The Sweeter Side of Entrepreneurship
Amidst a sea of tech startups, ChocAmo founder Michelle Silberman’s most important tool isn’t her computer — it’s her oven.
March 5, 2015
by Zach Epstein
What’s in a name?
To Drexel senior and entrepreneur Michelle Silberman, the answer to that question is everything.
Although she first conceptualized the idea for a company that makes delectable cookie cups a decade ago, she needed a name that perfectly described her venture’s spirit.
She knew she wanted it to be unique. She looked for inspiration in other languages — French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, even some Slavic languages — before settling on her final choice: ChocAmo.
“Chocolate and amor. So, love for chocolate is ChocAmo,” she says.
Silberman’s goal now is to make that name synonymous with her company’s cookie cups.
“I just need to be able to teach consumers how to say it.”
ChocAmo — which, for the record, is pronounced Cho-cAH-mo — makes cookie cups in roughly 14 flavors that are capable of holding ice cream, coffee or liquor at any temperature. It’s a concept that Silberman has honed since bringing ChocAmo to the Baiada Institute last year, but one that its “Chief Cookie Officer” has been developing since middle school.
“Back in seventh grade, me and my best friend were sitting in a public speaking class, and our teacher, Mrs. Wheeler, asked us to think of a cool product and present it,” Silberman says. “And we thought, ‘cookies and milk, America’s favorite treat.’ Why wouldn’t you put the two together?”
The idea was never far from Silberman’s mind, reemerging during her freshman year at Drexel. Asked to present a business idea in LeBow Professor Christopher Finnin’s entrepreneurship class, she called upon the cookie cup concept that she could never quite shake.
“Every other team presented a tech-based idea,” she says. Her concept stood out, and with some encouragement from Finnin, Silberman decided it was time to give her business idea a real shot.
“I went back to my Myers dorm, took some Nestle dough, flipped over muffin pans and burnt the whole batch,” she says. “And failed many times after that too.”
While the recipe has changed many times since that initial effort, the process hasn’t.
“We bake in my apartment. We bootstrap to the max,” Silberman says.
Though ChocAmo is preparing to move to a commissary with more space and resources, Silberman still bakes each batch of cookie cups herself, all from scratch — a practice that results in about 40 cups every three hours. With the help of her team — Ramon Contreras, Rochel Wener and Katelyn Taylor — she tallies her orders every week and makes enough to fill those requests all at once.
It’s a process that Silberman has been forced to perfect over the past year, as ChocAmo continues to gain traction not only on Drexel’s campus, but throughout Philadelphia. The company’s initial focus is catering and the event space, and one event last year — Drexel Startup Day — demonstrated just how receptive ChocAmo’s market was.
“That was awesome,” Silberman says. “It was a bit overwhelming at times, but it was nice to have a line and see how Drexel students are so supportive of what we’re up to. That warms my heart.”
ChocAmo also recently catered the viewing party at First Round Capital for fellow Baiada company Scholly’s appearance on Shark Tank. For now, ChocAmo will continue to concentrate on volume sales — although cookie cups are also available in packages of six on its website — and make a stronger consumer push later in 2015.
“We really want to launch a strong Kickstarter campaign, which will be the opening on our consumer end,” Silberman says.
ChocAmo is also developing co-branding partnerships with local event planners, and is working to improve the product’s shelf life and shippability. As Silberman prepares to graduate from Drexel this year, she plans to continue building ChocAmo full-time.
“I’ve gotten the most amazing mentorship thanks to Drexel, and the connections of President Fry and the people here have been really amazing.”
A Q&A with Michelle Silberman
Why cookie cups?
I’ve always loved to cook and bring people together with food, that’s my culture. So I love that I’m able to do that with dessert.
Who inspired your entrepreneurial spirit?
[My dad] instilled entrepreneurship in us from a young age. He’s my biggest inspiration when it comes to entrepreneurship. He’s the reason I’m studying it.
Has your family always been supportive of your venture?
My dad was actually pretty angry that it took me this long to get to this point. I came to college hoping that I would have a business. We’re treated as adults in our home. We talk about business, all four of us together. It’s a pretty cool conversation to have with your family.
How has the Baiada Institute impacted the way you run your company?
Being in Baiada helps the most, because you can come in here, and you might have had a terrible conversation with a client or maybe something else didn’t work out. You come in and someone is excited about what’s going on with them, or you can confide in them and they share their opinions and advice.
It’s just a conducive place for success.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“If you ask for money, you’ll get advice. If you ask for advice, you just might get money.” — from Archna Sahay of Female Founders Network
I took that and went a little crazy with it, and started networking all around the city. Really just asking people for advice. And you know what, it’s so true, because when you ask people for advice or you just want to get together with them and offer them any help — I always offer my resources at Drexel if I can connect another student to someone in the community — when they do have events, they do reach out, all by themselves without thinking twice about it.
What would you tell other students at Drexel who are thinking about entrepreneurship?
Just go for it.
People can tell you a bunch of things. Some people will believe in you, some people won’t. Be flexible. Your business concept and your product, or whatever you’re working on, is going to change a million times before it hits the market. But if you don’t start taking steps forward, then you’re going to lose sight of that dream and corporate will whisk you away quite easily.