Akron, Ohio – Anyone who’s tried a low-carb, high-protein diet probably knows how hard it can be to enjoy a delicious meal without compromising your diet. Especially if you are a vegetarian, which means no dairy.
This is how Denise Williams, a data tech of the day, became an entrepreneur who not only develops vegan ice cream, but caters to people with all kinds of dietary restrictions.
With her new company, Diva de la Crème, Williams wants to make sure her products are made with healthy ingredients, she said, right down to the sweetener.
She’s definitely onto something—Williams won $3,000 in Bounce’s Life’s a Pitch after participating in the 15-week Mortar Accelerator.
Bounce, the Akron Innovation Center, supports startups of all kinds, and helps entrepreneurs learn and grow their businesses through mentors, classes, and competitions. The goal is to boost the local economy and create jobs.
Designed for established entrepreneurs, specifically minority and women-owned businesses, Mortar helps them better understand the nuances of business ownership so they can grow.
Williams said making ice cream isn’t a huge departure from Tech Diva Consulting, her current business.
“It’s the same kind of principles with experimentation that you use in ordinary science,” she said. “You add different ingredients together and see what the experience turns out to be; if whatever you do it will taste good. Sometimes it just doesn’t.”
But she said Williams did not plan to start another company.
Stuck at home, Williams, like many during the pandemic, is not used to not being busy — she studies data technology at Cuyahoga Community College in addition to running her tech consulting business.
At home, Williams focused on her health and tried a program that included the keto diet. She said she ended up losing about 60 pounds in five months, but because she’s a vegetarian, she was very disappointed that she couldn’t find a proper healthy dessert.
Williams tried her hand at creating one, drawing from her childhood spent learning cooking skills from her mother and grandmother.
“This is where my learning started,” she said. “I started doing these huge studies, reading all about dairy-free ice cream production and the science of vegan ice cream.”
She said that the best quality vegan ice cream that is vegan tastes great and is good for you. But even though they replace dairy products with almond milk or coconut milk, the products still contain added sugar fillers.
“I’d like to create something that doesn’t,” she said. “It’s more health conscious, so people who want to indulge can and don’t feel guilty after eating it, like, ‘Oh. This has sugar inside. “
Because her mother is lactose intolerant and her father is diabetic, she said, Williams also wanted to create something they could enjoy.
I tried hemp seeds to make the product creamier and monk fruit instead of sugar. She used her food processor to mix batch after batch of ice cream, relying on her two adult sons as taste testers.
“They were really good themes because of course I can say, ‘Does this actually taste good to you?'” “They won’t lie,” she said.
After honing two recipes with ingredients she was happy with, Williams developed a business plan and gathered the other items she needed to join the Bounce Mortar program. She said the program opened her eyes to the many resources available to her in the greater Akron community.
As part of Mortar, Williams also received professional assistance from accountants at Cleveland-based Pease & Associates to help her calculate Diva de la Crème’s financial projections, she said. I also got help with marketing plan, label design, and securing licenses.
“I’ve been trying to get more funding, and also be strategic and open about what the journey really takes, you know. It kind of ebb and flow in entrepreneurship.” People don’t realize all the drama that goes into that. You have no idea just then all of a sudden, you have business.”
She said Williams is still in the research and development phase as well, making recipes and doing nutritional analyzes for various recipes.
She secured the kitchen space at Akron Food Works, a commercial kitchen and food business incubator, located in The Well Community Development Corp. in the Middlebury neighborhood of Akron.
While the products are still being tested, Diva de la Crème has three product lines. She said the chocolate made with almonds and hemp, vanilla and hazelnut ice cream, and chocolate made with hemp and vanilla-pecan caramel are fairly complete.
She also works on alcohol-infused ice cream, experimenting with tequila, bourbon, and other spirits. Williams said Bozzi’s ice cream is already available on the coast and will be coming to Ohio markets soon.
If all goes as planned, she said, ice cream lovers can see Diva de la Crème products at local farmers markets this summer.
She said Williams would like to help people get back into the habit of knowing where their food comes from and eating high-quality food. This goes hand in hand with the ways in which people experience weight loss.
“The goal is to really help people customize their own health journey and what that means in terms of nutrition,” she said. “Nothing works for everyone.”