Harrison Nastasi and Justin Iannelli are not only changing lives with their superfood granola bars. Providing people with the health benefits of an acai bowl on the go, they are also making history and breaking records on a global scale. On Nov. 4, the two Rowan sophomores took home first place and $8K for their company, Bobica Bars, at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) Global Pitch Competition in Tampa, FL.
Bobica Bars are superfood glazed granola bars that are peanut, tree nut, gluten, dairy, and soy free, in addition to being whole grain and vegan. They hope to provide customers with a granola bar that offers the same health benefits that an acai bowl would, in a more accessible, transportable medium, 8 bars cost about $15. Earlier in the year, Bobica Bars also won the New Jersey portion of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards and third place in the 2023 New Venture Competition at Rowan.
Not only was this year’s win the first time two teams from the same university won two years in a row, but it’s the first time that two brothers have won back-to-back as well. In 2022, Harrison Nastasi’s brother, Nick Nastasi, and co-founder Joshua Perry won first place at the same competition with 4U Medical Designs, a medical grade sticker company dedicated to reducing fear and anxiety for children in hospitals. In addition, Harrison Nastasi and Iannelli are the youngest team to win first place and the first food and beverage company to win in 40 years.
The $8K they received in funding will go straight into the granola bar business, in order to get their products in more stores and get a co-manufacturer. As of right now all of the bars are being cooked, packaged, and distributed by Iannelli and Harrison Nastasi. They hope to begin selling in Whole Foods, are preparing to have a billboard in Times Square and their commercial will be launching soon.
With over 700 teams who competed from all over the world, making it into the top 100 is a feat in and of itself, and Bobica Bars was not the only team from Rowan to do so. PULLATracker and Lunch Box Cards, two other Rowan student startups made it into the top 100, with PULLATracker and Bobica Bars making it into the top eight.
“Once we made top eight, we wanted to win, but that was like a stress reliever on its own. Just to make top eight. So when we went to pitch for the finals, we were nowhere near as nervous. We were as nervous as pitching in a classroom,” said Iannelli.
The Nastasi brothers have attended every pitch competition together and Nick Nastasi originally wasn’t able to make it this year, due to his recovery from back surgery. That, in combination with preparing orders, practicing for the competition, and putting together a commercial, starring a former NFL player, made the two weeks leading up to the competition that much more nerve-wracking.
“The fact that Nick couldn’t get there with us was just… it was just the most stressful two weeks of our lives,” said Harrison Nastasi.
They still went to the competition ready to give it their all. Little did they know, that while they were on the flight down to Tampa, Nick Nastasi was at his doctor’s appointment, getting the clearance for sitting and walking. As soon as he got the news, he texted Perry and was on the first flight out of the Atlantic City airport, ready to surprise his brother when he arrived in Florida.
“The moment I heard that I could sit, I was like ‘Alright well I’m getting on a plane and I’m watching my brother pitch. I’m here to help him practice and support,’” said Nick Nastasi. “I just almost feel like it was meant to be, I had to be there.”
Regardless of the pain he was feeling on the flight, he pushed through it, because “the situation at hand was bigger than myself.”
Harrison Nastasi noted that while they wanted to win for their company, some pressure came with it. Especially because of 4U Medical Designs’ big win last year, there were some expectations the Bobica Bars team felt during the competition this year to follow in their footsteps. Rather than letting that pressure consume them, they used it to propel them forward and drive their success.
“We definitely do feel that pressure, and I’m glad… because without that pressure, I don’t think we would have won or gained this much traction within a year,” said Harrison Nastasi.
Iannelli and Harrison Nastasi both attributed a lot of their motivation, drive, and success to Nick Nastasi, whether it’s a motivational text or business ideas they mentioned that “day in and day out” he is there for them.
“Nick’s my biggest inspiration, and he still is. Every day. He’s working every day, he’s up at 4:45 a.m. working nonstop and he always sends me and Justin quotes, [and] things to do today. Every single day,” said Harrison Nastasi.
Having each other for support is crucial for both of the brothers, not only during the exciting pitch competitions but every day, through the good and the stressful parts of starting a business.
“Being there for not only the highs but also the lows in entrepreneurship and just riding that wave out together… it makes it a lot easier having each other during this up-and-down entrepreneurial journey,” said Nick Nastasi.
Harrison Nastasi and Iannelli are both full-time students and are on the CEO Club E-Board. Through their efforts in and out of the classroom, they are constantly getting involved in Rowan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, all while balancing a full course load and running a business full time. The support from the Rowan community in Florida really helped make the experience as special as it was, with Iannelli making special mention of how close the CEO Club members became during the trip.
“In the beginning, we weren’t as close, now at the end of the trip– I feel like we’re all like best friends…just being with them for the past weekend was so awesome, and to see how motivated each and every one of them are,” said Iannelli.
Greg Payton, entrepreneurship lecturer accompanied the students at the awards and has seen not only their accomplishments on the stage but the ups and downs of the student startups back at the Rowan Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“I am so proud, not just that they’re winning awards. It’s number one what they stand for, their persistence, determination and never quitting,” said Payton.
He’s seen both brothers through the very beginning of their separate businesses to now and has taken note of their ambition and drive. Both companies were able to set a goal and see it through– something that not everybody is willing to put the work into doing.
“His brother Nick is the most determined person I’ve ever met, he said ‘The first year I didn’t win I’m going to do whatever it takes to come back and win next year’ and he won,” said Payton. “Last year, Harrison said ‘You know what, I’m coming back next year and I’m going to make sure we’re the first brother combination to win back-to-back years’ – ever by the way. So I’m most proud of their determination.”
This accolade is impressive, but it’s only the beginning of the Bobica Bars journey. Above all else, they are hoping to make the health benefits of their granola bars accessible to more people.
“I’m very happy for our future coming along, but our main goal is just putting more superfoods in more people’s hands, honestly,” said Harrison Nastasi.