneur” five months ago at a Startup Weekend in Honolulu.

I was fresh from an internship with tea farmers in Kyoto, Japan and had a big idea of how I would be able to help these farmers that had become my family. My idea was to leverage technology to create connections between these tea growers and tea drinkers; providing a profitable opportunity for the growers. At first I felt out of place pitching my socially-minded agriculture business at an event filled with geeky programmers. Surprisingly, I was able to convince two developers to work on my idea and we won second place with Tealet, a direct from grower tea subscription and marketplace.

It’s been a long ride since that first 52 hours, and I have come to learn what it takes to build a company. The community that I connected with during Startup Weekend has been very important in this learning process. Tealet has grown to great success in only 5 months because it has been built upon community.

We are currently in the 500 Startups accelerator class and look forward to scaling so we can connect tea growers and tea drinkers around the world.

Tealet is a constantly evolving project, like any other startup, but there are fundamental principles that will always remain the same. I started building this business idea with the mission to empower tea growers to become more profitable. A sustainable solution must be built and community is the best way to do it. With this in mind I have taken on a collaborative business strategy and look for ways to involve everyone in the exchange of value. This means that the customers of the business should be involved and feel just as empowered as the growers. I’ve taken advantage of social media to foster this community and put great effort into connecting with my local community in Honolulu.

I can’t claim to have the secrets to success because this is my first startup. I have seen successful collaborative community projects while a Peace Corps volunteer and see many similarities with how Tealet is growing. International development depends on the coordination of a large pool of stakeholders. I’ve followed this same model for Tealet and am amazed to see the ownership the stakeholders in the tea industry are assuming for the future of this business.

Building this community didn’t happen overnight, but organically by following what I love, sharing what I love, and listening to others.

To learn more about Tealet and connect with our community you can visit

Elyse Petersen is the Founder of Tealet, a startup which connects tea growers and tea drinkers, delivering tea direct from the grower to the customer's door.

Elyse is a Global Tea Ambassador with the International Tea Farms Alliance. She has spent time working with tea farmers in Wazuka, Kyoto, Japan. This experience has inspired her to help tea culture across the U.S. and around the world. Petersen is an experienced international development worker in the area of food security, natural resource management, and sustainable food preservation, having served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa and Antigua and Barbuda, Eastern Caribbean. For more information on Elyse, see her profile.

Startup Diaries is a new section of our website where founders can post their startup stories in blog form, describing their entrepreneurial journey; the challenges and highlights, eureka moments, lessons learned and laughs had along the way. The idea is to build a collection of first person anecdotes from women building businesses, as a resource for other female founders. Our favourite Startup Diary blogs will be posted on our home page. If you would like to write a Startup Diary, email our Editor for details.

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