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Vol. LXIII, No. 49
 
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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Entrepreneur and Olympic Hopeful LaCava Dreams Big With Rowing and Chocolate

Dilshanie Perera

A shot at the 2012 Olympics brought Nick LaCava to Princeton, where he’s wasted no time training with the U.S. National Rowing Team and simultaneously launching his own chocolate business.

A 2009 graduate of Columbia University, Mr. LaCava and two friends, Eric Heinbockel and Fabian Kaempfer, opened their website-based company, Chocomize, over the summer. Their idea involves customizable chocolate to which people can add their own favorite ingredients to make unique bars.

“We’ve always been into chocolate,” Mr. LaCava admitted, explaining that the idea for the business was inspired by an accident. When hanging out in college, the three friends had bought chocolates and other loose candies, put them all into a bag, and had left them in the car. By the time they returned, the items had melted together.

“We ate it anyway, and thought that this might be a good idea for a company … that people could add any ingredients they want into chocolate,” he said. Their current list of addable edibles include dried fruits and nuts, as well as more unusual choices like bacon and gold flakes.

It was a risk to start up such a project in an economically troubled time, but the trio was determined. “We were seeing everything that was going wrong with the economy, and the effects of corporate greed, and we didn’t want to get sucked into that sort of track,” Mr. LaCava remarked. “We wanted to make a socially-conscious company.”

A portion of the sales from Chocomize are donated to national and international non-profit organizations like the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Action Against Hunger, and Doctors Without Borders, with customers choosing the organization they’d like to support when ordering online.

“We send chocolate to troops in Afghanistan too,” Mr. LaCava added, emphasizing that they are “always looking for more ideas” regarding ways to get involved in the community and world at large.

Collaborating with local and national companies is also part of their plan. “We definitely want to partner with local businesses and commerce groups,” Mr. LaCava noted. “We’re talking with businesses that go hand-in-hand with our product, for instance, flower companies.”

Besides individuals, another customer base involves wedding planners looking for favors for guests, and corporate clients seeking gifts for employees. “That has been popular for the holiday season,” said Mr. LaCava, who also envisions extending their purview to supermarkets and other retailers, as well as smaller candy stores that would be able to customize chocolate on site.

The three-person staff of Chocomize is involved in all aspects of the business, including outreach, marketing, tempering the chocolate, and adding the ingredients themselves, all of which Mr. LaCava described as a labor of love.

They had briefly considered “Chocolate Lab” as a potential company name that would conjure up imagery of scientists and laboratories, but instead “we found that people were thinking about the dog,” Mr. LaCava laughed, adding that “when we first started, we made a survey and sent it to basically everyone we could e-mail … and ‘Chocomize’ was the clear favorite.”

Juggling between being a full-time athlete and the co-founder of a business can prove challenging, particularly with “two or three rowing practices a day,” which Mr. LaCava admits “can be pretty intense and time-consuming.”

Nonetheless, he noted that his business partners have been “very supportive” of his training, adding that Mr. Heinbockel was a fellow teammate in college. “It’s great that I can be so flexible with this job.”

Mr. LaCava first began rowing when he was in eighth grade, and was inspired to test out the sport because his mother also rowed. “I got hooked, and have been doing it ever since,” he said. With the Olympics a few years away, he is currently focusing on training for national competitions, as well as the annual World Championships.

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