Can you tell us how Eat Mesa got started? What was the inspiration behind starting the venture?
Mesa was started based on my experiences backpacking. The foods were filling, but products on the market focused exclusively on calories and protein. These weren’t the qualities I looked for in food at home – why should it be all I focused on in the backcountry? With Mesa, we sought out to design products that met the nutritional and energy needs of outdoors(wo)men.
What is most exciting, and most challenging, about being an entrepreneur?
Oh man – I remember seeing our first order come in from someone we didn’t know – that was exciting! In general, seeing all of our hard work materialize has been what keeps me going. At first that may have been a logo or sample product, but it has since progressed to seeing the entire order flow function and continuing to improve it. The most challenging part of being an entrepreneur is probably being the only ones with the vision – we have to keep ourselves on track, motivated, and aligned to our goals, because no one else will. It’s both rewarding and challenging.
What resources have you used across the Yale entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Yale has so many helpful resources for food-based entrepreneurs (probably why so many food startups are coming out of Yale these days!). We participated in the Tsai CITY Food Product Development Intensive, Tsai CITY Accelerator, and the Startup Founders Practicum class with Jen McFadden – who is amazing, by the way. We have also been lucky to receive several grants from across the Yale ecosystem, including the CBEY Climate Innovation Grant, Tsai CITY Catalyst grant, the SOM-managed Nancy Pfund ’82 Social Impact Award, and most recently the Fuad El-Hibri ’82 Entrepreneurial Award. The Yale Law Entrepreneurship and Innovation Clinic has also been immeasurably helpful.
Now that you’ve launched, what are the next steps for your company?
Now that we’re live, we’re focused on growing our operations and continuously improving to meet our customers’ expectations and demands. This includes working with our early customers to understand their motivations more clearly, collaborating with commercial kitchen operators to increase how much we can produce, and marketing to increase awareness of Trail Spice!
Do you have a personal favorite product?
I love our Berbere Trail Spice! Berbere is a warm, spicy African blend that’s slowly gaining traction in the U.S., but hasn’t been present in backcountry foods until now. Add it to red lentils or mac & cheese!
Tony Cisneros was the recipient of the Nancy Pfund '82 Social Impact Award in 2020.