Blessed Coffee Wins Start Up Africa Entrepreneurship of the Year Award

The husband and wife team of Tebabu Assefa and Sara Mussie, co-founders of Blessed Coffee, were honored with the annual Start Up Africa Entrepreneurship of the Year Award on September 29th, 2014.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, October 10, 2014

New York (TADIAS) – When the founders of Blessed Coffee initially ventured into “the business of coffee” four years ago, they did an informal survey to see what “the American market perceives the drink to be,” says co-owner Tebabu Assefa. “To my surprise most of the people we interviewed thought that coffee came from Columbia.” He adds “I was amazed and I said to myself wait a minute.” That was the trigger point, Tebabu recalls, for his Blessed Coffee brand — one of the first enterprises established under Maryland’s pioneering benefit corporation law.

The coffee brand incorporates the retelling of the popular beverage’s storied “African heritage” juxtaposed with the cultural Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The latter, Tebabu points out, was designed to highlight his wife’s and his own birth country Ethiopia where the world’s most traded agricultural product was first cultivated. “At the end of the day we are talking about a muti-billion dollar industry here,” Tebabu argues. “So what we did was set out to redefine the market and create an economic space for our small business.”

Since it was launched in 2010 the venture has received several national accolades, including from President Obama’s administration, which named the founders “Champions of Change” at a White House ceremony two years ago. And last week the benefit corporation was honored by a Wilmington, Delaware-based African Diaspora business association — Start up Africa - with the 2014 Entrepreneurship of the Year Award. “They liked the fact that Blessed Coffee was introduced as a model and that Blessed Coffee aspires to connect growers and producers in Africa with the market here vis-à-vis the African Diaspora,” Tebabu said. “And they did their research and they were fascinated by the social business development and the recognition we have gained. They looked at it as a model that can inspire the African business community; that’s what the founder said when he introduced us.”

Start up Africa was set up in 2001 as the “Delaware Kenyan Association (DELKA),” but it was letter reorganized as “Start up Africa” with a focus on nurturing entrepreneurial innovations both on the continent and in the Diaspora following the 2007-2008 post-elections violence in Kenya. Tebabu continued: “It’s a sign of new African immigrants being savvy in terms of business, economic development, and in terms of politics; they are forming development oriented organizations and they are exciting a new movement for US-Africa relations through the engagement of the African Diaspora.”

“Although it was started as an informal group several years prior to that, the group went into full action as a response to the election crisis in Kenya. The founders saw the signs of unemployed youth in Africa being frustrated, and to provide their own little answer they formed Start up Africa to excite business to employ youth in Kenya. That’s a very sober and wise response. And I feel so honored to receive such a recognition from this organization. We Africans are finally coming together despite our regional or national differences for the common good. For me that’s profound enough and I value the award more than any other prize.”

There is additional good news on the horizon for Blessed Coffee as the company at the moment is actively vying for a possible $150,000 grant sponsored by Chase Bank that requires public voting to advance to the next round. “Beyond the $150,000 dollars we like the fact that the competitors will be invited to Google’s Headquarters,” Tebabu enthused. “We are waging two wars simultaneously: the cultural war and the battle to gain an economic space for our business model, so it’s of profound importance as to what our trip to Google could bring to the equation.” He shares: “We will use the money towards opening the roasting component of our business plan and it will give us an opportunity to showcase the Ethiopian cultural coffee ceremony on the Google platform. Google is a platform that we seek to have in order to broadcast our story far and wide. We are very excited about that.”

You can learn more about Blessed Coffee at www.blessedcoffee.us.

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