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Adam Kavalier (Ph.D. ’11, Biology): Scientist, Entrepreneur, Chocolatier

Adam Kavalier (Ph.D. ’11, Biology) followed an unusual post-Ph.D. path: he launched Undone Chocolate, the first bean-to-bar maker of premium organic chocolate bars in the Washington, D.C., area. Founded in late 2014, the company now produces about 3,000 gourmet chocolate bars a month.

Kavalier recently spoke with the GC about science and entrepreneurship — and offered practical advice for those interested in pursuing nontraditional career paths. 
GC: How did you become interested in artisanal chocolate and decide to start your own company? 

Kavalier: I first studied cacao in the laboratory as a potent source of antioxidant flavonoids. That quickly turned into making chocolate at home as a hobby. Craft chocolate making involves designing and building machinery; there’s not really any affordable professional machinery made for the hobbyist. So building machines and making chocolate became a passion of mine when I was in graduate school.

My passion grew and I became interested in the culinary side of chocolate making. I started making chocolate from cacao sourced from several different regions around the world and began to appreciate the subtleties of the different flavors of each region.

I shared my passion with friends and family and it was very well received. I had a vision to grow my craft and share it with the market. I knew we had a unique product so I founded Undone Chocolate and embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship.

Could you discuss the link between the study of science and entrepreneurship?

Embarking on the entrepreneurial path is not too dissimilar from independent research: you identify a question you’d like to answer and chart a path to discovery. In my opinion, if you are able to be a successful post doc, you have a shot at being a successful entrepreneur. Both tracks require creativity, dedication, and hard work.

Why did you choose to study at the GC?

I came to the Graduate Center to study phytochemistry with Dr. Edward Kennelly, who studies medicinal compounds found in plants in his phytochemistry laboratory housed at Lehman College. The phytochemistry laboratory and plant science program were very unique and offered me the opportunity to apply analytical techniques to my curiosity of medicinal plants.

Additionally, in a partnership with the New York Botanical Garden, CUNY offers access to botanically focused faculty and laboratory resources.
My research focused on the phytochemistry of hop flavonoids.

I worked in collaboration with a hop research program at Hopsteiner, a private company, in an effort to produce hops that contained elevated levels of compounds important to both food and medicine. By collaborating with Hopsteiner I learned about how research is conducted in both industry and academic settings.

What advice do you have for current and prospective students who might be curious about following a nontraditional path? 

It is important not to limit yourselves in the scope of your career. The skills you learn in graduate school can apply to any industry. It is most important to pursue a career that is fulfilling.

Most people enter graduate school with a sense of discovery, looking to learn and grow. I have kept this perspective in creating my own business. I continue to learn, teach, and grow. Similar to research, every day presents a new challenge and a new opportunity to break new ground. This keeps it exciting.


Submitted on: MAR 8, 2016

Category: Biology | General GC News | Student News