Ryan Teo ’21 is fascinated by how nutrition can affect daily performance. “Food affects my mood, my energy levels, my productivity at work and even my performance in the gym,” he says.
But he’s long been dismayed at the snack options available at typical grocery stores — full of sugar, unnaturally flavored and packed with irrelevant, incomprehensible ingredients.
When he took Engineering Entrepreneurship, a Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation course taught by Billy Banks ’98 and Neal Sáles-Griffin ’09, Teo launched Minimal Snacks with the goal of revolutionizing snacking.
The first one up for reinvention? Beef jerky.
“I started experimenting in my dorm room with an expensive dehydrator I imported from South Africa,” Teo says. “I made connections with beef and mushroom suppliers at the Evanston Farmers’ Market. I even got licensed as a certified food handler and rented a commercial kitchen space in Chicago.” While the first few batches were a hit with friends, the production process was costly and time-consuming. “I couldn’t do it alone,” he says.
At startup matchmaking fairs hosted by The Garage, Teo pitched his vision and teamed up with co-founders Ansh Prasad ’22 and Liliana Sydorenko ’22. Eventually, they scaled up production by partnering with Stormberg Foods, a producer of air-dried beef. Unlike conventional beef jerky, which is dehydrated in an oven, Minimal Snacks worked with Stormberg Foods to create a jerky that is air-dried for two weeks to better retain the flavors of each ingredient. “We designed a snack made from just beef, shiitake mushrooms, red wine vinegar and salt,” Teo says.
Minimal Snacks launched a Kickstarter campaign in January 2022. They reached their funding goal in less than two hours and ultimately raised more than $22,000. Now the company’s line of air-dried beef is available online and at D&D Finer Foods in Evanston as well as Ándale Market in Chicago.
Teo hopes to expand the Minimal Snacks product line by experimenting with other superfoods — such as acai berries, reishi mushrooms or black garlic — to reinvent other snack categories. “We want to play with flavors that you wouldn’t expect to see together but that might work really well,” he says.