Tsampa is a roasted barley flour that is the staple ingredient in Tibetan cuisine. The team behind the aptly named Tsampa Tsnacks (the T in “Tsnacks” is silent, just like the T in “tsampa”) is bringing their own take on tsampa-based Tibetan morsels to the U.S. “We wanted to work with the main ingredient of our Tibetan culture, tsampa,” says Chenam Barshee, co-founder of Tsampa Tsnacks. “Traditionally, Tibetans eat tsampa mixed with butter tea, but we were searching for our own twist on that.”
Besides the (t)snacks, though, Tsampa Tsnacks has a larger goal beyond providing tasty tidbits to customers. “I want to make meditation mainstream in America,” says Sogyel Lhungay, the other co-founder of Tsampa Tsnacks. By attaching small instruction tags inside their snack packaging, Chenam and Sogyel want to encourage people who eat their snacks to practice mindful meditation while consuming the nutrient-packed ball.
Tsampa Tsnacks came about through a mutual professor Chenam and Sogyel both knew who invited them out to dinner. “A professor at UVA we both were familiar with introduced us to each other, we hit it off, and then Sogyel pitched this idea of a Tibetan food business to me, and, well… the rest is history,” Chenam says, reminiscing.
“At first, [our idea] was just going to be a food product, but we realized we were both very interested in meditation,” adds Sogyel. “I get a lot more excited about the potential that meditation can have on people than just the snack food by itself… this new direction not only makes us stand out, but we’ll also have a bigger impact on the world this way.”
Studies on meditation have proven that it has positive effects on processing emotions, filtering out distractions, managing stress, and dealing with depression, among other benefits. “If anyone is interested in self-improvement and happiness, then I think they’d want to learn more about their mind and meditating. The benefits are so accessible, really,” Sogyel says. “You don’t need to pay money for classes or anything like that. Meditation is something you can just look up and start doing.”
This summer, Sogyel and Chenam are already gaining insight into their business and working to refine their ideas. At the iLab, “the conversations that have been brought to life and the people that we’ve gotten to know have been really cool, and how willing people are to help us with our vision is reassuring and a great feeling,” says Chenam.
Tsampa Tsnacks’ tsampa balls do face challenges in the product life department, though. When asked what keeps him up at night right now, Chenam replied, “Well, usually around midnight or one in the morning what keeps me up is… food science? Being able to extend the shelf life of our product while retaining quality and taste is a difficult balance to strike.”
The Tsampa Tsnacks team didn’t only focus on their current obstacles, though -- they also considered how far they’ve come. Sogyel shared some of his thoughts about what he’s learned through his time as an entrepreneur. “There’s a mantra I live by. It goes, ‘Ready, Fire, Aim.’ Too many entrepreneurs just aim, aim, aim… that’s the way we’re trained in business school, but to be an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to act.”
Chenam builds off of Sogyel’s answer, adding, “Don’t let the fact that you’ve never done anything business related stop you from pursuing something that you want to bring to life. Personally, I come from a public policy background; I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s still weird to think of myself as an entrepreneur, but I think there’s entrepreneurial spirit in all of us -- it’s just a matter of going for it.”
About the Team
Sogyel Lhungay received his B.A. in Economics from New York University in 2009, and received an MBA from the UVA Darden School of Business in 2018. He then went on to do investment banking for several years.
Chenam Barshee graduated from the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia in 2018, where he worked with the Frank Batten Investment Fund, the Virginia Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Review, and the Tibetan and Himalayan Library.
For more information, the Tsampa Tsnacks website can be found at tsampa.co.