Trying to break into the energy bar market is a daunting task by any measure. Supermarkets, convenience stores and health food stores sell a wide variety of products made by Clif Bar, PowerBar, Power Crunch, Promax and many more. Attempting to compete with such established brands might seem like a steep hill to climb.
But Nashvillian Kipkosgei Magut, who recently began a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his chia-seed energy bar business, TribEndurance, is used to climbing steep hills, literally and figuratively.
Magut grew up in a small village in rural Western Kenya in a traditional Nandi community. His family had a few dairy cows on a small plot of land. "The options for young men in my village," Magut says, "were to become farmers (of which I had no luck considering the size of our land) or drunks, or to pay a bribe to obtain a college intake — or get out of Kenya."
Though Kenya is known for producing some of the world's greatest long-distance runners, Magut wasn't aware of the opportunities running could provide — that is, until his friend Noah Biama introduced him to the sport. "He told me that if I wanted to get an education in the U.S., I needed to get a scholarship, because the U.S. education is expensive," Magut says. "He told me that the best option I had was through running. He said that our people, the Nandi tribe of Kenya, are known for their running, and had great success in the international arena."
In 2005, after two years of training, Magut entered a time trial, and got a running scholarship to attend Belmont University, where he earned a degree in accounting. Though he's been working as an accountant since graduating, running is still a huge part of his life. "I have grown to love running, and it's something I do almost every day, rain or shine," he says.
As a runner, Magut has been frustrated by the energy products available. Many have too much sugar. Some are in wasteful packaging made of products that aren't environmentally friendly. Some are difficult to unwrap while running. Others have too many ingredients — Magut subscribes to the philosophy espoused by Michael Pollan and others that it's healthier for a product to have fewer ingredients.
So he got the idea to develop his own chia energy bars. In addition to chia seeds, which are becoming popular for their nutritional properties, Magut's TribEndurance bars are made with dried ground rosemary, dried ground blueberry, moringa leaf powder, organic blue agave, salt and spices.
But there's more to Magut's mission than making a better energy bar. He currently works at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, where he's become involved with helping the local refugee community. After offering to serve as a Kiswahili interpreter for Congolese refugees here in Nashville, he became aware of the various economic and social challenges they faced.
"When I started TribEndurance," Magut says, "I thought that it might be a good idea to give a first priority to this group of folks to obtain jobs at my company, and hopefully give them a chance to have a regular life for once — to give them an environment they can thrive in, both at work and out of work. I believe that independence and entrepreneurship are the best ways out of poverty."
In addition to employing refugees adjusting to life in Nashville, Magut says he will send 10 percent of his sales proceeds back to a nonprofit supporting entrepreneurial development in his home village in Kenya.
I had a chance to sample the bars recently, made from a recipe he's honed over the past two years, fine-tuned after gathering feedback from athletes here in Nashville. I'm hardly an athlete, but I've eaten energy bars when I've been too busy to eat a proper meal, and I share Magut's distaste for the excessively sugary nature of some of the products. The TribEndurance bars were delightfully simple and clean tasting, with just a hint of sweetness from the agave, and a nice, tart blueberry accent. The packaging will be made from 100% biodegradable materials.
You don't have to be a runner or an athlete to enjoy them. Once he's up and running, I may buy some to keep at my desk, for when I need a little energy bump during the mid-afternoon lull. It's one of the more inspiring projects I've seen on Kickstarter. Watch the video and I think you'll agree.
Magut's goal is $10,000. As with most Kickstarter campaigns, you get a return on your investment. There are nine pledge levels: $25 gets you six TribEndurance bars, $50 gets you six bars and a T-shirt, $100 gets you two dozen bars and a T-shirt with a personalized message, and so on. You can make your pledge here.
The deadline for the TribEndurance Kickstarter campaign is 11 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 10. So if you feel inspired, don't delay!
And visit tribendurance.com for more information about the product.