Recognising Exceptional Women Entrepreneurs
Jimena Flórez’s story of entrepreneurial success starts, improbably, with a cold beer in Germany.
Inspired by widespread disease epidemics and the numerous unhealthy snack options available, Jimena Florez created Chaak flour free cakes. The Colombian strongly believes that knowledge and passion are gifts that should be channeled into benefiting others. While living in Colombia, Jimena began working with farmers and teaching them how to grow sustainable food. She created an academic program that has taught over 2000 farmers. She takes the impact of food on the body very seriously and realized that natural healthy products were being used inefficiently. Jimena then consulted food scientists at the Rutgers University Food Innovation Center to create nutrient dense products. Her brownies provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, iron and other nutrients without using flour, fat, or sugar.
After graduating high school in her native Colombia, Flórez spent a gap year living with a family in southern Germany who produced their own organic hops. In addition to teaching her the difference between a lager and a pilsner, her host family taught Flórez the essentials of sustainable agriculture: how organic techniques can protect against crop failure, boost yield and add value.
That experience set Flórez on a life-changing career path. Over the next five years, while studying finance and international relations — first at a university in Colombia and later at a business school in Australia — she learned how to apply the grassroots knowledge she gained in Germany to the complexities of global supply chains, finance, trade and consumer behavior. But she also learned how economic growth can displace rural communities. She soon realized that the case studies she had explored as a student held important lessons for Colombian agriculture — and she was eager to return.
“I wanted to go back to Colombia … with my new knowledge of organic agriculture to help farmers, so that they could stay in the fields and wouldn’t have to risk moving to cities to look for jobs,”
When she returned home in 2011, Flórez started talking with state institutions, schools, businesses — anyone who would listen — about her desire to start agricultural sustainability programs for rural farmers. Eventually, a university in Bogotá took her up on the idea and hired her to develop a curriculum program to educate young farmers on sustainable techniques. The Ministry of Education financed the project, which is still used to provide training to communities in the department of Santander in northeast Colombia.
But Flórez wanted to do more than teach smart farming techniques; she wanted to demonstrate their potential. With a childhood friend, Flórez founded a social enterprise that would become a model for how to take organic crops from the farm to the table. “We buy sustainable produce, we transform it, and we use it to market products thinking about the final consumer. That’s how Crispy Fruits was born,” she said. The company bought dried fruits from farmers in the suburbs of Bogotá, and in 2012 started selling nationally.
As the company grew, Flórez started began for ways to introduce the snacks to the U.S. When her ventures didn’t produce the returns she had hoped for, “I had no option but to innovate,” she recalled. She identified the market created by growing concern in the U.S. among civil society groups, parents and educators over childhood obesity. Crispy Fruits became Chaak Healthy Snacks, a brand of gluten-free, low-sugar cakes and brownies made for children with obesity-related problems, partially sourced from the same farmers who participated in the program Flórez designed in Colombia.