There are certain moments in life made sweeter after victory.
For Tatiana Birgisson, it’s the extreme fear she had in 2012 of pitching her Mati energy drink in front of a crowd. It’s the hours with boyfriend and fellow entrepreneur Jake Stauch spent cutting apples and lemons, and waiting for huge amounts of water to boil on her apartment stove before they had industrial grade equipment.
It’s the two years of experimenting and taste testing to get the perfect blend—realized when she and Stauch couldn’t sleep one night because the caffeine level was so strong. It’s living off $13,500 for a year—winnings from the Duke Startup Challenge and a summer stipend from the university. It’s when she realized selling Mati in kegs wouldn’t scale—two major office customers reduced their orders in the same week.
It’s the moment six weeks ago when she found out she’d pitch on a stage at Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day in Silicon Valley, but worried judges would fault her for being a consumer product company, for having raised little money, for having a small team.
As the judges sipped Mati placed strategically under their chairs, it was all of those things that sent Birgisson home with a huge trophy (which she carried into the night Thursday), $100,000 investment from investor Steve Case, national media headlines, a spot in a prestigious Silicon Valley bootcamp and a stack of business cards from investors willing and ready to fund her $1 million round.
While there’s a low barrier of entry for food and drink entrepreneurs—they can easily start in their kitchen— what’s hard is first, getting on shelves and then proving people will buy the products, Case said. She was able to do both by wooing Whole Foods and then proving she can outsell existing energy drink options.
Case called Birgisson “amazing” and “a creative entrepreneur who made a lot of progress on her own.” Though last year he invested in all 10 demoing companies, this year, he chose only to invest in the four companies founded by women. Each takes home $100,000.
Investors line up
Local investors were impressed too. In the audience were Jan Davis of Triangle Angel Partners and David Jones of Bull City Venture Partners.
Jones said he was “blown away” by Birgisson’s win in a field of software companies. Davis ensured Mati is on the docket to meet with Triangle Angel Partners in coming weeks.
“It’s a great acknowledgement of the quality of entrepreneurship that we won this Demo Day two years in a row and with very different businesses,” Davis says.
Birgisson said Thursday night that one investor offered to fund the entire round and connect her to a major chain of convenience stores his company owns. She’ll stay in Silicon Valley through Tuesday to field meeting requests. Here’s a reminder of how she prepped for Demo Day.
Birgisson will also be back in Silicon Valley in several weeks to participate in Blackbox Connect, a bootcamp that brings together entrepreneurs from under-represented communities or populations around the globe to learn and network from each other and to take advantage of the network in Silicon Valley. The goal is to build the leaders and help them develop a vision to change their industry around the globe.
Blackbox Founder Fadi Bishara told me that Google for Entrepreneurs frequently supplies him with quality candidates from around the world. But Birgisson was a stand-out for the spring session, which is its first only for women entrepreneurs and the first open to U.S. entrepreneurs. It all comes down to the power of her journey.
“She’s an entrepreneur who has the emotional connection to what she’s building,” he says. “It’s authentic—from her own kitchen to stores and hacked all by herself.”
*Pictured top left to right: Mary Grove of Google for Entrepreneurs, Mati investor Gus Higuerey, Jake Stauch, Tatiana Birgisson, and judges Blake Byers of Google Ventures, Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and Steve Case of Revolution Ventures.