Dozens of business and natural science students grabbed samples of kombucha, kale chips and other healthy food items while networking with local nutrition innovators Friday afternoon.
During the Taste of Texas Showcase, local startups hosted booths, offered product samples and educated students on the current state of the nutrition business. The event was co-hosted by the College of Natural Sciences and the McCombs School of Business in the atrium of Robert B. Rowling Hall.
The showcase also featured guest speakers and panel discussions to allow students to engage with food and beverage experts across Austin.
During the main “fireside chat,” Marissa Epstein, director of the UT Nutrition Institute, interviewed Clayton Christopher, founder of the local company Sweet Leaf Tea and co-founder of Deep Eddy Vodka. They spoke about the growing prominence of Austin as a destination city for healthy food and beverage companies.
“Austin is a ... very unique city, and it’s consistently ranked in the top 10 party cities in the country,” Christopher said. “But we also rank in the top 10 healthiest cities. So there’s a really nutritional convergence of a great place to launch a brand, because we’re lots of social animals ... but (we also) care about health.”
Christopher said it is better for a business to grow at a local level, or be “narrow and deep,” rather than “wide and shallow” on a national scale.
“It’s so much better to learn first in your own market, because you’re going to make lots of mistakes,” Christopher said. “If you can’t make it in your own market, you’re going to get killed trying to expand.”
Biochemistry freshman Benjamin Eappen said he attended the event to learn more about investing and entrepreneurship.
“I’m really interested in food business, so meeting all these people from all these companies was quite enlightening,” Eappen said.
Backstage at Austin City Limits, Christopher said he and his friends would make what they called Tito’s Sweetos, which is a mix of Tito’s Vodka and Sweet Leaf Tea. He said after trying the sweet vodka mixture, he thought there would be a good market for the beverage.
“What I would encourage you to do is to observe people,” Epstein said. “What do people want that they don’t have? How are they Tito’s Sweeto-ing their way through their experiences right now? Those are market opportunities.”