Honored by Obama, she has an inclusive new recipe for success

Jimena Flórez was highlighted by President Obama for her inclusive approach to business. (White House/Pete Souza)

President Obama had one question for the visiting group of entrepreneurs: “Where’s Jimena?”

Jimena Flórez is on the move. Her company, Crispy Fruits, helps local farmers, supports organic agriculture, and brings delicious snacks to market.

A new business model

Jimena Flórez (Courtesy photo)

While developing her business model, Flórez met with economically disadvantaged farmers from the southern Colombian village of Tumaco. Many people there lacked access to electricity or clean water, and the region had just seen off a threat from local guerrillas. But the farmers, predominantly Colombians of African descent, grew some of the world’s finest cacao, the key ingredient of chocolate.

Flórez wanted to include them among her suppliers. “That’s the responsibility we have as business owners: to give a hand and help others be sustainable, independent and strong.”

So she developed products that included cacao and placed Tumaco farmers higher in the “value chain.” Instead of buying raw cacao, she obtained higher-value cacao powder from the farmers at a fair price. Her pledge? “If and when I grow, you grow with me. We grow together.”

Taking her idea to the world

In much of the world, women entrepreneurs face extra barriers. It can be harder for them to secure access to markets, finance and training. But Flórez found partners committed to helping women like her overcome those barriers.

Through programs supported by the U.S. Department of State, including WEAmericas and WeConnect International, she met with fellow entrepreneurs, obtained mentorship opportunities, got certification for her business, and connected with multinational buyers.

And met President Obama.

In the fall of 2015, as part of La Idea, a series of business incubators for Latin American entrepreneurs, Flórez brought Tumaco’s cacao to the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in New Jersey to perfect a line of all-natural, healthy brownies. She hopes to sell them in the United States soon.

Flórez believes her relationship with the farming community in Tumaco is about more than growing her business: It’s about growing opportunity. “‘Thanks to what you’re doing, you’re giving us hope,’” she heard from one farmer. “That for me was everything I needed.”

Jimena’s three keys:

Are you looking to start your own business? Jimena says these three things are vitally important:

  • Passion: Is this what you really want to do? Love your business as you love yourself.
  • Focus: Entrepreneurs have a lot of ideas. But an action plan keeps you on track.
  • Commitment: With discipline, you can create your own healthy business habits.

Flórez says that entrepreneurship is a process: “When you work in something you really feel passionate about, and are disciplined, things will come — magic moments.”

Like when President Obama singled her out. “We want to empower people in ways that empower societies and ultimately empower the world,” Obama said. “Women like Jimena Flórez of Colombia.”