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Showdown: Killer Startups Full coverage

Third place: SweetRiot

A sweet solution for that chocolate craving.

(FSB Magazine) -- SWEETRIOT

WHAT IT DOES Sells dark-chocolate-covered cacao beans

Showdown: Killer Startups
• 1st place: Green Dragon Roach Kill
• 2nd place: Saatwic Foods
• 3rd place: SweetRiot
• Gallery: Meet the judges
• Video: Killer Startups video

FOUNDER Sarah Endline, 36

LAUNCHED October 2005

STARTUP CAPITAL $300,000 in angel funding

After leaving her marketing job at Yahoo, Sarah Endline, a Harvard MBA, spent a year traveling the U.S. and Europe, crashing on friends' couches and conducting focus groups on the topic of chocolate. When she looked at the data, she discovered that there was no shortage of players in the $1.48 billion gourmet-chocolate market, but there was a need for an Altoids-like on-the-go solution. "I asked potential customers what 'problems' they had with chocolate," she says. "And besides wanting a healthier candy, many were upset that they couldn't easily rewrap and save a chocolate bar.

One year later her new company, Sweetriot, had just the thing: tiny nibs of cacao bean - the low-sugar, antioxidant-rich food that all chocolate is made from - covered in dark chocolate and then packaged in small, two-cigar-sized tins emblazoned with images from emerging artists. Endline believes that the candy will appeal to the eco-conscious, satisfying their growing demand for purer foods and giving them a healthy choice in the check-out line, where consumers are inundated with options.

"Initially I had no idea what the product would look like - I'm not a chef who can turn out culinary art," says Endline, who is based in New York City. "Instead, I went out to the marketplace and designed my product around the trends I found."

To market her candy, Endline created clever picket signs and T-shirts bearing the I RIOT FOR CACAO motto, and she makes sure the company stays on message that its chocolate is "globally responsible," "all natural," and "free trade." She's developed buzz and been featured in Vanity Fair and Gourmet - and been seen at New York Fashion Week promoting Sweetriot. There's even a component to the website allowing artists to submit pieces and have cacao converts vote on whose work should be featured on future tins. Our judges were skeptical about the name, but Endline defends her decision, saying, "The name Sweetriot is very emotional and memorable. We like it because it doesn't describe our product directly."

Of course, that made it a more difficult sell when Endline took her chocolate to market in 2005, hitting up floor managers in Manhattan specialty-food shops such as Zabar's and Whole Foods, giving them 20-second pitches about the candy's health benefits and purity and the company's eco values. Two months later the three Whole Foods stores in the city stocked her products; within six months Sweetriot was on the shelves in 100 of the chain's East Coast stores.

Last year the five-employee startup pulled in nearly $1 million in revenues, and it recently signed a deal with home-goods chain Pier 1 Imports to be distributed in 1,500 locations by the end of 2007. Endline, who had raised $300,000 from friends and family, is now seeking $1.5 million from angels to fund further growth.  Top of page