Q&A with goTeff Founder Saron Mechale

Saron Mechale, a recent Brown University graduate who has launched a company called goTeff. (NORBESIDA BAGABILA)

The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe has launched a weekly Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting ground-breaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy.

This week’s Ocean State Innovators conversation is with Saron Mechale, a recent Brown University graduate who has launched a startup that makes a cereal/granola product.

Question: Your company, goTeff, makes cereal and granola that includes teff. What is teff?

Answer: Teff is an ancient super grain — 4,000 years old. It is our staple diet in Ethiopia. What rice is to Asian cuisine, teff is to Ethiopian cuisine. Ethiopian runners grew up on this grain. We decided to bring it to a typical American diet through this product — a cereal or granola — because we realize it has a lot of nutrients. Not only does a cup of teff offer 51 percent of the (recommended daily allowance of) protein, it offers 62 percent of the fiber and 82 percent of the iron. Our product has no added sugar and is oil-free and gluten-free. It can be used as a cereal, a topper for yogurt, or a nutritious crouton alternative. We started by targeting runners. We want to be able to give runners the nutrients they need, especially for endurance purposes — long-lasting energy. Most of the products out there for runners are super high in sugar. They just offer sort of a high and a crash of energy. Our slogan will be: Go long, go strong, goTeff.

Q: How and when did this company get started?

A: I just graduated from Brown in May 2019. I studied social analysis and research, and business. I just turned 25 but I took time off from college, so I’m older than the typical recent graduate. I was working on goTeff when I was a student as part of a class project. I wanted to use the resources at Brown to help me understand how to launch a business and do market research. Brown has the fantastic Nelson Center of Entrepreneurship where I worked with executive director Danny Warshay and the rest of the amazing team there who supported me in starting goTeff. We officially launched sales in October 2019. We currently sell online on our website and at Plant City Providence.

Q: Ethiopia has had some legendary runners. Are you drawing on that heritage?

A: Abebe Bikila is the historical figure who ran barefoot in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and won — the first time a Black African ever won an Olympic gold medal. Since then, Ethiopian athletes have just been dominating in long-distance races. Teff is the staple diet of these amazing runners. Haile Gebrselassie, who is like a legend, works with us. He is a big advocate of teff and wants to tell the Ethiopian story of teff. As an Ethiopian, I felt it was important to shine light on runners to help change the brand for the country. Ethiopia is not perceived in a positive light, as most African countries are not, in the Western perspective at least — the Western media. To tell the story of victory and perseverance, of the success of these Ethiopian athletes, is a beautiful way to change that narrative.

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