An appetite for business—McGill experience helped dietetics student build a company that’s true to her values

Published: 10 April 2024

Although Zoey Li, BSc(NutrSc)’17, always had an interest in business, she never expected to launch a company that helps people take charge of their health.

Li, who was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in the food and beverage category, built her success on her ability to find opportunities, develop new skills and make connections, as an undergraduate and afterward.

“I always wanted to be a doctor, but my mom was totally against it,” laughs the president and founder of Yumi Organics, a rapidly growing overnight oats, hot oatmeals and trail mix company. “She’s a nurse and said I wouldn’t like working in a hospital environment. It turns out she was right!”

Li instead decided on dietetics, a program that takes a preventative approach to health and could still be a pathway to medical school.

“My mom is diabetic, so I was aware of the importance of food and nutrition and looking at labels from a very young age,” she explains. “By becoming a dietician, I thought I could make a positive impact through helping people be proactive in improving their health.”

The importance of hands-on experience

In choosing a university, an important factor Li considered was how much practical, hands-on experience was offered. At the time, McGill’s was one of the few dietetics programs to include internships. This cemented Li’s decision to move from her home in Vancouver across the country to Montreal.

“Internships were really important, not only because that experience is necessary to become a registered dietician, but it also gave me a lot of insight into the field,” she explains.

During her time in the program, Li interned in hospital ICU, oncology and geriatrics departments and worked in food service and at centres helping patients struggling with eating disorders. In tailoring plans to address different needs, Li came to more fully understand the importance of creating programs her patients could sustain, a takeaway that became a business pillar for Yumi Organics.

She also got a taste of product development by working at Macdonald Campus’s Food and Nutrition laboratories, which feature industry-standard equipment.

“I took two courses that were in the student kitchen. They were more science-based, but I remember we made cheese and would work with ingredients like yeast, or we’d study how different sugars affect the body,” she says. “I really loved working in the kitchen, it was a unique feature at Mac, and I loved the state-of-the-art appliances!”

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