Protein bars an early hit for student entrepreneur

Debora Van Brenk / Western News

Business student William Wang has developed the Zentein bar, which has quickly become a hit with athletes and students.

If at first you don’t succeed with a good idea, try again – and again, at least 45 more times.

That persistence and purpose has earned student William Wang a raft of online orders and a coveted place in campus vending machines for his protein bar.

Zentein Nutrition bars are a five-ingredient snack with 25 grams of protein – more protein, says Wang, than any similar product on the market.

The idea was conceived because he wanted a convenient and nutritious snack after workouts in the gym, before twice-weekly training as a Canadian Army reservist or during long study sessions.

But he’d always balked at the cost and taste of traditional protein bars: “They always made my stomach feel so bad because there was so much filler and sweeteners in them.”

So, on vacation in March just before the pandemic sent most students home, the HBA student at Ivey Business got the idea to make and sell his own brand of bars. “I was literally on a beach and had an epiphany. I love sports and I love cooking – my dream has always been to own my own chain of restaurants – and I thought, ‘I need to do this.’”

Upon his return, he learned applications for the Western Accelerator program, an immersive education in entrepreneurship, were due in three days.

Having completed the application and then the business model, he began to cook up some recipes for tasty and nutritious protein bars.

Wang’s first plan was to include cricket powder as a protein-rich ingredient. But when the pandemic stalled international shipping, he switched to collagen, an animal-derived protein that has benefits to bones and skin.

“I went through at least 45 iterations of recipes,” before coming up with the right proportions of oats, peanut butter, dark chocolate, honey and collagen, he said.

Since the product’s soft launch in late September, athletes, students and office workers have been snapping them up.

More than 150 boxes of bars, made in a commercial kitchen with most of the ingredients sourced locally, have gone out the door so far.

Most have sold through direct sales by word-of-mouth and by e-commerce. They are also available at 22 campus vending machines, including in student residences.

Part of the proceeds goes towards community causes and to support sustainability in production.

The initial target market of athletes has expanded to include time-crunched students and others looking for the convenience of a bar and the benefits of collagen.

He is also testing recipes to expand the product line to add vegan, gluten-free and nut-free protein bar options.