Food Service & Agriculture, Small Business & Startups, and Sustainability

Fertilizer startup wins ‘prestigious’ award at GIC

Holland-based Cocoa Corporation uses organic compost rather than chemical fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides.

December 1, 2017
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Cocoa Corp.
Cocoa Corp. is co-located at the Chief Container site in Holland, which makes yard and commercial waste readily available. Courtesy Cocoa Corp.

A local fertilizer manufacturer startup could be on investors’ radar after winning an international competition.

Cocoa Corporation was named the “most disruptive” startup business at the Global Innovator Competition recently in San Francisco.

The Holland-based company won the award given by the Global Technology Symposium out of 100 companies from around the world because of its “innovative vision and unique business model,” according to the judges of GIC.

“The GTS is delighted to bestow the Global Innovator Award to Cocoa Corporation, the maker of Cocoa Compost,” said Christopher Stone, managing director of the GTS. “Our competition showcases many of the most promising global startups with bold ideas and great potential.

“Winning the competition is a prestigious honor, and we believe Cocoa Corporation is one startup that investors should watch closely.”

The company was deemed to be disrupting the $300 billion organic waste management industry and the $116 billion chemical fertilizer industry.

Established in 2011, Cocoa Corp. is one of the newest companies to create fertilizer in a nontraditional way. Instead of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified seeds, Cocoa Compost’s unique business model incorporates organic matters, such as yard and food waste, to enhance the quality of its fertilizer to be used in agriculture, landscaping and creating turfgrass.

Adam Brent, the founder of Cocoa Corp., said the company is co-located at the Chef Container site in Holland. Chef Container picks up recyclables, yard waste and other wastes in residential and commercial areas and brings it back to its site.

Brent said the company gets some of its yard waste from Chef Container and food waste from food processors in the area.

“We take anything from chocolate to apple pomace to peanuts to cherry pomace, paper sludge, yard waste, food waste from cafeterias, chocolate cake, all different types of food waste streams,” Brent said.

“What we do then, is use our proprietary aerobic turning system, (which constantly supplies oxygen to prevent the odor composting generally generates), and we can produce a high-quality humus compost in about 10 to 12 weeks.”

Cocoa Compost is sold to different types of farmers all over Michigan, including Chris Drobny, who has more than 7,000 acres of farmland in Kalamazoo. He grows soybeans and is in the midst of harvesting corn.

Although Drobny said he has been experimenting with other compost and soil amendments for the past four years, he also has been using Cocoa Compost for a couple of years.

However, the Kalamazoo farmer said he didn't put Cocoa Compost on his entire acreage for the past two years. When he uses it, he uses one to two tons per acre, which costs him $50 to $70 per acre. So far, Drobny said he has harvested 263 bushels per acre this year in corn.

Now, because his corn and soybean fields continue to grow, Drobny said he intends to use Cocoa Compost on his entire acreage next year.

“The (compost) has microbial activity, it has earthworms, it has everything going on in there that makes a healthy crop,” he said. “Once we grow corn, soybeans, or anything commercially on a field … (we) have a tendency to deplete some of the microbial (activity). The compost puts those things back into the soil, reignites it, starts to hold a colony of microbial activity, it breaks stuff down and makes things grow better.”

Brent said he raised about $1 million in venture capital for the company in 2015. With his innovative vision, Brent said he had to put together a business plan and then he sold a portion of his company to investors, who gave him money to start his business in latter part of 2015.

Now into its second year of operation, Brent said Cocoa Corp. produces 8,000 tons of compost per year with six employees.

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