Driven by a passion for health and fitness, an entrepreneurial itch and a longtime love of donuts, a team of UT alumni is hoping they have the recipe for sweet success.
The four founders of Elite Sweets, a protein donut-focused Austin startup, became friends at the UT, which is where their idea for a low-sugar, gluten-free donut company was born.
“We looked into protein donuts and just saw a huge opportunity,” said Amin Bahari, co-founder and CEO of Elite Sweets. “With our background and the team we put together, we figured we could essentially take this to the next level.”
Bahari worked for UT’s football team while pursuing a degree in sport management, where he met co-founders and former UT football players Timothy Cole and Caleb Bluiett. The friends were neighbors in West Campus, Bahari said, and would often meet up at Guadalupe Street sweet shop, Ken’s Donuts.
“(The company) was just one of those ideas that popped up in our heads at the right time,” Cole said. “We were all eating donuts in West Campus … and we were like, ‘Man, we are eating these way too much. … What if we can make these healthy for us?’”
Along with Amin’s brother, co-founder Amir Bahari, the team began to develop the donut recipe in 2017. Since then, they have developed four different donut flavors, which are sold online and in a few Austin shops.
The team’s baking breakthrough, however, didn’t happen overnight. To improve upon their initial donut recipe, the team enlisted the help of pharmacy graduate students Christopher Jackson and Albert Shaver.
Jackson said the pair knew little about baking but were able to perfect the recipe by testing out multiple ingredients over a span of six weeks.
“We treated it like a lab project, like we would have for organic chemistry or pharmaceutics,” Jackson said. “Every iteration got better and better.”
The Bahari brothers said some of their family members suffer from diabetes, so it was important to them that the donuts be low in sugar. The team’s cinnamon sugar donut, which Amin said is the most popular, contains 2 grams of sugar and 17 grams of protein.
With help from UT startup program Genesis and the entrepreneurship course Longhorn Startup Lab, Amin said the team has been able to grow their company over the past year. Recently, the team flew out to San Francisco to compete in the WeWork Creator Awards and walked away with $180,000 to help fund their business.
“We had them out for the semifinals, and they brought samples for everybody … and everyone absolutely loved their donuts,” said Gordon Bronson, head of public affairs at WeWork. “(They are) taking a new twist on an old idea and making it really special.”
The donuts currently only ship to Austin residents, but Amin said the company has plans to roll out shipping statewide and eventually nationwide. While the team is setting its sights on a bigger group of donut fans, the key to their success so far remains simple.
“We believed in ourselves and what we could accomplish,” Cole said. “That was the whole motivation to get us to this point.”