Jessica Spaulding grew up in a home where sugar was not on the menu. But putting her entrepreneurial skills to the test early on, she struck a deal with her mother: if she could make her own candy, then she would also be allowed to eat it. As a Food Network enthusiast she learned to make all types of chocolate at just 10 years old, a passion that would inspire her latest endeavor, Harlem Chocolate Factory.
Outsiders discouraged her from starting her own business, saying that there was no money to be made. She was determined, however, and in college decided to take a shot at starting a chocolate company. While she was not successful at first, it encouraged her to take time to learn core business skills, a step that has paid off in the long run.
Jessica received a loan from Accion through Brewing the American Dream which she used to buy supplies and make samples for the New York StartUp! business plan competition. She was connected to a mentor from Samuel Adams sales team who also helped her prepare for the competition, helping her to think through the sales process and other elements of her business plan. “He really prepared me for the competition,” Jessica said. After winning the competition and receiving a $15,000 prize, Jessica’s business began to take shape.
Calling the business Harlem Chocolate Factory, Jessica produces bars, bark and brownies inspired by the rich ethnic heritage of her native Harlem community, from the sweet potato pies of Lenox Avenue to the Mexican chilies of Spanish Harlem. Jessica emphasizes quality, handcrafting her products and responsibly sourcing her chocolate.
Jessica was also invited to participate in the Samuel Adams Pitch Room competition in New York, an opportunity that broadened her business experience. “It’s great to learn about what kinds of questions people want to know when you’re pitching your idea,” Jessica said. She was also asked to feature her product in a Samuel Adams holiday gift box, which meant filling an order of about 250 boxes of chocolate. “It was totally insane, but I gathered my entire family and we stayed up for three days straight,” she said. “And after they went out I got so many inquiries, I have a list of retailers now who are interested.”
Finding partners in Accion and Sam Adams gave Jessica the financial stability to build her dream and allowed her to take her business to the next level, “At the time I didn’t have a job and I was like a deer in the headlights – how does it work?” she said. “But it worked.”