When Corina Jimenez’s doctor in Venezuela urged her to cut dairy from her diet, she explored options for satisfying her sweet tooth. She didn’t like what she found out there – eating healthy shouldn’t mean sacrificing taste, she believed. So Jimenez did what others in her entrepreneurial family would do: She created her own ice cream business.
After much trial and error, Jimenez came up with recipes for an all-natural, non-dairy, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan ice cream – and it was delicious. Sales were going well.
Later, with the growing political and economic crisis in her country, Jimenez and her family left everything for Miami. She poured her savings into setting up the business again in 2017. “I thought ‘here is a world of opportunity, especially for a product that is kosher, vegan, no added sugar, and I have a new market that has these needs and I can fulfill them’,“ Jimenez said.
STARTING AGAIN IN NEW COUNTRY
In the U.S., Jimenez could capitalize on the healthy eating trend sweeping the country and sell to the kosher market. In setting up her business in the U.S., she earned vegan, non-GMO and kosher certifications. She had to reshape recipes for the FDA requirements, but she believes the new recipes are even tastier. She set up production in Aventura.
Just months after Jimenez opened her vegan ice cream business, called Vegallia, for the second time, Hurricane Irma blew in. Without power for 10 days, Jimenez lost all her raw materials and essentially had to begin anew – again.
Fortunately, Accion, a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institutions) lender, stepped in to help. The non-profit organization provided a $12,000 microloan at a 4.99% interest rate so Jimenez could buy new ingredients and get back in business. “They helped me in this difficult situation,” Jimenez said.
Now she is selling to consumers, restaurants, small cafes and ice cream vendors. She would love Vegallia to be more widely available, such as in large grocery stores and in other parts of the country, but she needs to increase production capacity. That is what Jimenez is working on now.
FINDING THE RECIPE FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM
“Corina is very smart, she is always providing tastings. She is allowing the product to speak for her. The ice cream is completely natural, vegan, no added sugar – the product is really good,” said Fabiana Estrada, director of lending for Accion Southeast.
The ice cream comes two ways – soft or hard. “The product is so gourmand and the flavors are so natural, it is made with real fruit, banana, mango, guava, cocoa, berries, mammy, vanilla … Nothing is processed,” Jimenez said.
This year, Estrada urged Jimenez to enter the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream competition. Drum roll please … Jimenez won the $10,000 grand prize.
Along with the cash prize, which Jimenez is using to expand her business, she also receives free legal and accounting advice, arranged by Prospera, a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs. “When you are new here in Miami, to pay an accountant or a lawyer is so expensive.”
HOW ACCION CAN HELP
Accion was founded on the principle that everyone deserves access to economic opportunity. Since 1991 this non-profit lender, a certified CDFI and sanctioned SBA Microlender, is the largest nationwide network of its kind in the United States.
Accion’s loan programs allow clients to receive financing from $1,000 to $250,000, depending on capital needs. Each applicant also gets financial education through one-on-one technical assistance. Accion serves those individuals who face the greatest obstacles accessing the capital and education they need to own healthy small businesses. This includes women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses. Find out more about Accion here.
Jimenez never gave up her dream and overcame hurricane-sized obstacles. Her goal now is to expand production, and she has been talking to distributors.
“I have never been alone. Accion and Prospera have always been there for me,” said Jimenez.
And yes, she is prepared for the hurricane season, with a generator and a hurricane plan in hand. “Any alert we are going to take very seriously.”