“I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life,” says Juan Giraldo MBA’18.
He started an entertainment business at a young age and sold it to a business partner, learning along the way. Next, he started an e-commerce business. “After 18 months, I realized that it wasn’t going anywhere, and the learning was huge,” he says.
Eventually, a member of Giraldo’s board of directors brought him into an IT company. “I brought the company from red to green in a very short amount of time,” says Giraldo.
The Beginnings of Waku
Giraldo and his business partner had ambitions of starting a new business, though they had no idea what that business would be.
“My business partner and I realized that we wanted to be super-tied to Ecuador, our home country, and we wanted to have an immediate impact,” said Giraldo.
Moving from simple criteria to a viable business idea took some more research.
“If you look at Ecuador, it has oil and it has natural ingredients, so we looked at its natural ingredients.” The pair realized they could promote Ecuador by introducing these natural ingredients to American customers. “We looked at value-added products and decided to sell in the U.S. as a brand,” he said.
Next, the two scoured the landscape in search of the recipe for their product.
“We knew we needed to try different recipes,” Giraldo said. “We went from the North of Ecuador all the way to South Ecuador. We tried 52 different recipes, and we chose recipe number 52. We partnered with that farmer’s community.”
Step One: An MBA
Giraldo started thinking about getting an additional education in entrepreneurship in order to test his ideas and work on his business. He came to Babson, where he launched Waku, a great-tasting, healthy beverage for health-conscious consumers who are looking to improve their digestive health, while he was a full-time MBA student.
He tapped Babson’s many resources for entrepreneurs, including The Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, Food Sol, and the Summer Venture Program.
“The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship was very helpful to me,” said Giraldo. “They know every entrepreneur who has ever gone through Babson. They really helped us get a foot in the door and meet other entrepreneurs,” he said.
“Food Sol was also very helpful,” said Juan. “Rachel Greenberger MBA’11 knows everyone in the food and beverage industry in New England. We learned about natural foods 101.”
The most memorable part of his student experience was the Summer Venture Program. “Living in the same building with 30 other entrepreneurs, sometimes you would get up at 3 in the morning to go to the bathroom and there would be a conversation going on about developing someone’s business idea.”
Step Two: Cultivate Small Business
Six months after graduating from Babson, Giraldo entered the Cultivate Small Business program to accelerate Waku’s growth.
“We already had funding, we had backing, we had our team, and we were growing,” he said. “Cultivate Small Business came in at the right time because it helped refine customer management, messaging, and distribution strategy,” said Giraldo.
The program helped Giraldo fine-tune Waku. Cultivate Small Business, a partnership between Santander Bank, Babson College, Commonwealth Kitchen, and ICIC, seeks to help early-stage food entrepreneurs build and sustain their businesses.
It was here that Giraldo was able to drill down, work out the kinks, and create a clear path for continued growth.
“What stood out to me about Cultivate Small Business is that it refines the things you’ve already looked at as you’re starting your business, but then sometimes get lost along the way—customer development, market research, and most of all, taking action,” said Giraldo.
He also noticed that it was a different environment altogether.
“The network in Cultivate Small Business is pretty amazing,” said Giraldo. “You’re not in the educational environment anymore. Everyone next to you is putting out fires. You get fresh perspectives on things that you can easily lose sight on. You’re in a network of owner/operators. And, the quality of curriculum and professors is really great,” he said.
Waku, which was just an idea not too long ago, is now for sale on grocery store shelves throughout New England.
“We’re in Market Basket, Dave’s Marketplace, Flour Bakery, and hundreds of natural food stores around New England. By now, we’ve learned how to price, where to sell, and we’ve formed the right partnerships,” said Giraldo.
And, he has plans to expand.
“Our immediate plan is to expand our distribution,” he said. “We’re going through our second round of funding, so we’re looking to expand our distribution in New England for 2020, and expand into New York. We’re looking to start selling in Wegmans, Roche Bros., and Star Market, too,” he said.
As he reflected on his Waku journey, it was obvious that Giraldo is constantly learning. “I’m a student of business. My mission in life is to start companies and grow companies. I’m always learning in everything I do.”
Posted in Entrepreneurship of All Kinds