Interview with Ms Nakita Lewasau Bingham-Irvin

Ms Nakita Lewasau Bingham-Irvin, emerging entrepreneur and Director of Tasty Island Treats and the creative mind behind the Tasty Kitchen Collective.

As an emerging entrepreneur, Nakita has been able to come up with some innovative ideas as she finds her way through the many hurdles involved with doing business as a small enterprise, while sticking to her environmental principles. PGBC was interested to know about her work and plans for the future.

Q1. Firstly, congratulations, on being the “Total Startupper Innovation Challenge,” 2nd place winner for 2019. How does it feel to win this award?

It felt really good to finally get recognition for an inclusive female specific business model I have been developing to economically empower women specifically on food entrepreneurship. This came shortly after a falling out with someone I was trying to collaborate with, but as it turns out she was not interested in women empowerment in general just self empowerment.

Q2. Tell us a little about your existing business venture ,“Tasty Island Treats “ and then this new venture of a container commercial kitchen that has won you this award.

Tasty Island Treats is a small enterprise that has been developed as a socially and environmentally conscious small business with sustainability and social inclusiveness as its main ethos. We make all natural fruity ice pops called CHILLPOPS using coconut water and coconut cream as a base. They are a healthy frozen treat being sold as an alternative to mass market products that are produced by giant corporations. All ingredients are locally grown, except for the cocoa nibs that we source from Vanuatu because the quality of the nibs and the price is cost competitive to what is available locally. The whole idea of the business is to create ice pops using only locally grown fruits and coconuts directly from farmers and if we can’t get it locally we can look to our other Pacific Island neighbors for a supply.

I currently employ two women who I have trained. Chief Ice Pop Chef, Olita Matanatabu is my longest serving employee, currently earning a profit share for every ice pop sold. The plan is to scale this model to employ and train more women to produce more value-added local products for local consumption, as well as export. This way women who have limited qualifications or experience can enter the work force and can get specialized training to make value-added local food products, and earn a proper living wage with a profit share model.

Tasty Kitchen Collective is a space to help promote and encourage food entrepreneurship. There will be a shared commercial kitchen that is available to rent for food-based businesses that want to go commercial. Tasty Island Treats will be just one of the brands that fall under the Collective. It is a platform to host cooking classes and cooking demonstrations for both locals and tourists. The space will also have a cafe that stocks all kinds of healthy local products, and when I say that, I mean food that is made with specifically locally grown ingredients. This includes packaged food such as root crop chips, dehydrated vegetable chips, fruit leather, and coconut flour, as well as fresh food. This space will also be a destination for local food tasting and food related events. The whole idea behind it is to create and produce healthy, affordable locally made food with locally grown ingredients. The types of food entrepreneurs that can use the kitchen is a whole spectrum from your caterers, to your bakers, to your professional chefs that can host pop up dinners and food shows, to your cultural iTaukei women’s group that could do cooking demonstrations for tourists, or Indian women’s group that does its cultural Indian cooking demonstration. The whole point of this space is to show off the potential range of culinary innovations in Fiji as well as our culinary diversity.

Q3. Is this the same idea “Tasty Kitchen Collective” that also won you the award for the Youth Co Lab?

Nakita (right) handing out her Tasty Island Treats ice pops at an Agri-Tourism talanoa held in Nadi on 27-28 February 2019.

Tasty Kitchen Collective was the winner of Fiji’s Youth Co: Lab Fiji and I was the regional winner of the biggest Youth Entrepreneur Summit for Asia/Pacific Youth Co: Lab for the category “Gender Equality” what this award recognized was gender inclusiveness and women’s economic empowerment in my business model, which for some reason was addressed in only one other model out of over 20 countries in Asia and the Pacific.

TKC aims to support the development of women to participate in food entrepreneurship through training & education of local food processing and through institutional partnership to create healthy value-added food products in a HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points) legally compliant commercial kitchen platform with an applied 0.04% profit share model for long term employees. This will allow the access of multiple markets for distribution of goods and services to the local and tourism market with potential for export. TKC will also create awareness of local nutritional food and healthy eating through online digital platforms, cooking classes and aspire to inspire the next generation of women food entrepreneurs by engaging Girl Guides to be health and wellness ambassadors. By creating a local health food industry this would mean that more women farmers will be generating income as well.

Q4. How do you see your project helping more people over time – empowering them, improving living conditions or contributing to overall economic well-being and sustainable development?

I think this model already exists at the grassroots level. It’s nothing new, it’s the idea of women coming together to take part in entrepreneurship using resources they have available. In reality at the community level women are the ones that carry out those activities anyway. What I see myself adding value is advocating for more training, education and awareness in this food entrepreneur space to help promote, develop, and empower women to carry out activities in the whole value adding chain that enables women to make finical decisions, enables them to generate income, enables them to provide for their families and contribute to GDP through food entrepreneurship.

Q5. Tell us a little on your source of motivation?

Entrepreneurship opens doors for opportunity to generate income from selling a product or service that users gain value from as a business owner but for employees as well and creates a space where good in the community can be done.

Q6. What are some of the challenges that you faced, or continue to face, in establishing your business?

The regulatory system sucks and is prohibitive and is discouraging for starting a business for any given normal person! Fiji is ranked 101 out of 190 in terms of ease of doing business. It’s easier to do business in Samoa and Tonga. I face a lot of sexism and ageism too. People assume I am a lot younger than I am and make sexist judgments based off my appearance. They (usually men) think I am a young 20 something girl with no experience or idea until they hear my story and ideas then don’t have anything back to say except, well done, keep going.

Q7. How do you see these challenges being addressed? 

I will continue to lobby to change the system for ease of doing business and be unapologetic in my approach as a woman in business.

Q8. What is your source of funding and do you propose to utilise sustainable alternatives in your business?

I started Tasty Island Treats with $1,000 of my own personal family investment. So far I have grown and developed my own brand CHILLPOP. With the Tasty Kitchen Collective I received $20,000 in funding for starting the collective kitchen and as a regional winner for the Asia/Pacific Youth Co: Lab Summit it will open more doors for funding opportunities. Once I have $50,000USD in funding, that is sufficient to equip a kitchen and model a business that is sustainable with the equipment necessary to make value-added products.

Q9. What is your sustainable business venture message for emerging entrepreneurs?

There are going to be a lot of naysayers, people who don’t believe in you and people who are rubbing their hands together hoping to watch you fail. Being an entrepreneur is taking a leap of faith in yourself and believing in your product or service- no matter what people around you are saying. You have to keep pushing, and you will get less sleep than working a typical corporate job. You will want to throw in the towel and give up and you will always doubt yourself along the way but keep your vision clear, listen to your heart, trust your gut instinct (I have made the mistake of ignoring my instinct and got burned badly). Collaborate with people who truly want to help! You are not alone- there are other entrepreneurs as crazy as you are and reach out- and you will find a great willingness of people and institutions that want to support you.

 

You may contact Nakita and her Tasty Island Treats on her Facebook page.

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Note: If you enjoyed reading this Exec Interview you may also enjoy reading our other previous interviews. You can find them here.