Puerto Rico is most well known for its famous beaches, all year round good weather and great food but one industry is slowly gaining national attention, plant cloning. And one smart entrepreneur, Decenia Vega Rodriguez, is a fast rising star in this area of innovation and one of eight finalists at AccessLatina accelerator program.
Her company Semila LLC has developed copies of cocoa and other agricultural products that are resistant to pests and have high yields of reproduction. In just a few years, Semila LLC has become a promising star in the world of agriculture and business in Puerto Rico and abroad.
Chocolate cravings create a booming industry
Surveys have shown that chocolate cravings run high among American women. Comfort foods like chocolate can supply nutrients that keep a woman’s hormonal system functioning properly and brain chemicals in balance, according a study conducted by Paul Rozin, Eleanor Levine and Caryn Stoess at the Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.
A growing industry at expected over $98 billion for 2016, cocoa plants are native of the Amazon basin and other tropical areas of South and Central America, the wild varieties of cocoa tree still grow in the forests. Now, cocoa growing area has extended to the Caribbean and beyond.
Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in a narrow belt 10 degrees either side of the Equator because cocoa trees grow well in humid tropical climates with regular rains and a short dry season.
“I realized that cocoa was a product that had a growing demand and was only harvested in tropical or subtropical countries. So I presented the idea of cloning cocoa plants to my husband thinking he was going to say it was very risky. To my surprise, he told me it was an excellent possibility and that I should quit my job to fully devote my time to the development of this initiative. A bit scared, I did and decided to start learning all about this crop. Every day the passion was bigger and today I am very happy to have started this adventure,” Decenia told LIBizus.
Plant cloning a growing agricultural initiative with global perspective
Luckily for her initiative, at that time the Red Empresarial de Innovación (REDI) of Puerto Rico was also seeking entrepreneurs who would be interested in offering innovative and technology-related projects to participate in its business incubation program. The program would also help with the startup costs and pay for the basic amenities to run a business. And Decenia, with her go-getter attitude and confidence, was one of the first few people to have benefited from this program.
Today Semila is harvesting cocoa directed to the manufacture of fine chocolates and sold in boutique markets. Her client portfolio is composed of high income professionals, farmers, public and private institutions related to the agricultural industry. Currently she is developing a plant cloning facility with a capacity of 30,000 units in different growing stages. She has plans to export Puerto Rican cocoa to chocolatiers who work with gourmet delicacies in Europe.
Decenia faces obstacles as a woman entrepreneur
Like agriculture almost everywhere, the industry is dominated by men and Decenia faced many obstacles because she was a young female entrepreneur. In fact, she had to prove many businessmen that she knew what she was getting into and was knowledgeable about her field of expertise. Once men around her became aware of her capabilities, her business started to improve and opportunities arose. Today obstacles are related to acquiring technical knowledge and constantly trying to be innovative.
A sexist remark that became a sign of encouragement
Decenia tells the story that has stayed with her as a sign of encouragement for her work. A few years ago while presenting Semila plant cloning she was dressed with high heels and was wearing makeup. She received many questions at the end of her presentation but one man asked her how she worked the land and yet managed to look so beautiful.
“This was the only question I was unable to answer but towards the end of the presentation I showed a photo in which I was working on the land. He then held out his hand and said, “I admire you for what you have accomplished.” To Decenia these were the words that provided her with more motivation that ever.
Latinas who are thinking of starting their own business
According to Decenia, women have the potential to achieve their dreams. They need to plan, acquire the knowledge about the specific industry they wish to enter and learn the process. She adds, “Expect success and failure, be realistic and do not expect overnight miracles. Do it step by step, BUT DO IT.”
Decenia states, “The virtues of being a Latina entrepreneur were being able to multitask, be effective, have charisma and sense of perseverance, and love for our roots and cultures.”
She does remember that the beginning was not easy as she was all alone. Except for her husband, she did not have much external support. However, she was determined to succeed and knowing that failure was not an option, she persisted.
She goes on to say, “Charisma has helped me present what we do in Semila and the love to my roots has given me strength to contribute to my country, innovate in an industry with great potential like agriculture and improve the economical development of the island.”
Today Decenia can be found working at her company in Puerto Rico and is still as thirsty for success as ever. When not working, she loves to be outdoors, reading and spending time with her family.