Rebecca Holmes of Ello Raw takes the complicated reality of business ownership and success then adds an extra dash of nuance and a pinch of personal hardship.
October 21, 2016
Ello Raw Founder Speaks to Her Past and Her Company’s Future
How a Young Entrepreneur Went From Rags to Riches to Somewhere In-Between
While her raw food dessert bites will soon be on local Whole Foods shelves, she’s faced, and is still facing, some hard times.
At best, Holmes was a thriving Duke student and business owner. At her worst, she was living in her car.
This past summer Holmes hit her personal rock bottom. Despite being the CEO of a profitable company and a Duke graduate, she was homeless. She had enough money to buy 3 plastic drawers you might see in college dorms. She had a hair brush and a few changes of clothes. She was okay, according to her. It was good enough.
The reality of her situation, according to Holmes, didn’t set in until her sister gave her a combat knife so she could feel safe when she was sleeping in parking lots alone at night.
On the other side of the coin, Holmes was an active and high achieving Duke student. Though she grew up in a low-income household, she landed a full-tuition scholarship through a program reserved for students of families at or below a certain household income level. While in college she took advantage of every opportunity she could. She was a finalist in the Duke Startup Challenge for her startup Ello Raw. She landed a spot in the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program. Holmes even founded a program of her own that sends wannabe undergrad CEOs to Brazil to learn from the country’s best entrepreneurs. Her life was on track in many ways.
It’s been a bumpy road for Holmes, filled with ups and downs. Holmes says her determination helps her pick herself up every time she falls down.
The past few months have been a whirlwind of progress for Ello Raw.
The company produces raw, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, agave-free and egg-free dessert bites made from nuts, oats, oils, honey, dates, berries and spices. Holmes’ idea is to produce a healthy and environmentally responsible dessert that even non-health-nus can enjoy.
Considering most desserts start with a unhealthy helping of butter, refined flour and processed sugar, hers is a lofty goal. However, Holmes think’s she’s done it. Based on her the mentors she’s attracted, awards, sales and her growing customer base, others seem to agree.
While she might make sweet and decadent dessert bites, Holmes isn’t saccharine—and her story far from a slice of heaven. Her story paints a nuanced or maybe even sometimes dark picture of what entrepreneurship can look like, especially when you’re born with a plastic spoon in your mouth instead of a silver one.
“When I’m on Whole Foods shelves, making a million dollars in retail, that’s when you can’t deny what’s going on,” says Holmes “Give me a year. Give six months. I’ll prove I’m not just a random person building a small business.”
Despite her disadvantages, Holmes has sacrificed all to paint that plastic spoon silver. And somehow, she’s making it.