Two UW-Madison students combined college student staples — coffee and chocolate — to create bite-sized pieces of energy for a competition, which led to the start of their entrepreneurial careers.

Rising seniors Kit Chow and Aditya Parihar, both 20, started discussing possible start-up ideas last fall to participate in the Transcend Madison Competition 2020, through Transcend UW, which they are both members of. 

They got to the topic of caffeinated food and after a few blunders — including trying out caffeinated juice and fruit snacks — the two landed on caffeinated chocolate with guidance from the UW Food Science Department.

“[Professor K.J. Burrington] directed us to the realm of using chocolates, which we had previously been staying away from because we didn’t want to be too similar to our competitors,” said Chow, a biological systems engineering student. “With her guidance we decided to go along the chew route. She gave us a starting formulation and from there we started iterating on what exactly we wanted to do.”

With that starting formula, Chow and Parihar, a chemical engineering student, began making prototypes. At that point, the competition was unlikely to happen because of the coronavirus, and still, Chow and Parihar continued working on their new product.

After talking to another food science professor and developing the formula more, the two finally ended up with a product they were ready to market: Boosted Chews.

Each chew contains 30 mg of caffeine, so three chews has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, according to their site. Each bag contained seven chews. Boosted Chews also comes in three flavors: original, hazelnut and mint.

Chow and Parihar started sales in late March and since then, they have sold more than 800 bags. They’ve also launched an online store and have reached out to shops and delivery services to sell their products. Currently, Boosted Chews is available at Sencha Tea Bar on State St., Fresh Cool Drinks food cart, MacTaggarts Market and Deli on Langdon St. and through Roll Play.

In just a few months, the two had gone from an idea to a growing business, all the while continuing their studies.

“It’s sort of a balancing act,” Chow said. “With the quarantine, it became a convenient time to start. There was stuttering [with online classes] and that gave us time to focus on Boosted Chews.”

Not only did Chow and Parihar create the product, they also designed everything and had to learn more about the market they were trying to break through. 

“We both had experience with previous startups, so we sort of had an idea of how smaller startups operated but what we really didn’t have a lot of experience in was the food industry and specifically doing consumer packaged goods and knowing how to set everything up legally and financially, ” Chow said. “We spent a lot of long days through spring break working on Boosted Chews. [Pretty much] every day was a 12-hour day.”

“A lot of things we had to learn, including how to market it, how to do the packaging, who to reach out to is just stuff you don’t learn in class and we just had to do all of that,” Parihar said. “It was hard but it was also interesting and fun.”

Already, they’ve been receiving feedback on their product.

“One of the best parts of working on the business has been random people filling out surveys or Instagram messaging us back to tell us how they love the product and that it’s great,” Parihar said. “That always puts a smile on our faces.”

Though starting a business is never easy, Chow and Parihar said that being students really helped them launch theirs.

“We are surprised at how much work goes into starting a business but also how much being a college student helps you in that regard,” Chow said. “Through just being a student here, we’ve been able to access so many resources. There’s a lot of infrastructure here that we’re really grateful we have access to.”

“It takes a lot of effort so it’s hard but as a college student it’s easier to reach out and most people are willing to help you than if you weren’t, so it’s been easier in that regard,” Parihar said.

More surprising though, for Chow, was how willing people were to help them out.

“We’ve cold-called many people who could’ve considered us competitors but instead bend-over their backs to give us what we need for goodwill, which we really appreciate. We hope to do that for others down the line,” he said. 

For now, Chow and Parihar plan to continue their line with a new flavor: Mocha. With this new flavor, they hope to grow their business and expand throughout UW, eventually reaching other UW systems colleges and one day, they hope to be on the shelves of Walmart or Target.