What: The Unreasonable Climax
When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Macky Auditorium
Unreasonable Institute entrepreneur Sheikh Turay‘s cocoa is feeding more than just his sweet tooth.
Turay’s company, Liberation Chocolate, is breathing life back into Liberian cocoa farms, which were abandoned during the country’s civil war. Three of the country’s previously overgrown farms now employ 50 former child soldiers and are helping revive Liberia’s once-vibrant cocoa market.
In an attempt to grow his business, Turay has teamed up with Lafayette’s Nova Monda Cacao and Chocolate, who will turn the Liberian cocoa beans to tasty treats that will be sold across the United States.
Turay was introduced to the Boulder County chocolateirs at an event hosted this month by the Unreasonable Institute — a six-week fellowship program, started by five University of Colorado graduates. Turay, one of 25 entrepreneurs in this year’s summer program, presented his company to nearly 100 local entrepreneurs including, a co-owner of Nova Monda, Gregory Landua.
“It was a match made in heaven, no doubt about it,” Landua said. “It’s not just that we work with chocolate, but our business mission is driven to support farmers to have fair livelihoods and steward their own rainforests.”
The Unreasonable Scrimmage event gave locals a chance to work with the entrepreneurs to develop a product that would help boost the participants’ socially conscious businesses.
Turay’s team, which included Landau, came up with a plan to offer a jar of chocolate pieces produced by Nova Monda from Liberian cocoa to everyone who donates at least $50 to Liberation Chocolate. The team developed the concept, built a beta website and had their first tasting of Liberian chocolate in only 10 days. The chocolate can be purchased at liberationchocolate.com but it likely won’t be delivered until this fall, Landua said.
“It’s really robust, and we all thought it had a Cinnamon-Toast-Crunch-meets-amazing-chocolate flavor,” Landua said. “It’s got this subtle cinnamon spice taste and a swift chocolate end.”
Turay said he is excited to grow his business, which he began in 2008 with $100 in his pocket and generous donations from Liberian farmers.
“What could I do with the money in my pocket,” Turay said. “I just started going around and asking farmers to let me help them get their farms going again, and they agreed.”
Liberation Chocolate’s three farms in Liberia produce enough cocoa to sell at local markets and pay the former child soldiers who work the farms, Turay said.
While he was not a child soldier himself, Turay said he lived in a refugee camp with his family for 14 years, and many of his friends became soldiers by the age of 10. After the war, Turay returned to Liberia to see the former soldiers without money, education or jobs.
“What do they do next,” Turay said. “I thought if I could find a way to get them jobs, it would help keep them away from violence and trouble.”
Turay is hoping the proceeds collected through his partnership with Nova Monda will allow him to hire more workers and buy farm equipment needed to more efficiently run his operation.
The owners of Nova Monda said by working directly with Turay, they’re cutting out the middle man in order to put the maximum amount of proceeds back into Turay’s business.