Jasper’s Founding Trio Tackles Sobercuriosity
Business, Start Ups

Jasper’s Founding Trio Tackles Sobercuriosity

Vanessa Royle, Contributor

Mariah Wood, Contributor 

Nicole Delany, Contributor

The ladies of Jasper Cocktails give you the drink you want to drink when you’re not drinking.

Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to be an entrepreneur. 

Vanessa Royle (MBA ’22): I was introduced to entrepreneurship from an early age. My first business was selling irises door to door in my red wagon. I had a photo catalog of all the varieties and learned about pricing, selling, and bundling for value. I also learned about handling rejection—No, everyone won’t want your flowers, and yes, you do need approval before you set up shop at a farmer’s market. Coming into HBS, I was interested in entrepreneurship, but was waiting for a business idea that I couldn’t ignore. Jasper is that idea. 

Mariah Wood (MBA ’22): I worked in supply chain consulting before coming to HBS and my favorite projects were those that felt the most tangible. I realized how energized I am at work when I’m close to my impact. With that in mind, I became a pro-bono consultant for a Boston-based startup accelerator. That experience, coupled with a few classes I had taken in college, planted the startup seed so that coming into HBS I planned to find a team and try out entrepreneurship for myself.  

What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

Nicole Delany (MBA ’22): As a drinker myself, I was surprised to learn that 45% of Americans either do not drink or are cutting back. What was even more surprising, was that this group of people are excluded from many social settings because of the lack of alternatives. Alcohol substitutes are boring, juvenile, sugary, and often hard to findleaving this massive inability to participate in drinking culture. 

What is your solution?

Wood: We want the freedom to choose how we feel whether it’s 1 am or 7 am. We believe you should be able to lean into flavor and experience, build social connection, and be IN IT without compromising other priorities like morning productivity, your marathon training, or mental wellness. To that end, we are developing complex, zero-proof cocktails that are ready to drink and totally unlike anything you’ve sipped before. Our sophisticated multi-serve bottles are designed to sit beautifully on your bar cart, compliment your dinner party, and become the premium non-alcoholic anchor on your favorite restaurant’s beverage menu. We’re bringing the “craft” to non-alcoholic drinks in order to take back the cocktail.

What was the inspiration behind your company/idea?

Royle: A few months before coming to HBS, I decided to stop drinking. My hangovers and the subsequent “hangxiety” were getting worse. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. During social outings, I was regularly disappointed with the lack of exciting non-alcoholic options (you can only have so many sodas with lime or Diet Cokes before you’re really over it). I just felt left out! One night while drinking a mediocre concoction of ginger beer and zero-proof whiskey, I realized I wanted something that tasted like a great cocktail, didn’t sabotage my health, and didn’t require any mixing. 

How did you get started?

Wood: After hearing Vanessa’s pitch for Startup Bootcamp, I joined her, Nicole, and Carlton Burrell (MBA ’22) to see what we could make of the idea. During the two-week intensive program, we surveyed consumers, built a landing page, and tried to wrap our hands around the problem to solve. At the end of the two weeks, we pitched a panel of VCs who were pumped on our idea, and we decided to continue from there. This summer we participated in the Rock Fellowship and now have our prototypes ready to go! 

How does your team work together?

Delaney:  During Startup Bootcamp we discovered just how varied and complementary our skill sets are. I come from a background in business operations, growth strategy, and marketing. I have worked at startups and seen the full life cycle from launch to shut down. This complemented Vanessa’s PR background and Mariah’s operations experience. We also have different perspectives on alcohol which is super helpful for understanding our customers. We love taking our standup meetings outside (while the weather is still great), and creating in the kitchen together—Jasper rarely feels like work, and who doesn’t want that!

Wood: I laugh at Vanessa’s jokes.

What’s next?

Royle: While Mariah has a lovely kitchen, hand-producing each individual bottle is not scalable. We’re excited to sign with a formulator and co-packer so that we can make our drinks shelf-stable, and produce them at scale. To get there, we are beginning our angel funding round and hiring Fall interns to support our team. You can follow our journey on Instagram (@drinkjasper), and sign up for our mailing list at www.jaspercocktails.com


Vanessa Royle (MBA ’22) is originally from San Jose, CA and graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013. Prior to HBS, she worked in Communications at Cloudflare.

Mariah Wood (MBA ’22) is originally from Las Vegas, NV and graduated from Brigham Young University in 2016. Prior to HBS, she worked at PwC in supply chain management consulting. 

Nicole Delany (MBA ’22) is originally from New York, NY and graduated from Harvard College in 2014. Prior to HBS, she worked in Business Operations at Homepolish and Lyft. 

October 8, 2021
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