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A cup of ‘Chava’: The journey of two UHM student-entrepreneurs

It started with a case of FOMO. 

A “fear of missing out” on exciting events may cause anxiety for some, but for University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa seniors Jack Solomon and Alex Nathan, it inspired them to create “Chava,” a kombucha and kava bar-turned-wellness company that promotes socialization, health, and sustainability. 

Creating ‘Chava’ 

The idea of Chava came when Solomon and Nathan saw a need for inclusivity for those under 21-years-old and lacked access to certain aspects of nightlife. 

“We wanted something to do at night that didn’t involve going out to the bars or drinking alcohol. We just wanted a place to socialize and be part of nightlife and mitigate that FOMO you have when you’re under 21 and everyone else is older,” Nathan said. “We wanted to create Chava to create a space we wanted for ourselves.”

Chava creates “mocktails” using kombucha and serves kava drinks, along with other wellness and health products made from organic and locally sourced ingredients. The bar operates through pop-up events. 

Solomon says that Chava’s journey has been a dynamic one.

“Chava has transformed a lot since what we first imagined it to be. It started off as a non-alcoholic bar for those under 21,” Solomon said. “Through a lot of customer interviews and talking with people, we learned that maybe that’s not the best branding to go with, That’s why we’ve rebranded and refocused as being a wellness company.” 

As part of Chava’s rebranding, Solomon and Nathan are attempting to implement different products and possible activities such as yoga that contribute to health and wellness. 

“We’re also trying to expand to CBD, but the CBD market is hard to get into as a ‘food and beverage’ industry,” Solomon said. “We want to implement more things: kulolo, poi and other local foods that are sustainable and come from Hawaii.” 

The life of student-entrepreneurs 

Along with running Chava and serving on the Hawaii Student Entrepreneurs Board, Solomon is a Shidler College of Business student pursuing a degree in marketing, while Nathan is a biology student applying for medical school. 

While balancing academics and a business can be difficult, Solomon believes the key to managing both school and Chava is effective prioritizing. 

“For me, last semester I don’t think I did anything except for school and work on my business. Any free time I had I’d be working on Chava or other aspects of my business,” Solomon said. “You really have to focus in on exactly what you’re doing.”

For Nathan, organization is beneficial to maintaining a balance. 

“Organization was the biggest thing that got me through the past semester and summer because I have a bunch of other extracurriculars, school and all of that. Just being able to manage my time well was a skill that I really honed in on.” Nathan said. 

This past spring semester and summer, the pair participated in Shidler’s Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship’s UH Business Plan Competition, where they became finalists, and the Summer Startup Launchpad. These programs gave Solomon and Nathan the opportunity to network and receive mentorship from professionals in the field. 

“The business programs really helped us in terms of the mentorship and resources they provided us. It was really cool to have so many people, especially those from big companies or really successful people take their time to speak with us, to give us guidance and to connect with us,” Nathan said. “After the launchpad, we were able to meet with the CEO of Lanikai Brewing Company; he took the time and asked to meet with us, which was pretty cool. It was really cool to have that motivation and support.” 

For Solomon, the programs offered validation and motivation for starting a business in college. 

“I feel like a lot of students – and I was this way for a really long time – are reluctant to start something; They’re like ‘I’m just a student. I don’t know enough. I don’t have enough resources to start what I want to create,’ and I think that’s the wrong mentality,” Solomon said. “The business competitions and programs have taught us that this is actually the best time to start a business. We have the resources available to do so. I don’t think enough people take advantage of that.”

The future of Chava 

Although Chava is not holding any pop-ups at this time, Solomon and Nathan are working to further develop the business. 

“During the year, it’s about ironing out the logistics and figuring out where we wanna go long-term with the business.” Nathan said. 

With hopes to find a permanent location, Solomon believes expanding their funding is the next step. 

“It’s hard to get funding for a food and beverage business so we’re trying to figure out other angles that we can approach to maybe attract more investor money,” Solomon said. “I’m about to graduate in the spring so my time available is going to open right up. Hopefully I can go all in with ‘Chava’ and pour more of my personal finances into that. I think towards this summer is when I hope to really make ‘Chava’ a huge priority.” 

Solomon and Nathan have advice for fellow or aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Nathan believes taking yourself seriously and asking for guidance are good places to start. 

“Don’t be afraid to reach out toward connections and for help. Because if you don’t ask, you’re already telling yourself no.” Nathan said.

Solomon, who has experience working with community funding organizations and at an entrepreneurship summer camp for high school students, urges people to take the leap and start businesses in the islands. 

“We don’t have a lot of large enterprises that maybe California or Colorado have. It’s really important for our economy – for people to start things here because a lot of the big companies aren’t gonna come here necessarily. If we can create really cool companies here and drive the economy here and keep the money here, it benefits everybody.”

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