Most new food products are concocted in conference rooms and laboratories. The ingredients are sourced from whoever can supply them the cheapest, with little thought to the growers or the source. So imagine the incredible rush of disrupting food industry tradition by working with Haitian farmers to develop a new take on a standard product.
Through my startup Kuli Kuli, I recently rolled out a Moringa Green Energy Shot that directly supports farmers in Haiti, an island nation ripe for meaningful, impact investing. I launched my business and product by embracing a new type of creative capitalism that comes naturally to my tech-savvy, socially conscious, hyper-connected peers.
I’ve learned a lot from other entrepreneurs who are on the ground working alongside the people in Haiti to change the way we do business and create lasting social, environmental and financial returns. Whether you’re an emerging social entrepreneur like me or want to emulate the success of one, here’s some advice that I picked up along the way:
Don’t Try to Do It Alone
My first business lesson came not from school, but from the Peace Corps. In my small rural village in Niger, West Africa, I learned about a plant called moringa—hailed as the most nutrient-dense vegetable on the planet. Perhaps more importantly, I learned what everyone who lives in a rural village with no electricity learns: the value of community. Village members support each other. They take care of each other’s children; they lend; they borrow; they learn from each other.
Our generation is no stranger to this collaborative mentality, so when I was connected to the Smallholders Farmers Alliance (SFA) and the Clinton Foundation, a partnership was natural. Together, SFA and Kuli Kuli made a concrete plan—called a Commitment to Action—through the Clinton Global Initiative to create and implement a new value chain in Haiti for moringa.
The Smallholder Farmers Alliances provides training and works with farmers to develop a business that exports moringa, and Kuli Kuli uses this Haitian moringa as the key ingredient in our new energy shots. Kuli Kuli brought Whole Foods Market into the collaboration and we worked closely to develop the energy shot to provide a nourishing and energizing boost that their customers love. Today, Whole Foods Market stocks these Moringa Green Energy shots on its shelves nationwide.
This collaboration isn’t charity. It’s an example of economic empowerment through creative capitalism. The Haitian smallholder farmers—most of whom are women—who grow the moringa are entrepreneurs in every sense of the word, and our collaboration offers them the opportunity to access new markets for their crops.
Make Sure Social Good Is an Integral Part of the Product
Business as usual has changed. Only 6% of consumers believe that the singular purpose of business is to make money for shareholders. Consumers want companies to take the lead on creating social and environmental change not just through their charitable arms, but as part of their core business.
Creating a product that solves a problem for both consumers and for the world isn’t easy. The Smallholder Farmers Alliance spent months interviewing Haitian smallholder farmers to determine what type of crop could best improve their incomes while meeting reforestation goals. Once it was determined that moringa was the right crop for the job, organizations like Timberland and the Clinton Foundation provided funding to start and develop this new agricultural supply chain. Kuli Kuli spent months working with Whole Foods Market buyers to create a product that would appeal to Whole Foods customers while supporting smallholder farmers.
Entrepreneurs should also keep in mind that having a compelling story behind the product matters: Young people want to know exactly where social impact is taking place. Our own product development started with a Haitian woman named Mercillie—one of the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers who are responsible for a majority of rural employment and food production in many developing nations.
Mercillie wanted a way to earn money for her family with a low-maintenance crop that could survive Haiti’s drought. From my village in Niger to the farming cooperatives in Haiti, I’ve met and worked with real people that share real stories. I’ve found that strong narratives lead to more inspired products and more loyal customers.
Help Potential Customers Live Healthier Lives
It’s been reported that millennials are more health-conscious than previous generations. My own experience and market research indicates that it’s true. We want to live in walkable cities. We want personal hygiene products that won’t make us sick later. And we want food that is healthy and wholesome.
Working with our partners at Whole Foods, we came up with the idea for a Moringa Green Energy Shot, a cross between a green juice and a cup of coffee with the health benefits and caffeine content of both. Filled with digestible protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C and antioxidants, it is being lauded as the “next superfood.” My advice is to keep trends in wellness top of mind even if you are not launching a food or fitness product. After all, you don’t want your product to appear incompatible with a safer, healthier life.
Make Technology Work for You
More than 85 percent of millennials own a smartphone. And is it any wonder why? Most of us are digital natives, never having experienced a world without cell phones or high-speed Internet.
The new opportunities to communicate that have been ushered in by the 21st century are critical for connecting with other entrepreneurs, suppliers and farmers around the world. Technology allowed me to connect with the moringa growers in rural Haiti, where mobile phone usage has surged and improved their business opportunties.
I’m a big fan of leveraging the power of the crowd. For example, we used crowdsourcing to test our prototype before it went to market. Immediate access to hundreds of consumers who try your product can help you refine it so that you don’t make a big mistake.
Consider crowdfunding too. We launched a campaign for the energy shots through Indiegogo, and the $100,000 we raised gave us the funds we needed to do our first major manufacturing run. Angel investors are great—but so are the Facebook friends who can support your idea small amounts at a time.
Around the world, the millennial generation is becoming the dominant demographic in the workforce and their buying power is reaching the trillions. Gleaning lessons from their success can help ensure that you won’t be left behind.
Lisa Curtis is the Founder & CEO of Kuli Kuli. Kuli Kuli is the first company to sell moringa food products in the US. Moringa is a green superfood that is more nutritious than kale. Lisa began working on Kuli Kuli while in the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. Prior to Kuli Kuli, Lisa served as [...]