La Colmena, veg box scheme in Bogotá La Colmena, veg box scheme in Bogotá

Margarita Mendez, pictured alongside suppliers in BogotaW: www.lacolmenaveg.com

Name: Margarita Méndez

Course: MA International Development

Tell us more about La Colmena

La Colmena is a veg box scheme based in Bogotá, Colombia that I hope will transform the way fresh food is produced and consumed in the city. Our aim is nurturing relationships between farmers and customers. Farmers gain a fair market and customers gain access to healthier and fresher food. 

La Colmena started as a project to explore new opportunities of commercialization for small scale farmers. During a 12 week prototype it became increasingly apparent that the relationship between farmers and customers is a powerful way to engage people with the organic food market. In addition, a fair market motivates farmers to produce food free from chemicals.

How did UEA Student Enterprise help you?

I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was an undergraduate in 2006, however I didn’t really know how to begin to work on my business idea. At UEA I gained the confidence and direction to start my own enterprise and develop my skills as an entrepreneur.

The Student Enterprise team has been extremely helpful at every stage of developing my business model. I have been given the mentoring, training, feedback and advice that has made it possible to overcome challenges and difficulties. They have made me feel that I am not alone in this process.

What worries did you have while setting up your business, and how did you overcome them?

I was scared of failing and wasting my time. I have learnt to keep going and not give up, I have improved the way I organise and prioritise tasks so they do not feel overwhelming. I have used every opportunity to develop my business and I am aware of the importance continually setting and meeting goals.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business rather than look for work elsewhere?

I have always been determined to ensure my work is valuable. I had some negative experiences of employment where I was unable to make the social impact I desired due to the conflicting objectives of the company. Through the creation of my own enterprise I have created my own opportunities. I am responsible for the success of the business and the direction it takes. This experience has represented the biggest professional challenge of my life, and has also given me the greatest satisfaction than a job.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

Being positive. Maintaining the motivation is important to be able to overcome the numerous difficulties and pursue new advances. Considering difficulties as an opportunity to learn, being innovative and gaining experience is more important than the original business idea.

Persistence. Failing is part of the process to succeed. There are always challenges and difficult moments which are valuable experience. It is critical to keep considering different paths, listening to advice and trying new approaches whilst continuing to define the identity of the business.

Communication. It has been crucial to build strong working relationships with a diverse group of people associated with the project. I have had to go out and meet new people and convince them that the business is viable and beneficial to them. Furthermore I have received some excellent advice and have taken on criticisms and discussed my ideas with mentors and associates.

What motivates you?

I have learnt that creating a business is an extremely hard process, where there are lots of challenges and difficulties. However, this has made me enjoy every single achievement, new idea and successful moment. When things have not gone as expected it becomes an added motivation to work harder and try something new.

How do you define success?

Success is when you meet personal goals and advance despite the difficulties.  

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Creating a business has been a maturing process and every time I reflect and I realise how much I have learned, achieved and improved is a hugely satisfying.

What piece of advice would you give to university students who want to become entrepreneurs?

The most difficult is to gain the confidence to start.  The fear of failing can be overwhelming, and the learning curve steep. However, I would recommend people to follow there passion and if they are committed to starting a business find the support they need and don’t look back.

What challenges are you facing that our alumni in Bogota might be able to help you with?

Currently the biggest challenge is to achieve that more people know my brand. The alumni in Bogota could be part of the marketing events.