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Duke Alumna Tatiana Birgisson Featured in Triangle Business Journal

Published: 3 years ago | 0 comments

The following article and photo were published in the Triangle Business Journal.
See the original article here.


Duke food entrepreneur brews new spin on energy drink, lands on Whole Foods’ shelves

By Lauren K. Ohnesorge
Staff Writer – Triangle Business Journal
Oct 7, 2014, 2:53pm EDT

 

sum0599-600xx930-1395-0-0It has more caffeine than a Red Bull, three green tea cups worth of antioxidants and as much potassium as half a banana – and it’s homebrewed in Durham.

Meet Mati Energy – the product of Duke University grad-turned-food entrepreneur Tatiana Birgisson.

 

Mati, which will be in 30 Whole Foods stores across the southeast starting next week, is an invention born from depression. It’s a condition Birgisson doesn’t shy away from talking about – and one she suffered from as a Duke University senior in 2012.

“I wanted to sleep all day,” she says. But her Duke class schedule didn’t jive with that inclination. “So I needed something to stay awake.”

First, she looked at energy drinks, but recoiled, “horrified by the ingredients.”

So, like many undergrads, she turned to the bean. But, in order to make coffee palatable, she needed “seven packets of sugar.”

“So I decided to start brewing tea,” she says.

In her Durham dorm room, she brewed teas in a pot, refrigerating the extra so that she could drink her “four or five cups a day.”

“This was not the first concoction made in my dorm room kitchen,” she laughs. But it was the first concoction that her friends actually wanted to try. “At some point, somebody said, ‘maybe you could bottle this and sell it.’ I’m like, ‘maybe I can.’”

So she bought an eight-gallon pot and some kegs.

On a whim, she checked out Duke University’s entrepreneurship initiatives. And a company was born.

Initially, Birgisson brewed tea from black tea leaves obtained through a parntership with someone she met at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas that summer. Early customers were tech companies in Durham, such as Shoeboxed.

Six months into the business, she surveyed the tech execs to see what they thought.

“They wanted more caffeine,” she says. “And they also wanted to buy it at a grocery store.”

So Birgisson took the suggestions back to Duke University. In order to get the product onto aisles, she knew she’d have to can it. So, she entered the Duke Start-Up Challenge – and won, giving her the cash boost she needed.

Armed with cans, she went to Whole Foods and let the store try her tea.

Six months of “paperwork and filing,” the tentative “yes” turned into tea on store shelves.

And she’s not stopping there. She’s in advanced discussions with Costco and is reaching out to other grocery stores and convenience chains.

Birgisson, now a graduate, is no longer brewing in her dorm room. She rents time at Durham-based kitchen The Cookery.

She sees herself in the entrepreneurship game for the long haul.

“I want to be a serial food entrepreneur,” she says.
The first step in her process? Brewing the tea leaves. From there, she adds apple, orange and lime juice concentrates. Next comes natural flavors and citric acid “which keeps the pH similar to what orange juice is.”

The result: 45 calories – “a third of the typical energy drink.”

And she’s no longer brewing with black tea leaves. Now, she uses the more caffeinated guayusa leaf. So far, she doesn’t have any employees. But she’s talking to investors, and hopes to hire two people in the next few months.

From grants, competitions, and family and friends, she’s raised about $150,000 to date, she says.
She acknowledges it’s a complicated career.

“It’s challenge after challenge,” she says.

But it’s also opportunity after opportunity. She gives an example that happened two weeks ago. At a line in Costco, she realized she’d forgotten her card. A customer service representative, printing her a new card, noticed the can in her hand.

“She says, ‘oh my gosh, I drink one every day after my Crossfit,’” Birgisson recalls.

That conversation led to a management introduction, which accelerated buyer talks. If all goes well, the drink could be in Costco in 2015.


Lauren Ohnesorge covers information technology and entrepreneurship for the Triangle Business Journal.

See original article, published in the Triangle Business Journal, here.

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