Tatiana Birgisson is no stranger to the stage. In 2013, she took home the top undergraduate prize in Duke University’s yearlong Startup Challenge, a win that helped get her healthy tea-based energy drink Mati into cans and onto local Whole Foods Markets shelves. 

She’s since pitched to NC IDEA, winning one of its $50,000 grants; Soar, earning one of four coveted mentee slots; and at DukeGen events, winning advice and support from Duke graduates in the beverage industry. She’s frequently shared her story to American Underground teams at HelpFest, and wooed Google to earn her spot at Thursday’s Demo Day in Silicon Valley.

Planning the First Spend 

To participate in Google Demo Day, Birgisson is required to raise a $1 million to $4 million round. And so she had to form a plan for how she’d spend all that money—the company has been lean to date, with just two full-time employees.

Birgisson plans to spend a third of any funds to scale up manufacturing and a third for sales and marketing to get distribution all along the East Coast over the next 18 months. She’ll also hire a third employee. Her goal is to continue to seek profitability (she is profitable today), so she’ll quickly work toward earning back the money spent before raising any future rounds.

Remembering where she came from 

Birgisson recognizes that her success is a result of community. It started with her experience in The Cube at Duke University—building her business alongside other aspiring student entrepreneurs. That motivated her to enter and win the Startup Challenge, which made it possible for her to take the big step of pursuing Mati full time after college. 

Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship gave her free office space at American Underground for 18 months and sent her to California for pitch events before other Duke graduates. She hopes the Demo Day experience positions her to also pitch before the new Duke Angel Network and its matching investment fund. 
“Duke is really showing that an education doesn’t really end at commencement, but commencement is really the beginning of a new relationship with the university,” she says. 
Participation in American Underground events led her to Soar and the NC IDEA grant process. NC IDEA funds helped her introduce a second flavor, build out a new website and prepare for the investment round she hopes to raise after Demo Day. Soar mentors introduced Birgisson to Jonathan Prinz, a consultant who has performed branding work for American Express and Coca-Cola and has since taken on the Mati brand. 

The Nerves 

Practice has been key to helping to calm the nervous feeling of pitching on stage before dozens of high profile Silicon Valley investors, many of whom are expecting to see a field of tech companies. 

Because Birgisson is the only entrepreneur at Demo Day building a consumer product brand, she feels some extra pressure. But she also hopes that it plays in her favor. 
“Google had plenty of tech companies to choose from and chose Mati—they were excited enough about what we’re doing and our traction to say, ‘We want something different.””