Firehouse Spice Co. Owner selected to participate in the YLAI 2018 Fellowship Program
This is going to be a long post.
It’s been approximately two weeks since my return to Nassau and I’m finally able to write this blog. I’ve started this a million times in my head but never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. So here goes…
Let’s rewind. Approximately 5 years ago I walked away from my “good solid job” to pursue this pepper business and live my life as a serial entrepreneur. I had no idea how it was going to happen or the road to take but my end goal was and still is an eco-resort in The Bahamas.. there I was jobless, with a freezer full of peppers, a few pieces of equipment, the knowledge to turn pepper into hot sauce and a few other products. The journey has been one of many highs and lows. However, I made it and I am still here fighting the good fight.
In all honesty I had called it quits in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew did his damage and left my family’s home in a wreck. I was unmotivated, traumatized and devastated. I shut down and locked up, never to return to the spice house. Customers called and begged many times for one more batch or for that favor for a family member that lived abroad and needed their spice fix. We gave in time after time, for a company that was done, we kept the lights on.
At that time advertisements went out for the Island Luck & Own Bahamas Grant Program, unenthused and unmotivated, with twisted arms from my older brother we applied. I say we because he became my strength when I wanted to give up, he encouraged me to keep moving forward and he gloated proudly about how awesome the Torch hot sauce was every time he ate it. I can remember reading the email and then forwarding it to him with tears in my eyes. We Won! Firehouse along with several other companies were the proud recipients of grants ranging from $7,500 to $15,000.
With 10,000 to invest in the company we purchased equipment, supplies, raw material and began the ground work on our pepper farm in Andros. This financial boost was needed not only from the business standpoint but personally as well. I felt confident again, this pepper company was making sense and on to something Hot (literally).
Later that year with increased social media presence and re-entry into commercial markets we were tagged in a fellowship program advertised by the US Embassy in Nassau. Again, we applied a bit more hopeful this time, and again we were successful.
Being selected as a YLAI 2018 fellow based on women empowerment & agriculture development I felt excited to not only represent my country but to develop strategies upon my return that could be implemented back home. This program brings together over 250 persons from Latin America & The Caribbean to participate in a 5-week fellows’ program with placements in 20 cities throughout the USA such as Miami, Austin, Denver, Detroit just to name a few.
I was so eager and ready to go I was certain they would place me in Miami or Austin, so you could imagine my shock and disbelief when I found out I was going to Charlottesville Virginia… WTH first google search and the results weren’t’ looking promising. I was scared, upset and confused. Should I not accept this? Am I ready for Charlottesville? Was Charlottesville ready for me? My fellowship host Nancy from the Presidential Precinct sent out an email welcoming the 10 of us to the Cville Cohort and ensured us a great time; the city and people are amazing, so she said.
This was happening, the process was seamless and once you accepted, the homework began. The purpose of the weekly assignments is to get you thinking about your business and goals post departure and continues another 6 weeks after you’re done with the program. I really hated them at first, but it got me thinking more in depth about my company goals and ways to scale up.
Time to go…
All-expenses paid for, and the most amazing networking experience I have ever been a part of. The opening reception was in Detroit then we would split and head to our city hubs and resume in Washington DC for the closing. In a room filled with over 200 entrepreneurs I felt inspired, purposeful and ready to make a change. There were persons in all sort of industries; manufacturing, science and technology, fashion, arts, music you name it. They were all making a change in their countries and communities. Part 2 I will elaborate on these amazing folks.
What happens when a Mexican, a Haitian a Bahamian, a guy from St. Kitts & Nevis, an El Salvadorian, a lady from Argentina, a Venezuelan, a guy from Honduras, a Peruvian and a lady from Guyana all end up in Charlottesville for 4 weeks… they all leave as forever friends. One of my biggest blessings from this journey was the group of individuals I met on this program. We laughed, cried and laughed some more together. The comradery and support were unimaginable and if we needed any advice there was always a listening ear. Charlottesville as a city was so beautiful and welcoming, it’s a quaint college town with such a big community and entrepreneurial spirit; not the image google has on file. However, whilst there our goal was to make the best of the city and post as many happy and friendlier images.
CVille has such a thriving entrepreneurial spirit with many incubator programs and spaces for entrepreneurs and like-minded people who are willing to learn from and support one another.
My host Phyllis Hunter, the original Spice Diva is the feistiest, sweetest, sharp mouth person in Cville. She will tell you off quickly and give you the warmest embrace the next minute. She welcomed me with open arms and showed me the ropes. Her store was like no other; spices from around the world and she had a story for each one of them. While there we visited farms, manufacturing labs, culinary historians, farmers markets and so much more. She opened her store, brain and heart for me and I’m truly thankful. David her marketing assistant is a darling, he was patient with me and gave me great advice on how to revamp my website and create quality content. You guys have to meet them both!! While there I also created Regina’s Firehouse Spice Blend, a seasoning that’s spicy with a sweet undertone (a lot like me). It has been a hit and I encourage you all to try it one day (order from either of us). Spice DIva Firehouse Spice Co.
The worst part about CVille was having to leave, the Presidential Precinct team, the mentors, the bus drivers, the Marriott staff were all so welcoming and loving and coming back was harder than leaving home.
Upon my return I was hit with a few days of depression, anxiety attacks mixed in with eagerness and urgency to regurgitate everything I had learned and begin implementation. Boy that sure didn’t happen. I spent a week contemplating shutting down and calling it all quits. I felt defeated and confused. I had learned so much those few weeks but realizing the difficulty as a young entrepreneur in The Bahamas reality set in. There are so many setbacks and the process are so difficult. Where was that network I needed, where is that individual who will walk me through understanding a process? They weren’t here and if they are, they sure are difficult to find.
However, this week things are looking up, my CVille team stepped in, and stepped out … stay tuned there’s more!
I leave with these last points. The journey will never be predictable but if you keep moving forward and remaining steadfast to your goals, things will work themselves out. Secondly, find that network if you don’t have one reach out to me. I’m serious I am about to pay this knowledge forward and want to empower young persons to start sooner than later. If you have an idea let’s chat, if you want to know more about Young Leaders of The Americas Initiative Program (YLAI), let’s chat. If you want to know how to make sauces, preservatives. Let’s chat!
This isn’t my only business endeavor, there’s so much more I am going to do, and I believe together we as a country can do so much more. We will! Just Watch!
Shawn MaileNovember 17, 2018, 1:40 am
Definitely one of the best things I’ve read before going to bed. You’re the true embodiment of the entrepreneurial journey. Keep heating up your space with positivity and genuineness. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
Regina SmithDecember 1, 2018, 2:05 pm
Thank You Shawn. We are looking forward to growing the brand and becoming even more successful in our business! Best of luck to you as well.