Kathryn Dougherty saw an opening to cultivate the market for canned beverages and went straight for it. Here's the new drink choice developed by the Columbus woman.

Kathryn Dougherty will deliver the first 20,000 cans of her new product, Spritz Sparkling Tea, to retailers this fall. That will officially kick off her ambitious goal of hitting the $1 million mark within the first 12 months of product sales.

Dougherty’s startup targets health conscious Midwestern women who drink unsweetened tea or sparking water—a $560 million annual market. And she knows she has a strong product: lightly sparkling, non-alcoholic tea infusions with no calories and bold flavors. Her market research showed 85 percent of women would grab her cans from the shelf, and 85 percent would buy her beverage again. These results helped Dougherty win best pitch at the Rev1 Ventures Customer Learning Lab.

“I’m going to build a company based around an unmet need, the passions I have around women’s empowerment and health and fitness,” says Dougherty, 32.

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Rebol café in Dublin, North High Brewing Co. and shared workspace Haven Collective will stock the first two flavors: a hibiscus herbal tea flavored with dragon fruit, guava and mango, and a green tea with peach, lemon and pomegranate. Dougherty also sees the product as a good fit for boutique fitness centers and local grocers with a suggested retail price of $2 to $2.50 per can.

Rebol Operations Director Adam Heath says Spritz Sparkling Tea “checks all the boxes” the restaurant looks for in products: it’s local, healthy, has phenomenal flavors and is available with caffeinated and non-caffeinated options.

“Her product is allowing me to take bigger vendor items out of my cooler and replace them with this,” Heath says. The café’s sister restaurant, TownHall in the Short North, will also carry the tea.

Dougherty’s path to founding Spritz Sparkling Tea started in her kitchen three years ago. The Johnson & Johnson marketing manager was hosting Friday night gatherings for her health conscious friends, and she began experimenting with different drink options that were fun but kept her guests hydrated.

“We’d sit around the table, just kind of celebrating friendship,” Dougherty says. “We always felt like there’s that moment when raise your glasses and clink them, and because a lot of us didn’t drink alcohol, we didn’t have that moment.”

After testing different unsweetened teas mixed with botanical ingredients, Dougherty made a concentrate of her rose petal, strawberry herbal tea creation and added a sparkling water. The result was a dinner party hit.

“Something about those bubbles changed it from a beverage to an experience,” she says. “People were texting me saying, ‘You should bottle that.’ ”

After the birth of her sparkling tea idea, Dougherty spent the next year learning how to make her product shelf-stable and safe, and how to scale in the beverage industry.

Dougherty self-funded development of her product and will begin looking for angel investors this fall to raise $500,000 to fund two employees in operations and sales. Her last day at her full-time job was in September.

“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew this day was going to come so I always saved,” Dougherty says. “It was a lot easier to be confident that I could spend some money to invest in myself and my dream and this business out of those savings.”

Dougherty wrote her business plan as part of the Women’s Small Business Accelerator Inspired Entrepreneur program. Accelerator Co-founder and Executive Director Mary McCarthy says using angel investors to get the product to market quickly will be key for Dougherty. “She can get there on her own, but it’s very costly. She’ll get to market faster and before someone else says, ‘I love that idea and I’m going to do it,’ ” McCarthy says. She credits Dougherty with doing her homework and listening to advice.

“She’s done everything so that when an angel investor asks a question, she has the answers.”