Kasha Connolly: 'Winning Start-up of the Year opened new opportunities for me’

Kasha Connolly is the owner and creative director of Hazel Mountain Chocolate, a small chocolate factory and cafe in Counties Clare and Galway. The company was launched in 2014 with the help of her husband John, and four years on, it remains one of the most remote chocolate factories in the world.

Not only does Kasha make award-winning chocolate on site, but she also runs tours of her factory, a chocolate shop, cafe and online store. Given the growing success of her business, it’s no surprise Kasha won Start-up of the Year at the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards in 2016. As we near this year's BWOTY Awards, we caught up with Kasha to find out how things have changed since then.

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“As a result of winning start-up of the year, many PR opportunities have arisen," Kasha tells us. "Notably, I’ve been working with five-star hotels like The Marker in Dublin and Adare Manor. I’ve got the understanding that, ultimately, everything is possible,” she says. “Our Burren chocolate factory has become one of the main visitor attractions in the west of Ireland, and we now sell our product across Sweden and Norway."

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What makes Hazel Mountain Chocolate different?

"We make our chocolate in very small batches using rare, direct-trade Trinitario cacao beans and raw sugarcane for our dark chocolate; and Irish milk from grass-fed cows in our milk chocolate; delivering you the finest, purest chocolate," Kasha says.

"Our team of chocolate makers begin by hand roasting, cracking and winnowing cacao beans before stone grinding it for 40 hours. We then age our chocolate for a further three weeks before our chocolatiers create our bean-to-bar chocolates. You can’t just rush the process of making the world’s best chocolate."

 

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What motivates you?

"Our pure and natural product, and our design. We operate in a niche market and face a lot of competition from industrial chocolate makers; hence we have to fight uphill battles with regards to educating the consumer. But ultimately, the product - our chocolate - speaks for itself. The exemplary experience and service we provide to the consumer come from the fact that we stand by our product.

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“The holy grail is to trust yourself, trust your instinct, stay true to yourself…”

"This is what motivates me; pushing back against the industry norm, trust in my vision, and setting new goals. I’ve learnt to run with the challenges, not against them. This can be great motivation."

 

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What do you think every woman should know before setting up a business?

"Every woman should remember there is always an appetite and a demand for high-quality products. For me, the holy grail is to trust yourself, trust your instinct, stay true to yourself, be brave with your design concepts, and question everything.

"Failure can push you forwards or backwards; it’s up to you how many lessons you take from failure and challenges."

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"It’ll sound cheesy, but happy customers is so worthwhile. Consumers feedback is always overwhelmingly positive. It’s very satisfying when people recognise the level of input, work and craft that goes into our chocolate."

"Also, investing in yourself and setting new goals is part of the daily motivation. Failure can push you forwards or backwards; it’s up to you how many lessons you take from failure and challenges."

 

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Any advice for this year's nominees?

"Well, first of all, enjoy every second of it!" Kasha says. "The event is a wonderful glamorous evening. It's worth sharing this experience with some of your colleagues or friends."

Awarding those who have what it takes

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Nominations for the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2018 are now live. Will you nominate yourself, a friend or a colleague for one of the highly coveted titles? Simply fill in the nomination form before 5 pm on Friday, 12th October 2018 to be in with a chance to win.

On the evening of Monday 19th November, we will gather with Ireland’s most inspiring businesswomen for a luxurious gala dinner, during which we will recognise and celebrate their successes. We will reveal the winners in nine categories, plus the winner of the Lifetime Achievement award and the overall IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2018.

With only a limited time left to nominate, you'll need to act fast. Good luck.

 

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