Across the street of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS), stands a big sign that reads “We sell international drinks.” With three big green sun shades on synthetic grass in the terrace, is Be:Bridge, an international beverage café that now makes around one billion won a year. Looking at the café’s casual atmosphere and its wall covered with news reports on their successful startup, it is difficult to believe that this all began from merely two sophomore students of HUFS in the summer of 2012.
“Ever since I was young, I had a dream of starting my own business,” said Cho Hyun-woo, the co-founder of Be:Bridge. “It was not for money, but for the belief that my idea can impact the world.”
Be:Bridge is a compound word of “beverage” and “bridge,” which aims to connect the world by bridging their consumers to countries they have never been to with their drinks. The café sells drinks from around the world such as Taiwan’s most beloved milk tea Tait, Japan’s green tea latte Matcha, French sweet Nutella shake and many others.
“I definitely feel a sense of achievement when I look back on how this started with only two people in my university startup club HUVE,” said the co-founder Kim Yeon-ji, a senior from HUFS. “It’s really the result of our hard work.”
When Cho became the president of the club, he initiated his first startup by selling fair trade coffee from Africa with a cheap price tag to university students at his club. However, with very few students buying his coffee, he realized that students were not interested in fair trade nor cheap coffee.
After his failure in selling his coffee, Cho and his club members started to consider the next item to begin their startup. This is when he realized that inspiration was right next to him all along.
“I realized one day that I could make use of my school’s international edges,” Cho said. “With scores of international students all gathered to learn Korean culture and language, I wanted to give foreign exchange students a taste of their home country and share their national drink with Koreans who have never been to those countries.”
To put his ideas into action, he renovated his club room into a café and started to gather foreign exchange students to help HUVE make international drinks.
“We decided to approach exchange students to help us make and taste test-drinks in exchange of pairing them with Korean buddies,” Cho said. “This is because we realized that exchange students wanted to make Korean friends but were shy and found it a bit difficult to get close with Koreans.”
After months of preparation, the club finally began their international drink sales, which turned out to be a huge success. In fact, many students began to line up every break to try their beverages. The school even told the club to close their sales because the lines for the café was causing disruption on campus.
“Our school is still uncooperative with our startup,” Kim remarked. “We even gave a scholarship of 10 million won to our students in need. But we did not receive a single thank you letter from the school president. I was very disappointed at the school’s attitude.”
These small conflicts ultimately led the club to move their café to Hongdae in 2013.
“When we moved to Hongdae, there was so much preparation to be done that we could not go to classes or our home for a month,” Cho said. “But I believe there is no such thing as an easy startup. Students who are interested in establishing a new startup on their own should keep that in mind.”
Just this March, Be:Bridge opened its third branch at Hyundai Outlet Mall. They will continue to increase their branches and broaden their business into something more than just a beverage café; a place where anyone from anywhere can go and make themselves at home.