BY NANCY DAHLBERG / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com
Everything was humming along for Barbara Jacques (pictured above), who followed her passion and started Jacq’s Organics at her kitchen table. She was selling her all-natural skin, bath and body care products online, at farmers’ markets and charity events, and received favorable reviews and press. Then:
“Six months after I quit my day job and was all in, I got calls from huge companies and we couldn’t fulfill the orders.”
Pandwe Gibson, founder of the incubator EcoTech Visions, doesn’t want cash flow to be an insurmountable hurdle for Jacques or other entrepreneurs. That’s why a big focus of her new program is helping early-stage companies with raising capital and managing manfacturing processes.
Seeing local manufacturing as a job generator and believing local product entrepreneurs were underserved, Gibson opened EcoTech in west MiamiShores to serve green businesses. The current 20 member businesses include Aeolus, an electric motorcycle company; Earthware, a sustainable cutlery maker; Culito de Rana, creator of all-natural topical applications to soothe sunburns and prevent mosquito bites; Precision Barber Club, which makes skin-care products; and Fruit of Life Organics, builder of aquaponic systems.
EcoTech offers coworking space, workshops and mentorship and helps raise capital. Gibson is raising funds herself to add a manufacturing area so that incubator companies can make products onsite. She’s already been granted $450,000 from Miami-DadeCounty; much of that money she makes available to the member companies in the form of $25,000 loans. EcoTech also helped seven of its companies win $10,000 CRA grants to help fund their prototypes.
Gibson is helping three South Florida companies — Earthware, D Squared Engineering and Konie Cups — to pursue a joint school board contract. Developers do that all the time, so why not other companies? she thought. Earthware offers sustainable cutlery, Coney offers cups, and D Squared offers containers.
“Who wouldn’t want a sustainable fork if it costs the same as a plastic fork?” asked Gibson. But a big challenge for these companies is securing large enough contracts to get the manufacturing costs down.
EcoTech also helps entrepreneurs with their investor presentations and encourages them to join pitch competitions. Seven of them will be pitching at the upcoming Thrive Seminar with Daymond John on Thursday.
The incubator also is helping Jacq’s Organics with a business plan, pitch deck, human resources needs, and connections, Jacques said.
Jacq’s Organics curently works out of a 600-square-foot studio in DaniaBeach certified for light manufacturing. Raising capital investment and applying for grants has been a big challenge; investors and granting organizations don’t work on a startup schedule and “you jump through a lot of hoops just to be told no,” she said.
Jacques is now working with a couple of large companies to break up the big orders into more manageable shipments. In one case, she’s filling an order for 200,000 pieces in 60,000 increments, while continuing to service smaller orders from boutique businesses, a never-ending challenge for a small business, she said. “I’m looking at 600 bars of soap right now that I need to get out tonight.” But there are worse problems to have.
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Michael Caballero, CEO of Earthware, left, and Pandwe A. Gibson, CEO/executive director at EcoTech Visions are photographed at the incubator helping 25 green product companies in the Miami-Dade area. Earthware makes sustainable cutlery. Carl Juste MIAMI HERALD STAFF