Hollis hopes to help through hydration and home-tech

When Minnesota State alum Cortez Hollis first attended MSU, he knew he wanted to own his own business. A talk with an advisor changed his trajectory.

“I was saying to them ‘What do I want to study?’ and I came across this course called Gender and Women’s Studies. I took that course for the heck of it, but ended up majoring in it, along with ethnic studies,” Hollis said. 

Hollis said the diversity at MSU opened his eyes and prepared him for life after graduation.

“I think that MSU is an important melting pot to preparing students for the future,” Hollis said “Everyone works interchangeably and I see it like it’s a huge piece of the puzzle that’s leading us in a forward direction.”

Graduating in 2014, Hollis is now getting a master’s degree in Ethnic and Multicultural studies through MSU while living in Irvine, Calif. Hollis said taking these courses helped him serve a wider audience for his sports drink business, Protein Water.

“If you want to be in any type of business where you’re serving people, you want to have a basis of understanding all people. I realized that if you want to be in a business or serving, you want to be in a business of serving everyone, especially people who don’t look like you,” Hollis said.

Hollis got the idea for his company after watching his cousin Adrian Battles — MSU alum and former NFL offensive guard for the Green Bay Packers — chug standard protein water with friends after practice. 

“I was like ‘Why do they not have protein water that actually tastes good? One that’s beneficial for you guys at the top 1%?’ That question ended up burning like fire in me,” Hollis said.

Hollis used the bit of money he had and spent hours doing research, finding certain ingredients to mix and having Battles and his friends test out the drinks.

Hollis wanted to give the Protein Water flavors meaning, naming drinks after motivating characteristics. 

“‘Perseverance,’ is our fruit punch flavor, ‘Confidence’ is our tropical flavor and ‘Will’ is our blue raspberry flavor,” Hollis said. “Everybody can relate to the names whether you’re in sports or whether you’re trying to make it through on a college campus.”

Protein Water is currently in the midst of funding for a nationwide launch. Hollis said the drinks will soon be available on Amazon for purchase. 

In the meantime, Hollis currently works with Outreach Program Services of America, a non-profit providing communities with necessary resources. He later learned of the Affordability Connectivity Program, a $14.2 billion federal program created during the COVID pandemic to connect low-income families with internet access.

Hollis reached out to MSU due to his connections with faculty. 

“I connected with MSU to see if some students needed these tablets, so I reached out to institutional diversity. They had to go through the steps and procedures to figure out the legitimacy of it and once we went through that, they sent it out to students,” Hollis said. “I always want to make sure that I’m giving more than I’m receiving.”

Students have to show proof of financial aid, whether it’s a Pell Grant, scholarship or Federal Pell Grant. Students can also show state health insurance, food assistance or any additional state and federal benefits to qualify for the free Android tablet. 

“They’ll input their name, proof of aid and press submit. Within minutes we’re able to get a response and approval to prepare for shipping, but because of the influx, sometimes it can take up to about an hour before they get a response,” Hollis said.

Between 500 and 1,000 tablets have been distributed to MSU students. Hollis said the tablet program is an entity of the ACP, so students should take advantage of the opportunity while they can. 

“The program is in place as long as the funding is, so the more students that take advantage of the program, the longer it stays. We try to give students a sense of urgency that way like this just won’t be around forever,” Hollis said. 

Hollis said the feedback he’s received has been emotional, specifically from students saying the tablets couldn’t have come at a better time. 

“We see college students and think that they’re okay, but a lot of students aren’t and they’re dealing with things privately. Students are in the library as long as they can or they’re borrowing laptops from the library for as long as they can,” Hollis said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for MSU for being the first college in the country who was able to take it to a level like no other college has.”

Header photo: MSU Alum Cortez Hollis created Protein Water after seeing his cousin and friends gulp sports drinks that weren’t beneficial for their recovery. (Photo courtesy of Cortez Hollis)

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