One Duke alumna's drive to improve her circumstances led her to start Ello Raw, a company that makes vegan dessert balls.

That, along with her ongoing mission to “fight mediocrity” is what Becky Holmes—Trinity ’15 and founder and CEO of Ello Raw—cites as the motivation behind the 60 hours a week she spends producing, packaging and promoting her regionally recognized products. The treats, which she said have grossed $40,000 in revenues so far, were developed through Holmes’ participation in Duke’s Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurship program. 

She noted that she currently produces 2,000 dessert balls a day to meet the growing demand of her customers. Her products are also being considered by Whole Foods.

But Holmes said that she is in business for other reasons besides just turning a profit.

“I could never run a company just for the money,” she said. “I want to do it for my family, for myself, for everyone that I see, because I know that if they have healthier food options, they’re just going to feel better each and every day.”

The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native said she has taken this message to heart, after growing up in a family with parents who struggled with drugs and alcohol as well as family history of obesity, anxiety and depression.

Holmes said she realized that if she ever wanted to break out of this negative “cycle,” she was going to have to focus tirelessly on her goals.

“I didn’t want my life to look like this moving forward,” she said.

Holmes was awarded a scholarship to attend Duke, where she majored in dance. Initially, she did not plan to become an entrepreneur.  

It was not until she found herself immersed in an entrepreneurship class that she began to realize a career in investment banking or consulting might not be the best place for her. 

During her time at Duke, Holmes began imagining different business ideas, including a plant-based cream cheese. As she became more invested in her business, however, she settled on designing vegan dessert balls, which are organic and do not contain GMOs, gluten or dairy. The product comes in four flavors, with six pieces per package. 

Although Holmes noted that she laments how her senior year at Duke detracted from the time she could have spent growing her business earlier on, she credits her progress to the Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurs program.

"One of the most incredible things was being immersed in this experience with people who had a really good understanding of exactly what I was trying to do," she said of the program, which annually provides about a dozen students with experiential mentorship, guidance and a $5,000 summer stipend to kick off their business ventures.

Since being selected through the program, her vegan dessert balls have been distributed to farmers markets and local grocery chains with plans to expand, she said.

Memories of her childhood experiences inspire her to keep working.

“They say fear is the best motivator, and it was certainly a driving force for me,” she said.

Holmes encouraged current students to search for ways to seek new perspectives and find opportunities to achieve.

“You could spend three hours watching Netflix, or you could use that three hours to attend a talk, go speak with a professor or drop in on a random workshop," she said. "You might be surprised where it takes you.”

Holmes is currently raising money to fulfill all of her purchase orders from the Natural Products Expo East, where her dessert balls were named one of the top seven new exhibitors.

“I’m really excited about Ello Raw’s future, and I’m just so grateful for the incredible journey that led me here," she said. "I wouldn’t have it any other way."