What started out as a great business idea is quickly turning into much more for Gies College of Business alumnus Jordan Buckner (MBA ’14).
Buckner is the founder and CEO of Tea Squares, a company that produces healthy, tea-infused snacks designed to give consumers a natural energy boost to get through their day. The product may be small, but the business is having a large impact. Just a few short years after testing his first product, Buckner’s Tea Squares are now being sold in about 300 retail stores around Chicago. They’re available in Mariano’s, Jewel-Osco, and Whole Foods, the last of which was so impressed by Buckner’s mission, they helped him earn the prestigious recognition of “Forbes 30 Under 30” in 2018.
“It was very humbling to be honored in that way,” said Buckner, who was honored under Forbes’ Food and Drink category. “It was awesome to be recognized for creating a great-tasting snack to help people achieve success during their day and also be recognized for our social mission, which is a critical piece of Tea Squares.”
That social mission is what takes his business to the next level. Tea Squares offers a fellowship program. Buckner partners with community organizations to find high-potential candidates, who will spend two to three months learning business, sales, and marketing skills from Buckner and his co-founder, and fellow Gies alumnus, Isaac Lozano (MBA ’16). The program helps these Fellows develop the tools and resources they need to pursue their own dreams. It’s a process Buckner hopes will eventually help boost the economy in the southside Chicago neighborhood where Tea Squares is located.
“My dad always told me, ‘With everything you do, take care of yourself, your family, and your community,’ and that’s something I’ve really taken to heart. It’s been at the core of everything I do,” said Buckner.
That social responsibility has always driven Buckner. Both of his parents were entrepreneurs, so he always felt a strong drive to develop business solutions that make the world a better place. What he found at Gies Business was an innovative, hands-on experience that empowered him to put that purpose into practice.
Shortly after enrolling in the Gies Business MBA program, Buckner immersed himself into as many experiential learning programs as possible. He took on numerous leadership roles for Illinois Business Consulting (IBC), the largest professionally managed, student-run consulting organization in the country. Buckner also became a founding member of EntreCORPS, a student-managed consulting organization that implements design-thinking strategy into entrepreneurial start-ups.
“The environment at Gies allowed me to test different methods,” said Buckner. “They allowed me to fail, to learn from those failures, and eventually learn how to succeed.”
Gies Business also provided Buckner with connections to three other team members, who would eventually help co-found Tea Squares. Buckner met Adi Malik through IBC. Malik introduced Buckner to another Illinois student Alex Stomp. The three—along with Lozano, who still serves as the company’s VP of Operations—helped launch Tea Squares.
“The lifelong connections I made at Gies were invaluable,” said Buckner. “I met so many friends. Some would eventually become my business partners. The connections you make there are one of a kind.”
Buckner’s connection to Gies Business is still strong. He returns to campus regularly to speak to students, and he is proud to help out the College any way he can. In fact, he has come full circle, participating in both IBC and EntreCORPS as a client, just a few years after he was on the other side of the table helping clients grow their own businesses.
“Gies Business is a great place,” said Buckner (pictured below, middle). “If you have a vision and the drive to achieve it, Illinois has the resources, faculty, and programs to help you create your own path to success.”