When Kit Chow BSx’21 decided to study biological systems engineering at CALS, he knew he would get to do one of his favorite things — devising creative solutions for real-world problems. But he had no idea that his passion for problem-solving, even outside of his degree program, would lead to a full-time job.
Along with chemical engineering major Aditya Singh Parihar, Chow is the co-founder of Boosted Chews, a startup company that makes bite-sized caffeinated chocolates in four flavors: regular, mocha, hazelnut, and mint. The company has sold more than 1,000 bags since launching in early 2020, despite operating almost entirely during a global pandemic.
Chow and Parihar met through Transcend UW, a student organization that runs a university-wide startup competition focused on encouraging student innovation.
“We both lived in Chadbourne [Residence Hall] our freshman year, across the hall from each other, but we didn’t really actually talk until about a year ago,” Chow says. “A lot of my friends were involved with Transcend UW, so I decided to join in the fall. I hadn’t really thought about entrepreneurship as my path before.”
Like many college students, Chow and Parihar had developed an affection for caffeinated beverages, which led to their problem-solving moment. “We’re engineers,” they speculated, “so what if we just made our own drinks?”
As is often the case in entrepreneurship, the duo’s first idea turned out to be a false start. While their “boosted juice” was tasty, its high sugar and caloric content didn’t match consumer trends and preferences for healthy products. After meeting with staff from the Center for Dairy Research to get advice, they pivoted to chocolate as their base. They quickly gained traction after that, testing out various iterations with fellow students in dorms and lecture halls.
“You can develop a chew with a lot of different formulations, and the texture can be pretty finicky,” Chow says. “There were a ton of early forms of Boosted Chews that are nothing like what we have right now.”
The original chew was something akin to a Tootsie Roll. Another iteration sandwiched caramel between two layers of chocolate, but it turned out to be too complicated for their manufacturing process.
The team also sought guidance from UW’s Discovery to Product, a program that assists campus innovators as they take their ideas and inventions to market. Mentor Cecily Brose helped them expand their marketing and sales strategy and connected them with key players in the Madison startup ecosystem.
“I have been so inspired by Kit’s and Adi’s innovative thinking and determination to see Boosted Chews succeed in the marketplace,” Brose says. “It has been amazing to see what they have accomplished in such a short time — and in the midst of the COVID pandemic.”
“Boosted Chews doesn’t feel so much like work, necessarily,” Chow says. “It is work a lot of the time, but it’s also just kind of fun. I love the constant opportunity to be learning new things. I’ve always been interested in hopping onto something that I don’t know how to do and then figuring out how to do it. And with entrepreneurship, you get to wear many hats.”