This PhilaU basketball player is bringing coffee to the world of sports drinks

PhilaU basketball player Jordan DeCicco and his brother Jake, a football player at Georgetown, use natural ingredients and added protein to target health-conscious consumers. Blackstone LaunchPad is helping them take the product to market.

Sunniva cofounders Jake (left) and Jordan DeCicco.

(Photo courtesy of Jordan DeCicco)

Waking up well before the birds started chirping for 5 a.m. basketball practices, Jordan DeCicco faced a double challenge.

Not only did the groggy-eyed college athlete require a caffeinated boost for a morning pick-me-up, but he also needed something that packed enough energy to keep him going on the hardwood — and at class afterward. DeCicco’s sweet tooth didn’t help matters either, as dumping in spoonfuls of sugar only would lead to the inevitable crash.
Looking for an endurance boost that a standard cup of coffee couldn’t provide, he went into mad scientist mode in his Philadelphia University dorm room. DeCicco, now entering his sophomore year, began using agave and stevia extract as sweeteners and adding protein and medium chain triglycerides for an extended boost of energy.
He tweaked the recipe to his liking after much trial and error, and soon he started to pitch the natural, power-packed coffee to his teammates. “Those guys loved it, and the word spread quickly on campus,” the business major said.
Following this organic growth at Philadelphia University, DeCicco solicited his brother Jake, a senior who plays football at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The coffee drink blew up there as well.
“That’s how it all started,” the younger brother, Jordan, said.
They knew they had something special, but getting it out to the masses — going beyond two college campuses and not just relying on word-of-mouth — would take help and advice from experts. That’s when DeCicco visited the Blackstone LaunchPad offices at PhilaU and started working one-on-one with director Zoe McKinley. The program provides coaching and resources for students interested in developing entrepreneurship skills and knowledge, as well as specific ideas they want to pursue.
“It was the best decision ever,” DeCicco said. “Being a competitive athlete, I said, ‘We have to take it to market right away. This is going to be big.’ They were like, ‘Jordan, slow down. We’ll take it step by step and plan the whole process out.’ They helped me every step of the way.”
“Jordan was able to tap into a huge array of resources at PhilaU to build his venture,” McKinley said. “Through his rapid product development process, Jordan has demonstrated the multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving that exemplify the PhilaU culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Through the PhilaU LaunchPad, DeCicco was connected with PhilaU business professor Thomas Fung, who provided counsel on building a sustainable brand in the food and beverage industry. DeCicco took a road trip with Fung and McKinley to the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, which helped to finalize recipes and early-stage production. This was an important step, as some of the original ingredients for the drink couldn’t be scaled up.
Fung, who worked at Campbell Soup for 30 years, sees the potential with the brothers’ drink. “Coffee is a $50 billion business,” he said. “I believe there’s enough room for everybody.”
And they’re off to a good start.
Called Sunniva Caffe, their fair trade, organic coffee from Colombia now comes in three flavors: natural vanilla, pure cinnamon and natural mocha. Each cold, ready-to-drink 10-ounce bottle contains 22 grams of protein and no artificial sweeteners, and there’s not an unpronounceable ingredient on the label.

Sunniva Caffe

The Sunniva Caffe bottles that are now appearing in Whole Foods. (Courtesy image)

Starbucks may be great-tasting, but they’re high in calories and have a ton of sugar,” DeCicco said. “We differentiate ourselves in the health-conscious world.”
The DeCicco brothers are rolling out Sunniva this week at three Whole Foods stores in the Washington, D.C., area and in Mom’s Organic Market soon after. They are using a nearby facility to produce and bottle the drink. Jordan says he expects Sunniva to be available in Philadelphia this fall and at about 50 retail and fitness locations throughout the East Coast during their first business quarter.
DeCicco wants to be in the entire Whole Foods mid-Atlantic region by the fall, and online ordering should be available soon, making the drink available everywhere.
“They don’t have a product like this on their shelves,” he said of the organic giant of the grocery world. “They fell in love with it.”
While they’ve come a long way from running lemonade stands in front of their house and selling gum in the school halls, the DeCicco brothers still possess that same entrepreneurial spirit that sprung at an early age. They also have an unwavering dedication to Sunniva — a pride they want other startups to feel in their own products.
With Sunniva about to hit the market, Jordan DeCicco says he is living his dream. “Entrepreneurship is pure innovation and creative thinking — going into a competitive industry and believing in your product and making it happen.”

Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia supports student entrepreneurship in the Greater Philadelphia region through a partnership between Philadelphia University, Temple University and the University City Science Center.

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