July 28, 2014

Durham entrepreneur brews energy drink success

Tatiana Birgisson turned her tea habit at Duke University into a successful energy drink startup company.

Lots of people cook up crazy ideas in college, but most of them fall flat. Not so for Tatiana Birgisson of Durham, who turned her crazy idea into a successful startup company – Mati Energy Drinks.

Birgisson came up with the idea for Mati Energy when she was a student at Duke University.

“I’m a big tea drinker, and I would always make like three or four cups of tea a day,” she said. “Eventually, I got tired of brewing tea multiple times a day, so I just started making it all at once in a big pot in my dorm kitchen.”

Birgisson, who graduated in 2012, lived in InCube on Duke’s campus at the time. InCube is a university-funded residential apartment for undergraduates interested in entrepreneurship. Birgisson was surrounded by other students who were interested in starting their own businesses.

“I thought I’d be starting my own company when I was 40 or something,” she said. “And then I saw all my friends starting their own companies and I was like, ‘I want to start one too!’ But I didn’t have any ideas, until someone told me I should bottle the tea I brewed and sell it.”

Birgisson spent a summer perfecting her recipe, eventually deciding to use guayusa leaves, which is the second-most caffeinated plant behind coffee, as the base for the drink. After she figured out the best brewing method to extract the most caffeine from the leaves, Birgisson held tastings with her friends to nail down the best ratio of tea to fruit juice.

After purchasing a larger pot, she moved the brewing to a communal kitchen.

“At first I just sold Mati in kegs to offices,” she said. “But then everyone was like, ‘We want these in cans so I can take some home to my wife.’ So then I entered the Duke Start-up Challenge and wound up winning $11,500. I used that money to buy my first cans.”

Mati Energy is now carried in six Whole Foods stores in the Triangle, where it quickly became the best-selling energy drink. Birgisson also sells boxes of the canned energy drinks to gyms and other local stores.

“People are really into Mati because it’s all natural, filled with antioxidants and super energizing,” she said. “It also tastes good. When you look at the labels of mainstream energy drinks, you realize so much nasty stuff goes in there.”

The drink has no added sugars or preservatives, Birgisson said.

Mati is currently available in a citrus flavor, but there are plans for a berry or cherry flavor as well.

Birgisson now brews Mati Energy drinks in downtown Durham three times a month. She said it takes about 12 hours to make 310 gallons. Birgisson does all the grunt work, from labeling cans to taking orders to delivering boxes.

“Mati will be carried in at least 100 Whole Foods stores by the end of the year,” Birgisson said. “I can see us going national in five years, maybe international. But I have to hire some more people first.”

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