How Two Rowan Students Created a Brand Backed by Whole Foods

If you’re reading this, pay attention in class and take careful notes! Many students may not realize the value of every major course they take at Rowan, and how they can apply what they learn to real-life projects beyond graduation. Blackwood, NJ (Camden County) natives Mike Lombardo, a graduate student earning an MBA, and Kayvon Jahanbakhsh, a senior finance major, are prime examples of how far a Rowan University education can take you — their small business, Topos Teas, was recently picked up by a local Whole Foods!

Kayvon had always enjoyed tea throughout high school, where he and Mike met. “When people don’t want to drink coffee, they tend to reach for tea, but at the time, tea was not very appealing. 

wanted a tea that people could feel good about and truly enjoy,” Kayvon recalls. Then came the epiphany. “If anyone had asked their friends in high school, ‘Hey, do you want to start a tea company with me?’ they would think you’re crazy. Mike was always a hard worker and somebody I could trust, and luckily he was very receptive to the idea.”

The first challenge they faced? Mike hated tea. “When Kayvon had me try the tea [he had steeped himself] and I actually enjoyed it, I was convinced. If we could create a tea that changed people’s opinion on tea itself, that was a promising start,” Mike says. 

The duo turned to Rowan for the foundational knowledge they needed for Topos. They took entrepreneurship classes to help them develop a business plan and figure out how to build Topos from the ground up. “A lot of our professors were extremely helpful in the process of figuring everything out, and it gave us confidence in what we were doing,” Mike says.

“This is the only period in our lives where we have such easy access to unlimited resources,” Kayvon adds. “Rowan is an incubator for ideas. Everyone here is highly specialized in what they do, and the passion is there. You can pick up so much knowledge by just asking questions.”

Topos Teas has come a long way in just over a year, with a growing team and exciting expansions in store, but this is only just the start. “We’re not just selling a tea bottle; we’re selling the experience around it, and showing customers who they can be while drinking the tea,” Kayvon says. Seeing the impact that their tea has already had on customers is inspiring to them, and pushes them to keep delivering a great product experience.

“For me, Topos added meaning to everything I learned here. I could apply the material from my classes, even the parts that weren’t as fun, to my future, which made it exciting.” Mike reflects. “Now when people ask me where I’m from, I can proudly say Rowan University. This degree is something of value, and I’ve been using it in the best way possible.”

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Story and photography by:
Nicole Cier, junior writing arts major