Chickpea oatmeal: WashU entrepreneurs tackle breakfast

| Staff Writer
Two girls, Chiara Munzi ad Izzy Gorton smile and post next to each other in Bauer on campus. Elle Su | Student Life

Senior Chiara Munzi (left) and sophomore Izzy Gorton (right) created a chickpea-based oatmeal product through an entrepreneurship class in Olin Business School.

Chickpeas for breakfast?

That’s the brainchild of senior Chiara Munzi, who launched chickpea oatmeal company ChiChi in 2022. Munzi worked with sophomore Izzy Gorton and senior Yemane Kidane in The League, a class taught by Doug Villhard, Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurship in the Olin Business School. 

By December, the team was selling ChiChi online. This semester, they debuted in St. Louis grocery stores United Provisions and Parker’s Table. They also plan to sell on campus in Paws and Go, as well as at local farmers’ markets and other independent grocery stores.

ChiChi currently offers Apple Almond Cinnamon, Peanut Butter Banana, and Dark Chocolate Blueberry chickpea oatmeal. The company hopes to add chickpea-based protein bars and other breakfast items to their menu soon.

The League is an “accelerator for extraordinary WashU student entrepreneurs with a business idea,” according to its website. Students can apply as “founders” if they have a business idea, or as team members if they want to join a team. Accepted students have access to the Skandalaris Center’s resources, from co-working spaces to mentorship, as well as a $30,000 pool of money from the Olin Entrepreneurship Fund divided among the teams to use toward the launching of their startups. 

According to Villhard, students typically first enroll in Introduction to Entrepreneurship to determine if an entrepreneurial career is right for them, then The Hatchery to develop their business plan. However, Munzi, who had previously won the Skandalaris Venture Competition, went straight to The League.

“When students win entrepreneurial awards around campus, I show up. I come calling because that identifies them as the type of student I might like to have in the class. When I saw that she won the award and that she hadn’t taken our other classes, I knew I needed to meet this person,” Villhard said.

Munzi, who is studying Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology and Finance, applied to The League with a different idea: ClosetSwitch, an app that allowed students to trade clothes. However, “I got so excited about chickpea oatmeal that I could not stop thinking about it, and I just had to do it,” Munzi said. “I had to convince [my team members] to be on board with the switch.”

Gorton was excited to work on ClosetSwitch because she has been passionate about sustainable fashion for a while. Though she was initially a bit skeptical of the idea of chickpea oatmeal, “I obviously trusted Chiara, so once I tried it and heard more about the idea, I was all in,” Gorton said.

In The League, the team heard from guest speakers and worked with their assigned coach, Jerry Rosen, a Washington University alum and entrepreneur. They met weekly to develop and launch their business, testing recipes in Munzi’s kitchen, then the Skandalaris Center kitchen. 

“It was fun to watch them over the course of a semester. They made their product and had people taste it. People were giving them a six out of ten on taste, and that’s just not going to work for a food product,” Villhard said. “It was fun to watch them increase it, to go from six out of ten to nine out of ten by the end of the semester.”

Now, they cook ChiChi products in a commercial kitchen in Fenton, MO. 

“Taste makes or breaks the product,” Gorton said. “It’s so funny because Chiara and I believe in it so much — every time we make it, we’re amazed by the taste, like we forget how good it is every time.”

ChiChi placed third in the Skandalaris Venture Competition in November 2022, earning $5,000 for their business. The semi-annual competition allows WashU entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses to a panel of judges through a series of video and written proposals.

The ChiChi team is expanding this summer with sales and marketing interns, which will allow them to grow the business more. They are also working to determine their target audience and will continue to perfect their recipe. 

“I’m really excited for this summer because we’ll have interns working on it 40 hours a week. We’ll be at farmers’ markets, and we’re just going to try and push all our channels as hard as we can and market it,” Gorton said. 

“Chiara, in particular, is a superstar. She is one of the most entrepreneurial students that I’ve ever met here. I knew within the first couple seconds talking to her that she’s tenacious, she goes after it, has an incredible work ethic, [and is] incredibly smart, and the best part about her is she treats everything as a learning opportunity, so she’s basically running experiment after experiment and getting better and better,” Villhard said.

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