Alumnus achieves sweet success
Chas Smith ’11 is the co-founder of Sap! Beverages, a company that offers healthy, plant-based alternatives to sugary drinks.
By Sarah Collins ’18
As a Vermont native, Chas Smith ’11 and his family have harvested maple sap for generations. Three years ago, Smith, along with his cousin and father, decided to turn their long-held tradition into something more—a family business.
Enter Sap! Beverages, a beverage company dedicated to bringing the best of nature to the drink aisle. The company’s all-natural products are mavericks in the sparkling water category: they deliver just the right touch of sweetness without the use of any artificial flavors or ingredients. “For a long time, people were not looking for healthier beverages,” Smith says. “That has changed dramatically.” Sap! Beverages are made by tapping trees to release maple tree sap and birch tree sap, water-like substances that are extremely rich in nutrients and have other health benefits. The sap is then concentrated slightly to bring out the natural sweetness and carbonated to reach peak flavor.
Smith left his roots in maple country to attend Elon, graduating in 2011 with degrees in political science and economics. During his time at Elon, he was heavily involved in Periclean Scholars along with a host of other volunteer activities. “I loved my Elon experience. It allowed me to explore what I wanted and to find my strengths within the curriculum,” he says. “I left with a strong understanding of what it takes to be a leader.”
Following graduation Smith spent three years working on Capitol Hill for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. This opportunity allowed him to directly pursue his passions to enact policy change. However, he quickly encountered the challenges of working in Washington. “From 2011 to 2014, it was really a contentious time to be in Washington,” he says. “I was working on immigration reform, voting rights, gun violence legislation and human trafficking prevention, but it was at a time when there wasn’t a lot getting done. It made me reflect on how change gets made and the various paths I could take to make a difference.”
Energized to seek out new solutions, Smith moved back to his home state to earn his MBA at the University of Vermont, which specializes in social impact entrepreneurship. The program allowed him to develop the foundation for a business, which became the beginnings of Sap!. For Smith, having a socially responsible business model was key. “The better we do, it means more jobs are created in Vermont,” he says, “more trees get utilized instead of cut down and customers get healthier products.”
The brand’s products are currently sold in nearly a thousand stores in the Northeast. In the future, Smith would like to see the company strategically expand to new markets such as the Pacific Northwest and Los Angeles. “Death in the beverage industry is going too wide, too quickly,” says Smith, who recently pitched the business on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” “We want to support each new market. We’ve had a lot of initial success, but we don’t intend to scale overnight. It takes a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears to build a national brand.”
Smith credits Elon for instilling in him the courage to take on the challenge of founding a company. “The biggest thing I’ve taken away is keeping an open mind about what you don’t know,” says Smith. “Enacting a vision takes a lot of time. Founding a company is simultaneously the most thrilling and frightening thing I’ve ever done, but there’s nothing like working for yourself to make your own vision become a reality.”
Learn more about Smith’s business at sapmaplewater.com.