Women in business: UliMana chocolates

Theresa and Zach work diligently in a Blue Ridge Food Ventures kitchen alongside the UliMana team. Photo by Kat McReynolds

This article is part of the 19th annual women in business series by Mountain Xpress. See the full story here.

Theresa and Zach: Sweet treats

UliMana’s mission: “To provide a product that uplifts people, that tastes great yet delivers nutritional value to the body, and that is made with love and consciousness.”

“I just started playing in the kitchen with raw ingredients like honey and coconut oil,” recalls Theresa Green, who eventually transformed bitter cocoa nibs into a palatable treat after experiencing their exciting psychoactive effects.

Some months later, Theresa was attending an expo and offered a jar of her pilot product, Nirvana Manna, to raw foods pioneer David Wolfe. Within two weeks, he’d called to order 200 jars for resale online, propelling UliMana into the epicenter of the burgeoning raw foods industry.

“It seemed like there was a certain kind of energy guiding the whole thing initially,” reports Theresa, who easily found a production facility and support system within the newly launched Blue Ridge Food Ventures.

But she now feels that industry pressure to enter a standardized distribution scheme could grow UliMana too quickly for her comfort. “I don’t know if I even want to do that, because then it becomes a burden rather than something that’s a joy,” says the chocolatière, adding that plotting a concrete course for the company just isn’t her style. “I let it go through its natural flow,” she says.

Achieving this peaceful relationship with the business’s unpredictable nature wasn’t easy, however. And in the early years, an incident involving a power outage and lots of melted chocolate led to an emotional meltdown as well. After that seemingly catastrophic situation was resolved, Theresa says she fully grasped the futility of trying to always be in control. Now, she prefers to “allow the next thing” — a realization that played a key role in strengthening her relationship with her son, Zach, once he joined UliMana several years ago.

Zach quickly graduated from entry-level truffle-rolling to the more complex process of mixing product, but “that’s a small part of the actual business,” says the 23-year-old, who also helps with bookkeeping, shipping, grocery store outreach and demos.

“It’s been a lot of growth for me,” Theresa says about working alongside her son. Initially, letting go of small annoyances and company setbacks was a struggle. The Human Design System — an astrology-based personality assessment and life purpose guide — helped Theresa understand her interactions with Zach on a fundamental level by elucidating the source of his methodical pace both at work and at home. Understanding those personality differences helped put Theresa’s micromanaging days to rest.

“If I just step back and let him see it himself, it’s so much more potent of a lesson,” she says.

Zach, too, feels they’ve achieved a better working relationship, which he largely attributes to an improved understanding of each other’s roles and work habits. For him, it came down to “doing things the right way every single time,” and with that consistency, processes seem to flow automatically. Both mother and son acknowledge a sense of pride surrounding his increasingly autonomous contributions to UliMana.

Theresa, however, isn’t planning for him to take over the company just yet. “If he was to go out into the world for a year or two and then come back, he might want to take it on at that point, but he’s still too young,” she says. “He doesn’t have enough worldly experience to appreciate what he’s got, and that’s really the key.”

In the meantime, equipping Zach with a set of practical business skills has been an invaluable experience for Theresa, who believes life isn’t about getting it perfect the first time around.

“It’s been very worth it, because ultimately our relationships and the knowledge and wisdom we gain are really what we’re here for. The money thing? It comes and goes,” Theresa observes. “The person you are doesn’t change.”

About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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