Ella Livingston is the founder of Cocoa Asante, a business that sells premium chocolate made from cocoa beans grown on her family’s farm in Ghana. Livingston became addicted to chocolate while traveling and decided to turn her passion into a business to help her native country. Despite having a full-time job as a math teacher in Hamilton County, Livingston has been working to launch her startup business since 2018.
However, things changed rapidly after TikTok star Keith Lee gave Cocoa Asante a glowing review on his account. Lee’s endorsement of the business resulted in a surge of sales, with Cocoa Asante’s daily revenue soaring from under $1,000 to $24,719 in one day. Livingston’s chocolate inventory sold out in just 45 minutes. Last week, Cocoa Asante won the top Idea Leap Award from Tennessee’s Valley Federal Credit Union, which granted the business $30,000.
Livingston, who resigned from her teaching position to work full-time on her business, plans to use the grant to buy more cooking equipment to grow Cocoa Asante. She also wants to become a Bean to Company and move candy production to Ghana. Livingston said that the grant enables her to be more responsive to demand. The credit union has awarded nearly $500,000 in grants and scholarships since launching its Idea Leap grant in 2018 to support local start-ups.
Ideally, Livingston plans to invest more in the communities that grow Cocoa Asante’s cocoa beans. She wants to ensure that her customers are getting the highest quality chocolate on the market. Cocoa Asante is committed to taking customers on a journey throughout the manufacturing process, from cocoa beans to the final chocolate bar.
Idea Leap, which is funded by the credit union with proceeds from Idea Leap loans to small businesses, has supported dozens of entrepreneurs to launch or grow their businesses. Next year’s program applications will begin in November, said credit union president and CEO Todd Fortner.