By Annie Young
Dasha Agoulnik, MS, RD, is a dietitian and consultant on the move.
As the CEO of CorePerform, a nutritional coaching platform and maker of an original protein supplement, the 2019 graduate received a $10,000 prize at the Friedman School’s 2021 $100K New Ventures Competition. She spoke about her experiences leading up to the launch of her new allergen-free, plant-based formula and offered inspiration for like-minded innovators.
What brought you to nutrition, and later, to your studies at the Friedman School?
I’ve always had a passion for biology. My undergraduate degree was in biology, and I’ve always been fascinated with how diet and exercise affect our health, because we know that those are the two main things over which we really have control. At first, I wanted to become a doctor and a researcher, because my parents have backgrounds in cancer research. But as I grew older, I realized I didn’t want to be prescribing people things. I became more and more interested in nutrition. So, I applied to the nutritional epidemiology program at Friedman—I wanted to learn how diet affects disease. Throughout that process, I also completed my dietetics program at Simmons College.
One of my favorite Friedman classes was Nutritional Biochemistry with Lynne Ausman. We learned about how our bodies absorb and metabolize micro and macronutrients. It was everything I wanted to learn in one class.
You’re a registered dietician and a nutritional coach, and you’re about to debut CorePerform, for which you won $10,000 as part of the 2021 Friedman Prize in entrepreneurship. Can you talk about your path to becoming a CEO?
Once I graduated from Friedman, I was accepted into the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs internship program, which has an acceptance rate lower than Harvard’s. I believe I got in because of my experiences at Tufts and Simmons, and I was so excited and grateful. My brother is in the Marines, so the military has a huge place in my heart. It was important for me to give back.
After my internship, I became a dietitian. Prior to applying to Tufts, I had already started my online personal training basis, and with that, I won the Layden entrepreneurial scholarship at Friedman. So it was kind of full circle when I ended up winning the Friedman Prize, because it was like Tufts supported me through my entrepreneurial endeavors from beginning to end. And so, along with the coaching, I’m now a dietitian. I’m able to do more medical nutrition therapy. Additionally, I’m launching a protein powder, and that’s patent pending as well. So it’s been a journey.
What I’d say to aspiring entrepreneurs is to get experience. The only way you’re going to get better at something is if you try it. You have to have no fear of failure. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you never give up, you never fail.” If you’re truly passionate about something, the drive to push through in business makes failure less possible. I myself am the person who needs this product made, and my clients are the people who need it made. I’ve kept pushing, even after my first manufacturer stole money from me, even as part of this launch has been delayed until August, because I believe this product could truly change the way we see nutrition.
Describe the CorePerform platform and product. How do you envision it impacting those who try it?
So I mentioned my favorite class was biochemistry. CorePerform was born originally from my love of that subject. I loved learning about different diets, low FODMAP, low histamine. I wondered, why does low FODMAP or low histamine work for some people? Why do people go on the AIP [Autoimmune Protocol] diet? And I started putting them all together into one elimination diet, with a green, yellow, and red light system like most diets have, but which also incorporated lifestyle requirements. For example, you have to get ten minutes of sunlight each day. And by having people do those simple things, I had them lose up to ten pounds in a week of water—that is, from inflammation loss. Just water.
CorePerform is a coaching service and then there is the supplement. I have a background in bodybuilding and fitness, and the number one question my clients had was regarding the elimination diet. They said, I can’t have dairy, so I can’t have my protein powder. They asked, “Well, what do you recommend?” and at the time, I didn’t know. So that’s when I started researching. I thought, how can I make a product that is a one-to-one equivalent to whey, without the heavy metals associated with plant protein, without gums that can cause bloating, without artificial sweeteners. And that’s when I created CorePerform because my clients and this dietary protocol required it.
How did your time at Tufts shape your understanding of the opportunities inherent in nutrition?
There are so many opportunities in nutrition: research, policy. And the best part is that at Tufts, they not only allow you to understand all the opportunities, they also support you in those endeavors. So, whether it's entrepreneurship, lab research, getting into policy, all of these things are supported at Tufts. To me, it felt like whatever you were doing, you had the network and support to keep fueling you in that direction, and that was ultimately the best part about my time at Tufts and Friedman. Everyone truly believed in a greater vision of changing the world through nutrition.