Idara Otu sprints toward what she wants. The Olympian ran for the Nigerian track & field team, competing in the 4 × 400 m relay event at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Now this athlete-turned-entrepreneur is running in the chocolate business.

After a stint on Wall Street, Otu founded Let Girls Read, Run, Grow, a non-profit to empower underserved girls in her native Nigeria. Determined to fund an all-girls primary school in her native state, she founded NŌK CHOC in 2021. She is also the author of The Miraculous Masquerade, a children’s book that illustrates the rich story behind the characters seen on NŌK CHOC’s packaging. 

Here, Otu shares more about her business and the lessons she’s learned along the way.


Idara Otu: NŌK CHOC is a premium vegan hot cocoa manufacturing company. Made from ethically sourced cocoa beans from West Africa, our Calabar Cocoa comes in three decadent flavors that are all dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free. And since it’s made with no artificial ingredients and less sugar than your common household brand, NŌK CHOC packs a great punch with much less guilt.

NokChoc cocoa
Image:  Soona Studios.

You started the brand to support your non-profit, Let Girls Read, Run, Grow.

Yes! In 2017, I started the 501c3 charity Let Girls, Read, Run, Grow, fueled by the passion to develop African girls through education, athletics and entrepreneurship, the three key ingredients to my success. As part of the bold vision, an all-girls primary school in my native state in Nigeria was to be built. However, the question of how to fund this huge endeavor weighed on my mind. As a Wall Street veteran with entrepreneurial pursuits from my youth, I decided the sustainable funding source for this school would come from sales of a commodity product. From there, NŌK CHOC was born. 

Why did you choose cocoa as your brand launch?

I wanted to sell a product that was indigenous to Nigeria—Nigeria is the fourth largest exporter of cocoa globally—that’s able to showcase the rich, colorful culture of my heritage (the masquerade culture is depicted in the imagery on our packaging and the brand story) and could be used as a practical tool to teach entrepreneurship to the girls that attended the primary school or participated in my charity’s camps. Originally, the plan was to create a chocolate bar, but I soon settled on hot cocoa after research showed this category hadn’t seen much innovation in the last four decades. With extra hours spent at home during the pandemic, I got to work setting up NŌK CHOC. By brainstorming flavors, building a business plan and sourcing sustainable ingredients, I was able to launch NŌK CHOC in the middle of a pandemic.

What lessons have you learned about launching a business?

Given the opportunity to speak with other business owners, I would share the importance of having coaches, teammates and cheerleaders in your circle. Coaches are those who have done it before. They may have not built a business in your industry or of the same size, but it is invaluable the experience they bring to the table. Learning from the mistakes of others is the greatest business hack out there.

Teammates are those who are building businesses with you or alongside you. Entrepreneurship can be an incredibly lonely journey and it is important to stay connected with those who understand the journey you are on. They can bring perspective and a unique level of empathy that others cannot, which is sometimes all you need to keep going. 

Finally, you need cheerleaders, those who believe in you and in your product or service even when you don’t. There are so many times I wanted to quit and just go back to corporate for a consistent paycheck, but their belief in me and my capabilities lifted me out of the deepest valleys. 

NokChoc cocoa
Image: Soona Studios.

Any other advice on how to stay on track with your business?

I would emphasize the importance of rest. As an entrepreneur, it is easy to get carried away with the grind and the urgent nature of needing to build your business and complete tasks on a “yesterday” timeframe. However, taking some lessons from my athletic career, taking time to rest and be human will help restore your energy and resolve to be able to maintain the endurance needed for this race. In order to grow, in business you need to take time to rest, reflect and prepare for the mini sprints along the way.