Zell Founders Fund Invests $100,000 in Michigan Ross Alumni’s Startup Just Enough Wines
A premium quality canned wine company founded by Ross School of Business alumni received an impactful investment from a Michigan Ross student-led fund.
The Zell Founders Fund, managed by the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Michigan Ross, has contributed $100,000 to a recent funding round for Just Enough Wines, a premium quality canned wine company founded by Ross alumni Kaitlyn Lo, MBA ‘21, and her friend, Jessica Hershfield.
“People are gravitating toward canned beverages that are more portable, convenient, and sustainable,” said Lo, co-founder and chief operating officer of Just Enough Wines. “Our goal is to be the nation’s No. 1 selling premium canned wine. The Zell Founders Fund’s $100,000 investment in Just Enough Wines is helping us at a critical point in time as we approach our company’s one-year anniversary from when we first started selling our wines and begin to expand into new geographical markets.”
The Zell Lurie Institute’s rich and diverse entrepreneurial programming helped Lo build and think about her new venture while she was an MBA student at Michigan Ross.
“From hands-on courses such as the Financing Research Commercialization class to the sessions offered through Dare to Dream, there were plenty of resources available to help me with different facets of the business,” said Lo, who received a Dare to Dream grant and was named a Zell Entrepreneur. “The Zell Lurie Institute also provided access to the law clinic, a design team, and a network of other entrepreneurs.”
Daniela Sanchez, MBA/JD ‘22, and Simona Zhu, BBA ‘22 , who led the Founders Fund due diligence team, said they were impressed by the brand and partnerships that Lo and Hershfield had built since launching their company in January 2020 with limited funding from friends and family.
“This was not just a vision ― they had a product on the market and strong strategic partnerships in the wine industry,” said Sanchez. “Additionally, the founders leveraged their strengths but also recognized their gaps, which is essential for growth.”
The two student investors took responsibility for the entire due diligence process, beginning in April with initial research and founder calls. They pitched the company to other Founders Fund members and made their decision to invest in mid-May.
“There’s been a lot of movement in the alcoholic beverage landscape, so it was interesting to see what the other players are doing and to understand how Just Enough Wines fits into the ecosystem,” said Zhu.
“We really enjoyed working with Daniela and Simona,” said Lo. “It was evident they were very knowledgeable and had done their research into our market and competitors.”
“The mission of the Zell Founders Fund is to back recent U-M graduates who are starting businesses right out of school and need help to get going,” said Michael Godwin, MBA ‘10, faculty director of the fund. “Our goals are different, so the return on investment is a secondary consideration.
“Kaitlyn and Jess had been working on the company together for a little over a year and a half and had made quite a bit of progress,” Godwin said. “They already have product sales in the market and a pretty strong team, including co-investors from the wine industry and partners on the distribution side. It was easy to pull the trigger on this investment.”
Just Enough Wines worked with experienced winemakers and vineyard operators in California to craft and produce its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Brut Bubbles in 2020, followed by a Rosé in May of 2021. It currently sells its premium canned wine in more than 100 retail locations across the state and offers direct-to-consumer shipping in California, Oregon, and Florida.
The environmentally friendly company focuses on sustainable measures for sourcing its wines as well as labeling and packaging its final products. Future expansion plans call for new product launches in several states, including Michigan where wines will be shipped directly to consumers’ homes.
Launching a startup during the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant challenge, but Just Enough Wines has regained its momentum and now has a fully booked calendar of wine events and tastings.
Funds from this investment will enable Just Enough Wines to expand its production, gain greater awareness with marketing, and retain a talented team.
“We’ve grown fast, but it has been a fun journey,” shared Lo.
About the Zell Founders Fund
The Zell Founders Fund is a $10 million seed fund made possible by a 2015 gift from business magnate Sam Zell. Created to support extraordinary entrepreneurs who are either graduating or have recently graduated from U-M, he fund is led by Ross Professor Stewart Thornhill, and its investment review advisory committee is composed of Michigan Ross students who represent the top talent from the Zell Lurie Institute’s four other established student-led funds.