Alumni Profile: Dagmawi Iyasu ’98

Dagmawi Iyasu pouring a cup a coffee

Graduation Year


Field of Study

Biochemistry/Immunology: Infectious diseases and the immune system: The nature and mechanisms of infectious diseases, and an infectious agent-host organism interactions.


Serial entrepreneur, public health practitioner, and coffee researcher

Entrepreneurism on Caffeine

“It seems like my life revolves around coffee,” says Dagmawi Iyasu, a serial entrepreneur, public health practitioner, and coffee researcher in his homeland of Ethiopia. “Coffee is addictive socially—I love the people it brings together. I also love the fact that I get to do chemistry and economics for social impact.”

Dagmawi is the program manager for Africa at Grounds for Health, a Vermont-based NGO focusing on cervical cancer prevention in coffee-growing communities around the world. He is also an advisor for Ethiopia-based YA Coffee Roasters and Slow Brew Coffee Safaris, companies that his wife, Sara Yirga, owns and manages, where he researches the potential of domestic consumption and coffee tourism in Ethiopia and other African countries.

“It seemed natural to do this as Ethiopia is the birthplace of Coffea arabica and coffee culture,” says Dagmawi. “I am also a co-founder of a few coffee-related businesses in Ethiopia, and soon Vermont. We are trying to bring specialty coffee to the Wilmington area through collaboration, rather than competition, for community development. This is also exciting as our business model depends on bringing smallholder coffee farmers closer to consumers to sustain livelihoods across the value chain.”

Although Dagmawi studied biochemistry and immunology at Marlboro, with special attention to infectious diseases, every part of his Marlboro experience applies to his current endeavors. “It’s hard not to notice Marlboro in my life,” he says. “I am open and bold, and am comfortable doing both general and specialized tasks. I love the idea of failing as long as there is some learning to do.”