As part of the Dingman Center’s involvement in Women’s Month at Smith, this post profiles Shizu Okusa, a local founder who will be participating in our Ladies First: Becoming a Savvy Startup Investor workshop on March 10th.
by: Nina Silverstein MBA ’17
Shizu Okusa’s entrepreneurial journey has not been a lateral one, but rather a circuitous culmination of experiences that led her to co-found JRINK, a “fresh-pressed solution for life-pressed people.” The no-sugar added, preservative-free, cold-pressed juices are locally produced in Falls Church, Virginia, and have permeated the Washington D.C. healthy living scene. JRINK serves delicious and nutritious offerings via both their retail locations and online delivery.
Shizu’s path to launching JRINK was a winding one, first taking her to the trading floor at Goldman Sachs, where she met her future co-founder, Jennifer Ngai. After her analyst program ended, Shizu traveled to and worked in Mozambique and Bali, where yoga and clean eating were key priorities. It was during this trip that she became more curious about the world and other cultures. When she returned to D.C., Shizu took a job with the World Bank, where Jennifer was also working. Having kept in touch over the years, the two reunited and quickly realized that healthy food options were not available near their office. They did not have access to delivery services at the time and had no healthy options nearby, and the idea for JRINK emerged. Seeking to solve their own problem, Shizu and Jennifer began bringing their own juices to work, where colleagues would ask for tastes and where to one for themselves.
After quitting their jobs, the pair entered Union Kitchen, a D.C. food incubator, as one of the first businesses in the food accelerator program. According to Shizu, Union Kitchen allowed them to “test the market, appetite, price point, where to sell, how to scale, and their go-to-market strategy.” When debating whether or not to launch a business, she asked herself “what’s the downside?” At the time, the downside mainly consisted of the opportunity cost of not getting paid. She thought “what’s the worst that could happen?” and took the plunge. As a budding entrepreneur, she focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Now, three years later, things are going well for JRINK. The company has four retail locations and a growing subscription business, and 2017 is shaping up to be their best year yet. JRINK plans to open two additional retail locations in the D.C. area and has their eye on launching a flagship store. Shizu’s favorite flavor? “Build Me Up”, a blend of almonds, cinnamon, vanilla bean and dates.
As any founder knows, part of the journey often entails fundraising. JRINK is currently raising a round of capital to continue expanding the business, which has Shizu traveling around the region and meeting with prospective investors. She tries to identify investors that value both growth and profit and looks for those interested in impact investing, as the company is committed to providing jobs and healthier products that are better for society and the environment. While an exhilarating ride, being an entrepreneur can be challenging. Shizu mentions that it can be difficult to “think big and small at the same time”, which requires her to be able to adapt to changes as they come. Being “nimble, but true to what we are doing” is also a challenge because she wants to be able to balance current issues and growth prospects, which is hard when there are unknowns. Said another way, the challenges of being an entrepreneur are “the unknown unknowns, unknown knowns, and known knowns” of the business and market.
As a female founder, Shizu wants to help other women take the entrepreneurial plunge. “If you have an idea, go for it!” The downside to starting a company as a young woman is “small, and you just have to go for it, otherwise you’ll regret it later on.” She encourages women “when you have the inkling, imagine ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Take time to write out [your fears]. Then you will be able to analyze [them] and push forward.” Throughout her entrepreneurial journey, Shizu has learned that “managing people is hard, especially if you’re young” and that it is important to be treated as colleagues and not just friends. She also highlights the importance of self-care. As she reminds all aspiring entrepreneurs: “Celebrate the small wins, otherwise, what’s the point?”
Nina Silverstein is a second year full-time 2017 MBA Candidate. Prior to starting graduate school, she taught kindergarten and first grade in Baltimore, MD, via the Teach For America program. She is an aspiring entrepreneur and strongly believes in the power of consumer purchasing power to influence positive change.