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Entrepreneurial UAlbany Students Leverage Passion for Superfood to Create ChugaChaga Tea

UAlbany students recently presented their new product, ChugaChaga Tea, to Startup Tech Valley. From left, Adam Kaiser, company representative, Marc Iskandar, president, and Luke Evans, CEO.

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 19, 2015) -- Two University at Albany students are combining their passion for good health with their entrepreneurial spirit and plan to launch a ready-to-drink tea called ChugaChaga by early summer. “Chaga is a very unique superfood, it’s a fungus that grows off birch trees,” said UAlbany junior Luke Evans of Bethel, N.Y. “It contains potent amounts of antioxidants, beta glucans, melanin, superoxide dismutase and betulinic acid.” Chaga is a mushroom that looks like burnt charcoal. Found on birch trees in Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, northern areas of the U.S. and Canada, it is considered a medicinal mushroom in Russian and Eastern European folk medicine. It is also considered to be an immune-enhancing substance with more antioxidants than blueberries or pomegranates.

Evans is CEO/CFO of the new company, ChugaChaga Inc., while his partner, Marc Iskandar, a UAlbany junior political science major from Wantagh, N.Y., is president. The new company was founded as an environmentally conscious producer of all-natural teas, soaps, supplements, and tinctures containing chaga.

The two UAlbany students presented their new product earlier this month to Startup Tech Valley. “The response we received from Startup Tech Valley was tremendous,” said Evans. “We brought samples for people to try. We had a cluster around our table of people wanting to try our product out.”

The partners also have a Go Fund Me page and a fund-raising goal of $10,000 for the startup.

An economics major with minors in business and philosophy, Evans said, “When I founded this company, I had one goal in mind: to create what nobody else has done. I wanted to incorporate the power and potential of chaga into an affordable and healthy ready-to-drink tea for people like you and me. ChugaChaga’s Tree Tea was the outcome.”

Evans’ personal interest in promoting health began when his older brother Chris was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor, a rare kidney cancer primarily found in children. His brother, now 27, made a full recovery.

“If the doctor didn’t find it when he did, the outcome of the illness could have been extremely different,” said Evans. “This definitely sparked my family’s commitment toward health. I feel that this company’s platform is the most effective and impactful way I can help better the world.”

Iskandar is a member of Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law International. His political science major is concentrated in American law, which has helped him with legal knowledge about protecting the new brand. “We have two registered trademarks with five more pending,” said Iskandar.

Evans and Iskandar credit the University at Albany with helping them build a foundation for the new business. UAlbany was recently cited by Marlene Kennedy in a Daily Gazette article as being a good place to start as an entrepreneur. The two students sought help through the Albany Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE), a student group sponsored by the Office for Innovation Development and Commercialization (OIDC). Theresa Walker is the director; Beth Coco is entrepreneur in residence. ACE brings together UAlbany students to share ideas for starting a business or non-profit.

“In addition to ACE, OIDC’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence program has also launched a Living Learning Community—the World of Creativity and Entrepreneurship, sponsors UAlbany students’ participation in entrepreneurship events throughout the region, and provides one-on-one advice and guidance to any campus member with aspirations of starting a new enterprise,” said Dr. Walker. “We are so fortunate to have Beth serving as our EIR.”

“Beth Coco has helped us tremendously on our executive summary. Theresa Walker helped us with our lean startup business model canvas, and Bill Brigham (director of the Small Business Development Center), helped with financial projections,” said Evans, who developed his own business plan.

“Marc and Luke have taken an innovative idea and created an exciting product line that appeals to individuals who want to enhance their health with superfoods,” said Coco.

Through active community engagement with regional resources, they are advancing quickly toward production. Her role is to provide students with experiential learning, community connections, and mentoring on strategy and developing concrete actions.  Coco’s goal is to cultivate confidence and ignite the entrepreneurial spirit at UAlbany.

“Marc and Luke’s fortitude, drive, and passion are what really make it happen; they embody the true characteristics of trail-blazing entrepreneurs,” she said.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.