Our Team:

Hot Cocoa for the Homeless is made up of three persistent entrepreneurs: Chris Settle, Alex Petak, and Kevin Connors. We are Seniors at James Madison University studying Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. We share the common goal of stretching our limits while obtaining valuable skills for our managerial toolbox.

Our key roles within the team are as follows:

Alex: Social Media Mastermind, Public Relations Specialist, Bookkeeper, Master Salesman

Chris: Logistics Specialist, Reservations Kingpin, Chief of Product Development, Chancellor

Kevin: Head Chef, Community Involvement Representative, Philanthropy King

We each were involved in Greek Life and avid about various philanthropic causes. We attempted to pull our resources to leave a lasting impact on our community.

Our Big Idea:

After conducting a few weeks of market research, we discovered that our buyers (college students) were very smart spenders. They refused to spend any money on things that were not a necessity. However, with Christmas and Hanukkah steadily approaching we realized the opportunity to nail the pain of shopping for Holiday gifts. As college students, we recognized that students would be seeking small, inexpensive gifts that would be significant to the person who receives it, particularly parents and other family members. We also wanted to tie our product to a philanthropic cause because people tend to become much more charitable around the Holidays which may impact their buying decisions.

We started our venture with the idea to produce school themed blankets with an emphasis on donating a blanket to the homeless with each purchase. We discovered that this vision would be too complicated and expensive to execute and were unsure how the market would react. This idea of warming the homeless soon led to the concept of mastering a homemade, delicious hot cocoa recipe which we could incorporate into a gift for the Holidays while still incorporating the homeless community here in Harrisonburg.

Key Questions:

Once we decided to shift our efforts towards Holiday gift shoppers, we began to dig deeper into this demographic. We began asking questions such as: What type of gifts do you plan on getting for your loved ones for the holidays? and How much do you plan to spend? We also considered what gift items were popular throughout the Holidays and soon got the idea of making a Holiday themed jar of hot cocoa to gift to friends and loved ones. We began to ask our soon to be consumers how often they drink hot cocoa and whether they make it at home or buy from a chain such as Starbucks. Our results proved that people are big fans of the brown drink in the Winter season and we began mastering a recipe.


Key Innovations:

Once we decided to run with the idea of hot cocoa mix in a jar we realized we we would need something to differentiate our product from those you see on your local grocery shelf (Swiss Miss, yuck!). We began researching the key components of hot cocoa and experimenting with various recipes. Our first attempts were lackluster but we soon encountered a creamy, delicious explosion of flavor that will satisfy even the most picky of taste buds. Once we mastered the hot chocolate recipe, we realized that this would not be enough to compete in the cutthroat cocoa market and began to brainstorm different flavors we could offer to entice our buyers. We tried various combinations such as white chocolate, pumpkin, caramel, and french vanilla. Most of them failed although our french vanilla was and instant success. This went on to become our top seller and greatly led to our entrepreneur success this semester.

We also wanted to do something to make our product more appealing to the eye. We experimented with painted snowmen, Santa Clause, snowflakes, and reindeer on the jars but for simplicity purposes decided to decorate with holiday ribbon and candy canes.


Early Adopters:

Our first attempt to sell was in the Zane Showker Hall lobby where we believed we would have much exposure to our customer segment. This proved to be a lie as we watched person after person fly by us on the way to class. Our first several sales were to professors of the College of Business, 40-60 years old, and married who wanted to buy a thoughtful gift for the secretaries, housekeepers, and staff that help them on a daily basis.


Some resources that proved to be useful when executing our sales were our previously established relations with various authorities around campus. We were able to expedite the sales approval process thanks to the goodwill established during our first approval attempt with the t-shirt designs. We were also able to establish connections with members of the deans office as well as utilize our previously established connections at Urec to reserve space in Showker and URec lobbies to gain access to larger segments of our market.

Key Contacts:

  • Jason McClain, Academic Resource Analyst:
  • Kristin Gibson, Assistant Director for Marketing and Technology:
  • Donna Bitar, URec Reservations Manager:
  • Kristen Herring, Dean's Office, Building Coordinator:

Another resource that was useful was our ability to cut costs by buying supplies in bulk using a Costco membership. This helped us to mass produce our product from the start, the only thing left was to sell out.

Minimum Viable Product Evolution:


Final Business Model:

BS Model

Lessons Learned and Advice:

We learned a great about the trials and tribulations of being an entrepeneur throughout the semeste. However the biggest lesson we probably took away was to start early and realize that it can take awhile to make the final decision on what product you decide to sell. We took advantage of both the holiday season and cold weather with our idea of selling Hot Cocoa in mason jars. By decorating our product for the holiday season and by donating a portion of the profits to a good cause like Mercy House we were able to add more value to our product. We had pretty good sales numbers, however I believe that we could have done better if we had gotten started earlier and had more time to sell.

One thing we learned when it comes to selling your product is that location is key. Just because you are selling in a high traffic area like the Showker lobby doesn't mean that sales will come easy. In fact the busy business majors often walked passed our table without even noticing us probably because they were stressed and worrying about their school work. We had more success selling in UREC then we did in Showker. This is probably because people at UREC are often in a much better mood and not in as big of a rush. Make sure you consider the evironment of where you plan on selling and how that could affect your sales.