Wide receiver Jake DeCicco (MSB ’16) wasted no time as he left football practice on the morning of Aug. 28. As most players headed for the showers and then lunch, DeCicco darted with a teammate to his car. A football team meeting was beginning in three hours, but DeCicco could not afford to stick around.
Thirty-five miles away in Elkridge, Md. 700 bottles of his new product, Sunniva Caffe, awaited pickup.
Sunniva Caffe, a new kind of coffee drink developed by Jake and his brother Jordan DeCicco, will officially launch this month in several Whole Foods stores around the Mid-Atlantic region. Developed with athletes in mind, Sunniva combines natural and organic ingredients to give its users 10 grams of protein and eight hours of energy, according to Jake, who serves as chief operating officer of the company.
Jake and his teammate ultimately missed the team meeting and were punished when the commute took longer than expected. But Jake said that it comes as part of the cost of being a student, an athlete and the chief operating officer of a new business.
“That’s when you wish there were 25 hours in a day,” Jake said.
Both brothers have put around-the-clock work into this startup, whether by holding board meetings at 1 a.m. on Saturdays or by spending this past summer at the Startup Hoyas Summer Incubator, hosted by the McDonough School of Business. The team plans on continuing full-time after graduation.
“That’s the plan,” Jake said. “I mean, we plan to expand nationally at Whole Foods, nationally at universities.”
The company was born in September 2014 inside Jordan’s Philadelphia University dorm room. Jordan, now a 20-year-old sophomore athlete at the university, found himself in a tight spot after falling asleep in class after 5 a.m. varsity basketball practice.
“Every day after his workouts, [Jordan] was falling asleep in class,” Jake said. “And so he was drinking coffee, he was drinking energy drinks, and they really weren’t doing the trick.”
After countless hours spent researching online and speaking with different teachers, Jordan found his solution in medium-chain triglyceride fatty acids, a compound that can be extracted from coconut oil and remain soluble and flavorless.
“It gave you this extended boost of energy and also extended the body metabolism and acted as a dietary supplement,” Jordan said.
After adding protein and organic flavor such as agave nectar, stevia extract and organic vanilla, Jordan had concocted a tasty drink that all of his teammates were asking for. In March, Sunniva Caffe sold more than $7,000 in product at Philadelphia University alone.
But Jordan was not satisfied. He recruited his brother Jake for his business expertise, and before long Sunniva received its big break when a Whole Foods in Glover Park agreed to carry its product. Within weeks other local Whole Foods began to carry Sunniva’s drinks.
On Thursday the company received a 10,000-bottle shipment, which Jordan said he hopes to sell by the end of September. Another 25,000-bottle order will arrive in early October. In addition to the several initial Whole Foods locations, Sunniva Caffe will market at Students of Georgetown, Inc. storefronts such as Hoya Snaxa, Hilltoss and Vital Vittles beginning this month. Sunniva Caffe is currently available in three flavors: Natural Mocha, Natural Vanilla and Pure Cinnamon.
Jake and Jordan both said that outside support has been essential to the company’s success. Sunniva’s vice chairman, Jaime Vasquez (GRD ’89), was a former COO of Pepsico and now holds weekly calls with the Sunniva team to offer guidance.
Early on in the business development process, Jordan received help from a number of professors at Philadelphia University who worked at Campbell’s Soup as well as Honest Tea Co-Founder Seth Goldman. And before finalizing a product, Sunniva utilized food scientists at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, N.J.
“We had a lot of help, a lot of advice given to us earlier on,” Jordan said. “We were very fortunate to have schools behind us, great family members behind us who have been successful in the business world.”
Jake said that another important step in growing the business to its current level was the time the company spent within the Startup Hoyas Summer Incubator. The program hosted 13 different startups founded by Georgetown students, who received dedicated work space and mentorship from the business school.
McDonough School of Business Entrepreneurship Initiative Associate Director Alyssa Lovegrove said that the program is a transformational one because of the environment it provides for entrepreneurs.
“You could do this anywhere. You could do this in a coffee shop, but you’re not necessarily part of a community so that’s really the dynamic we’re trying to create, kind of an ecosystem where people are helping each other and sharing the information that they’re collecting and the advice,” Lovegrove said. “So that’s quite satisfying.”
For now, Jake said that his sights are set on keeping the business growing while playing on the football team, managing school work and trying to maintain the same sense of fun and purpose in his startup.
“It’s a battle that comes up always when running your own business,” Jake said. “With grades or football or whatever, it’s easy to say, ‘I can slack off. I’ll catch up tomorrow.’ But it’s about keeping your foot on the accelerator.”
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