Entrepreneur Spotlight: Ella Livingston
"“I have seen LAUNCH offer a lot of great opportunities to a lot of entrepreneurs, providing resources and providing a circle of people they can go to”"
It is not commonplace for consumers to pay attention to where their food is from; sure, we can all generalize, but do we definitively know its true origin? Oftentimes not. Bring into the picture Cocoa Asante, a premier chocolate company founded in 2018 by Ghanaian-American, Ella Livingston. Within each bonbon and chocolate bar produced, you can find cocoa beans harvested from Ghana, where her family is, connecting her product to a place with a name, culture, and its sense of novelty.
Ella got her inspiration for Cocoa Asante from a type of Japanese chocolate called nama. The idea behind chocolate also holds familial relevance to Ella – her family are cocoa farmers in Ghana and have been for multiple generations. Cocoa, as an industry, harbors deep-rooted inequities exposed in child labor and imbalanced pricing structures. “We're not just trying to bring you a delicious product that is from my country, but we're also trying to make change in the cocoa industry by paying a higher premium to our cocoa farmers so they can make a comfortable income.”
With this initial inspiration, Ella began developing various iterations of her product evolving to resemble bonbons that have a hard outer shell and a sweet filler inside. Ella defines her business's growth as being, “steady but sustainable.” Ella mentioned that “we didn’t have an influx of capital, and I also needed to keep a daytime job. We are a two-income household and have a kid.” She attributes the ability for Cocoa Asante to scale how it has to her intentionality to reinvest the revenue generated from sales directly back into the business cycle. Cocoa Asantes' steady growth has offered Ella “the time to learn all the aspects of this business.” Whether that aspect is the production process or product development behind each recipe – “when you try to do too much too fast, things can fall through the cracks.” Cocoa Asante seeks to create a personal customer experience when it comes to their enjoyment of her chocolate. She mentioned, “we have taken the long road growing steadily to achieve that.”
LAUNCH has been privileged to be a part of Ella’s entrepreneurial journey since the beginning. Ella took part in the 10-week LAUNCH CHA course where “they gave me the confidence to start.” She mentioned that the support didn’t just stop after the course finished – “some of the funding I have had access to is because I am a LAUNCH graduate.” The LAUNCHepreneur network she has gone to for support like Stephanie Steiman from Cheiman Tea, as well as non-profit partners like CO.LAB, has helped broaden the support ecosystem that plays a significant role in every entrepreneur's journey. “The network of entrepreneurs I am with, like Stephanie from Cheiman Tea… and the encouragement from LAUNCH has been instrumental… they [LAUNCH] were the breakthrough point into the ecosystem of entrepreneurship in Chattanooga.”
The pandemic had little impact on Cocoa Asante. For one, Ella was focused on her pregnancy! Notwithstanding, Cocoa Asante has maintained a strong e-commerce presence where handling online sales and transactions was commonplace before the pandemic already.“If anything, the pandemic shifted my focus toward my online presence.” The pandemic also gave Ella time to research the extension of her vision to be more present in Ghana for sourcing purposes and dealing directly with the farmers that produce the cocoa used in her product. Having the time to execute research and imagine the future of Cocoa Asante has helped Ella to ambitiously refine her product.
Coming up in the spring, Cocoa Asante is excited to host a Kickstarter event to raise funds for bean-to-bar equipment – subscribe to her newsletter, which can be found on her website, to stay up-to-date on this campaign! Ella's goal for this next iteration of Cocoa Asante is to cut the middle man out of the production process completely “and go directly to the source.” This will ensure Cocoa Asante can have a direct impact on the livelihoods of farmers and bypass the, at times, blurry production and trade process. Ella foresees Cocoa Asante supplying directly from her family's farm, as well as neighboring farms. There are a few steps that must be taken first before accomplishing that. Additionally, Cocoa Asante is developing a permanent menu that will be available on February first for valentines day!
Where to find Cocoa Asante:
To learn more about the role of Ghana in the Global cocoa trade, we recommend reading this article: The African cocoa farmers who are taking on Big Chocolate.