“I have always been an entrepreneur. I had my first business at the age of seven,” says Julie McLean, owner and founder of Sibu Sura Chocolate. The determination and spirit of entrepreneurship led McLean to become the first woman owner of a single-founder chocolate manufacturing business in the United States.
Experienced in a variety of businesses, McLean’s love of chocolate led to her founding Sibu Sura. She wasn’t satisfied with the chocolate on the market, and felt that chocolate “was not at its fullest potential.” She started experimenting in her basement in Virginia in 2007. She challenged herself to develop the best chocolate product.
She traveled to find different types of cacao beans and decided that Peruvian beans were her favorites. She then experimented with different formulas, ingredients, percentages of ingredients, equipment, etc. to discover the perfect recipe and method for her chocolate. In 2012, she opened a factory in Maryland to produce the chocolate.
McLean has always had an interest in business, and has worked since she was seven years old. Even at that young age, she made business cards on index cards to promote her business of raking leaves and sweeping porches. She became an assistant dance instructor at the age of 12, and created a variety of businesses throughout high school, college, and adulthood. “I was always wanting to start my own thing, ” she recalls.
Her energetic personality and her tenacious spirit have led to her success. When asked of the challenges of starting a woman-owned business, she said that “being a woman is only a disadvantage if you make it one.” While she did experience some negativity from people who thought she was just having fun making chocolate in her kitchen, she believed in her vision and had the perseverance to be successful and ignore the naysayers. She says, “if you want something bad enough you can make it happen. You have to have the vision.”
McLean describes herself as a perfectionist, and this is evident in the manufacturing process at Sibu Sura. She traveled to Peru to hand-select the beans, and the company stores the beans in a custom-built storage unit that is temperature and humidity controlled. Other factors leading to her success include her ambitious personality, her passion, and her education. She has a master’s degree and has studied law at the doctoral level. She emphasizes the importance of legal knowledge when running a business, and advises that business owners need to make sure everything is legal, and that they protect their business with the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.
McLean is passionate about giving back to the community, not just the local community, but the global community. Sibu Sura engages “in organic and fair trade practices, promotes sustainability and environmentally friendly initiatives, charitable causes, recycling efforts, and other important values and endeavors.”
McLean eats chocolate on a daily basis. To try some of her exquisite chocolate, visit one of these locations, or order directly from the Sibu Sura website. (Personal note: I highly recommend the “Funky Bars.” I tried and enjoyed all of them, but the Dark Ancho Chili was my favorite!)
This is the third article in a series about woman-owned businesses. If you enjoyed this article, please check out our other UrbanGirl Profiles here. UrbanGirl is a woman-owned business, and we love celebrating successful women. We are looking for women to interview for this series. Please email me at email@example.com if you are interested in being featured.