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Dan Tzotzis, co-founder of AWAKE Chocolate, inspires young entrepreneurs at the 2022 Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Science


On March 24, 2022 the Lassonde School of Engineering, Schulich School of Business and BEST Program hosted the Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Science. The lecture featured keynote speaker and Schulich alumnus Dan Tzotzis (BBA ’02, MBA ‘10), co-founder of AWAKE Chocolate.

AWAKE Chocolate manufactures caffeinated premium chocolate, without a bitter caffeine taste. As a multi-million-dollar brand, AWAKE is available in over 20,000 locations in North America and was featured on NBCNews.com in its Top 24 Most Innovative Consumer and Retail Brands. The startup also pitched its product on season seven of Dragon’s Den.

“Lassonde is honoured to have had Dan share his experience with our community of changemakers,” said John Moores, Associate Dean, Research & Graduate Studies at the Lassonde School of Engineering. “Opportunities for students to gain insights from successful York alumni are extremely valuable in inspiring the next generation of creators to generate local and global impact.”

In his lecture, “Bracing for the Entrepreneurial Thrill Ride,” Tzotzis shared stories from his life as an entrepreneur. Looking back at his 20 years of experience, Tzotzis imparted his perspective on what to expect as a new entrepreneur and the important lessons he has learned in the rollercoaster ride that is an entrepreneur’s life.

“Dan’s story is the classic entrepreneurial overnight success that was years in the making,” says Detlev Zwick, Dean, Schulich School of Business. “All of us at Schulich are proud of what Dan has accomplished, and we’re especially proud of the way he is giving back to help develop the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs.”

Students were inspired by Tzotzis, who shared key lessons on what to expect when launching a startup.

“I have never thought about food manufacturing, and this lecture really provided me with a different view of being an entrepreneur,” said Van Pham, a student attendee at the lecture. “As long as you are open-minded, willing to take risks and willing to learn, you can do it in any industry.”

“Dan’s journey showed me how important, and possible, it is to balance a startup and your family life. His experiences inspired me to keep pushing through the inevitable tough times while having my close friends and family by my side,” said Artem Solovey, a master’s student and entrepreneur in the BEST Lab. “I also learned about how important brand identity is, and I’ve already started applying some of Dan’s lessons to my own company, YuRide.”

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Dr. Andrew Maxwell, Bergeron Chair in Technology Entrepreneurship. In this discussion, Tzotzis talked about what it takes to go from an initial concept to launching a startup. He elaborated on how he leveraged his experience in the consumer-packaged goods industry to succeed in the production of AWAKE Chocolate.

Guests inspired by the lecture can learn more about entrepreneurship opportunities at the Lassonde School of Engineering, offered through the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology program, and at the Schulich School of Business’ Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship – home to Schulich Startups’ 3,000-strong community of innovators.

Those who were unable to attend can view the event recording.

About the Speaker

Corporate Finance Associate, turned Corporate Sales Associate, turned Entrepreneur, Dan Tzotzis, along with his two partners, co-founded AWAKE Chocolate, ‘North America’s best-tasting energy product’. Quitting their corporate gigs in August of 2012 and using their collective 35 years of industry experience, Dan and his partners have transformed AWAKE from an idea into a multi-million-dollar brand.

Now with over 20 years of experience leading and operating businesses in both the corporate and entrepreneurial world of consumer goods, Dan has added coach, instructor and mentor to his professional arsenal. In January of 2021, Dan became a part-time MBA instructor at the Schulich School of Business and has now helped hundreds of students get their businesses started on the right foot.

Dan is also an alumnus of the Schulich School of Business at York University (BBA ’02, MBA ’10) and sits as an elected board member & treasurer for the Greek Community of Mississauga.

Dan is a husband and father to his four most favourite people. He has been married for 16 years and has 3 children, Zoi (9), Elias (6), and Loukas (3). His pastimes include being an active baseball, hockey, horseback and performing arts dad.

About the Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Science

In an effort to inspire and empower future generations of students at York with a sense of the possible, Ernest C. Mercier’s wife, Dr. Eileen Mercier, a Schulich graduate (MBA ’77, Hon LLD ’10), established the lecture series in her late husband’s name. Bridging the worlds of business and commerce with the intensive research world of STEM, the series presents an entrepreneur and renowned scientist who has used his/her own science education as a springboard to other enterprises.