UC San Diego students start their own company before graduating

(L-R) Alan Luna, Eddie Muallem, and Yaniv Shemesh
(L-R) Alan Luna, Eddie Muallem, and Yaniv Shemesh

UC San Diego has recently spawned three successful entrepreneurs who’ve launched a product that’s landed on the shelves of Jimbo’s, Seaside Cardiff and Jensen’s – not to mention several college campuses. These three entrepreneurs came up with the idea while sophomores at UC San Diego. Now, as recent graduates, they’re watching the seeds of their efforts take root in a big way.

Three best friends -- Alan Luna, Eddie Muallem and Yaniv Shemesh -- founded “Mi Mate,” a yerba mate tea company, in 2017. They’d noticed a growing popularity among UC San Diego students for the drink. So they scraped together enough money to travel on a life-changing journey through Paraguay, a vibrant nation in the heart of South America, to learn about the yerba mate culture. Inspired by their experiences drinking traditional yerba mate tea in the towns and villages they passed through, the three decided to bring the most authentic version of yerba mate back to the U.S.

All three are first-generation Americans, and Shemish says that although their immediate families couldn’t help them financially, “They’ve given us a strong ethic of perseverance and dedication, and that’s one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to their children so they can succeed in the world.”

The trio collectively admits they got themselves in a little over their heads to start off. “In the two years when we were still at UCSD,” says Luna, “we had to constantly push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and wear a variety of hats in our young company while still being undergraduates. It was very challenging.”

Mi Mate's current selection of flavors: Verbena Grapefruit, Orange Chamomile, and Mint Lime.
Mi Mate’s current selection of flavors: Verbena Grapefruit, Orange Chamomile, and Mint Lime.

Muallem takes it a step further in saying, “One might argue that it takes a certain balance of youth, foolishness and bright-eyed idealism to embark on a venture like ours. We were very young when we started Mi Mate, and we’re still young two years after the fact. Although we’ve suffered some pitfalls on the way, we just dust ourselves off and keep going. And there’s so much to look forward to. Things have never been more exciting for us!”

Each of them tried to match specific company goals to their majors and skill sets. Muallem studied human biology and became Mi Mate’s CEO, overseeing the company’s financial records, distribution and fundraising.

Luna double-majored in studio art and art history and became the company’s chief creative officer, responsible for all creative design and social media – from label design to product photography to community outreach.

Shemesh studied economics, and became the company’s chief operations officer, in charge of setting up international supply chains, identifying local manufacturing needs, and beverage formulation.

Once they graduated, they wanted to kick operations into high gear, but they were still running the company on a shoestring budget. So they sought out some high-end industry mentors to get them through the roadblocks. Those mentors were Suja Juice, Chosen Foods and Coca-Cola. It was just the boost they needed. They’ve recently landed a distribution deal with a major Los Angeles company that will project their product beyond San Diego into the rest of California.

Mi Mate distinguishes itself from other yerba mate products in this way: It’s San Diego’s first and only yerba mate beverage company, according to its founders. They claim that the yerba mate tea they produce is the first in America made entirely with whole leaf tea, herbal infusions and cold-pressed juices. “One might describe Mi Mate as a challenge to the conventional canned yerba mates that line the shelves of both natural markets and convenience stores,” said Muallem, “which might contain as much as 30 grams of sugar per bottle and contain a laundry list of artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and extracts.”

Shemesh goes on to describe how they identified yerba mate as such a promising product not just for campuses, but for the whole country. “Yerba mate is an explosive category in the world of beverage -- sweeping college campuses, yoga studios and music festivals across the West Coast and beyond. It is unique in that despite having as much caffeine as coffee or a conventional energy drink, yerba mate is a jitter- and crash-free energy experience.” Muallem pipes in to say, “This is thanks to the rich quantities of l-theobromine present in yerba mate, a vaso-dillator that opens up your arteries and allows your body to absorb the caffeine with ease and grace, unlike the system shock of coffee.”

Luna explains why this particular drink has such a potentially broad reach. “Our product was made for a new generation of students and young professionals who are on the run and need the energy to get through their day. But they are also more discerning and expect more from a brand in terms of quality and authenticity.” To keep the yerba mate at its freshest, the company uses a revolutionary new technology called High Pressure Processing (HPP), which allows the use of fresh ingredients without the need to heat treat them, greatly improving the taste and quality.

Right now, Mi Mate is available on five college campuses including UC San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene University, CSU Long Beach, Loyola Marymount University, and Pepperdine, with ongoing negotiations at other major schools in the region. To learn more, go to www.mimate.us.