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New “Market Ready” Business Program Stirs up Excitement for Local Entrepreneurs

When Jhon Quijano and Carolina Giraldo moved as a young family from Colombia to Canada eight years ago, they envisioned a promising life in a new country.  Once firmly established in their Edmonton community and settled in with full time jobs, they saw the opportunity to take an idea they had percolating and turn it into an online venture.

“Roots of Colombia Coffee was born because we wanted to bring a little bit of our country here to Canada,” says Jhon. “We always hoped to start a family business, and the nice thing about it is that it’s our families that are growing the coffee back in Colombia.  What sets us apart is that we know exactly who grows it, where the coffee grows and that we can offer the same quality every single time.” 

The entrepreneurial couple launched their coffee company around two years ago.  Since then, business has been brewing on their website, and while Jhon and Carolina were confident in their high quality Arabica coffee beans, they weren’t quite sure if they were ready for major retail stores.  So, when they heard that Communities United and Action for Healthy Communities were offering a new pilot business program for entrepreneurs called Market Ready, they jumped at the chance to take part.

“We just finished our second session so far, but it’s been really interesting to learn,” says Jhon. “For instance, one of the guest entrepreneurs presenting has sold a food item similar to ours in major retail markets and she was giving us advice as to the different channels we can use to sell our products.  And the other participants in the class are so passionate about what they are doing and you can learn a lot from their stories and experiences too.”

“Market Ready is a program that helps entrepreneurs who already have a product or business idea and gives them the tools and understanding to effectively access markets and online sales and helps them boost their brand presence and marketing skills,” explains Matthew Taylor, Program Manager at Communities United.

Noticing a gap in some business programs and services already offered and wanting to provide practical hands on learning experience, Matthew connected with The Public, an Alberta Food Incubation Hub.  They developed the Market Ready program, and serve entrepreneurs while supporting the growing local food economy.  The group of business experts offers information, networking and physical spaces to create a successful launch pad for new food companies and food-entrepreneurs looking to scale.  The program reduces barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs and expands support for minority groups.

“The cultural entrepreneurs that we’ve been working with in the Market Ready program, these are very grassroots established startups,” says Kirsta Franke of The Public Food Hub, and a 15-year veteran of the culinary, communications and event industry. “They’re just looking for a place to test their product to start before all the costs and all the effort goes into working with distributors, grocers, retailers.  So, this is a market ready course because it’s basically training them over six weeks to dive right into that market space and be able to participate at any Farmers Market across the city.”

Through her company Wild Heart Collective, Kirsta launched the successful 124 Grand Market and has seen many local entrepreneurs climb the ladder of success.  She has connected with top food and retail experts in Edmonton and has an incredible wealth of knowledge to share through the Market Ready program. 

The online course offers a mix of presentations and interactive discussions, access to a toolkit and resources, field trips, featured mentors who will guide participants, and opportunities to meet one-on-one with experts. “It’s where you can just talk about what it takes to really bootstrap and grow business,” says Kirsta.

Some of the guest speaker mentors include local favourites Alysia Lok from Caramunchies who has grown from Farmers Markets to multiple retail channels; Rob Tryon from Effing Seafoods who shares his experience about supply chain management; and Colleen Heidecker from Colleen’s Chocolates who has developed an impressive social media presence.

Alysia Lok, Caramunchies 
Rob Tryon, Effing Seafood 
Colleen Heidecker, Colleen’s Chocolates

“I’m so excited that The Public are developing this, that they are creating the curriculum, and that entrepreneurs from our communities get those learning experiences with local businesses,” says Matthew Taylor. “They are learning from experts, they are expanding their network and making new connections.  And they are learning strategies that will help them succeed in their entrepreneurial efforts.”

One thing Jhon is looking forward to is getting his first taste of a Farmers Market experience that is offered within the program this summer.  “Before we try to expand our product from online to retail selling,” he says, “I realized that we should try to establish a market following first, so that people can look for Roots of Colombia Coffee when they go into the stores.”

124 Grand Market

Participants in the program can focus on a food or other retail product, and like Jhon have usually had some previous entry level community program business training.  By the end of the Market Ready program, the student entrepreneurs will be able to develop a scaled-up-vision of their brand and business.  They will also be potentially ready to join an accelerator which includes even more hands-on opportunities to work together to grow their brand.

As for the Market Ready experience, “This is like a dream come true,” says Jhon.  “I know we still have to work a lot more to get it to the point where we want to get it.  Our goal is that first my wife will phase out of her full time job, shifting into our business and in six or seven years from now I would like to do the same thing.”  He adds, “We really want our coffee business to grow up with our family.  We have two little children, and we will keep growing it and offering them a future so they can work with us one day as well.”

For more information about the Market Ready program, you can contact Matthew Taylor at Communities United, mtaylor@myunitedway.ca

To find out more about Roots of Colombia Coffee visit https://www.rootsofcolombiacoffee.com/

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