With a rattle not unlike the sound of coffee beans being dumped into a grinder, Nate Saal pours a scoop of cocoa nibs into the top of the latest version of his chocolate making appliance. It takes up less than a square foot on the countertop, and fits easily under most cabinets.
It wasn’t easy to shrink a chocolate factory into a small gadget. It’s been more than five years since Saal made his first attempt, now sitting on the floor in front of the counter and began turning his quest into a company, now named CocoTerra and with several million dollars of angel investment behind it. Four more prototypes followed.
Starting a company wasn’t new to Saal. After graduating with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale, he became fascinating with the possibilities of the web, first joining Smart Valley, a non-profit aiming to increase access to Internet technology in 1994, then starting his first web-technology, CatchUP, an automated update system, two years later. He sold the company to CNET in 1999.
Next came GlooLabs, and a media streaming platform. Cisco purchased that company in 2007, adding the technology to a Linksys network storage device tagged the Media Hub. Then came Tactus Technology, a startup developing a touch-screen interface that used microfluidics to create a morphing keyboard with temporary raised buttons. In 2013, with funding dwindling and smart phone manufacturers committed to glass screens, he left that company.