21 Jun REIMAGINED CROSSROADS – MICHAEL PARRIS
Graduating from the University of the West Indies in 2007 with a Bachelors’s in Environmental Management and a minor in Entrepreneurship seemed normal for Michael Parris at that time. “At that time entrepreneurship was a just buzzword to me and neither my family nor friends had a history of owning businesses.” But somewhere in Michael’s DNA, there was a feeling that he wanted to start a business – “I saw entrepreneurship as a resourceful tool and I knew I wanted to start a business; whilst at UWI I was involved in two groups – Biological Society and Rights’ Action; my involvement included deep activism, strategizing and fund-raising with limited resources.”
Michael’s pursuits led him to a stint with a Planning Company from 2007 to 2010. “I enjoyed the job, learned a lot, and visited several places in Trinidad and Tobago including East Port-of-Spain and Dundonald Hill.”
At the end of his contract, Michael was at home without work and trying to figure out his next move. “I landed an opportunity on a boat; from Trinidad and Tobago we traveled to Venezuela, Colombia, and Aruba. Whilst in Colombia I saw entrepreneurship at work. I also saw young people helping their families.” With this experience, Michael felt if Trinidad and Tobago had similar type of opportunities much more can be done.
New beginnings started unfolding when Michael discovered this place in the South Pacific “whilst walking on this beach I met this guy and struck up a conversation; he then offered me a snack which I looked at with skepticism; it was a sundried banana.” Michael spent a month and a half living with the guy and his family to learn more. “I learned how to dry fruits, vegetables, and fish. The guy told me to go back home and make sundried bananas.” Michael returned home but had no capital to start the business.
With an inventive and determined mindset “I was able to source some recycled materials including scrap lumber from my neighbor which were used to build a Solar Dehydrator for drying the bananas; after some months I was comfortable with the products based on the experiment” said Michael.
A Watershed Moment!
As his business experiment started bearing fruit Michael’s thirst for knowledge increased “I needed to know about packaging, branding guidelines and acquiring a food badge in order to get my products on the store shelves.” Whilst working on the back end, Michael was developing the product in terms of registering the business. “I settled on the name ‘Mr. Taliman’s Dried Bananas’ as I wanted a name synonymous with bananas. I was also thinking beyond Trinidad and Tobago as I also wanted a global appeal.”
Recognizing the strength in collaboration Michael partnered with a friend. “I partnered with a friend and her partner who had an organic shop in Woodbrook to get the product into the store which all happened at the end of 2012 into 2013; sales started with friends and family.” Interestingly this experience unearthed other beginnings “whilst placing my products in the store I saw cocoa nibs next to the bananas and the packaging looked really great; cocoa nibs originated from Peru, packaged in the US and imported to T&T; this wasn’t right and seemed obscene” lamented Michael.
Michael began questioning himself as to why are we importing cocoa nibs when Trinidad and Tobago produces such high-grade cocoa. “I conducted research on cocoa nibs which can be made by drying cocoa beans so I started drying them in the same dehydrator to produce the nibs.” Michael returned to the store with the nibs for the store owner to taste. “With such an incredible taste the store owner enquired how can he get some of the nibs and this became my add-on product.”
Michael’s yearning to enhance his business acumen became amplified “I realized that the registered name ‘Mr. Taliban Bananas’ would not work so I came up with a name that depicts the entire range of products that are good for your body and soul – that was the beginning of ‘Soular – Eat the Sun: Feed Your Soul”
Proudly displaying his diverse product line- Sun Dried Bananas, Cocoa Nibs, Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate and Mayan Brewing Michael’s evolution began to soar! “I started producing chocolate and getting my products into more stores.” Even though things started to get rocky after a two and a half-year period, Michael continued to press on. “In 2013 developed a collaboration with Machel Montano and soon after there was a split with my business partner. I kept the sundried bananas, brewing chocolate and cocoa nibs and the rest is history.”
The YBTT Experience!
“No institution in Trinidad and Tobago was willing to provide any funding to support my business even though my products are sustainable. YBTT was the only institution that believed in me and was willing to invest in my business” said Michael and for this, he is eternally grateful to the YBTT Team.
Shell LiveWIRE – The GameChanger!
When Michael saw the ad for the Shell LiveWIRE programme he doubted his ability to participate..”It took a long time for me to apply but was encouraged by the YBTT Team to apply. I was skeptical but was also eager to experience the learnings” said Michael.
He also welcomed the opportunity to create and build relationships with industry leaders as well as connections with his fellow LiveWIRES. “The alumni led to business opportunities with my colleagues.”
“I want to place on record special thanks to YBTT’s Project Co-ordinator, Impact – Danielle Morong-Johnson for encouraging me to apply for the 2020 Shell LiveWIRE Top Ten Innovators in which I was selected in the top 10 from a total of 21 finalists globally,” said an elated Michael.
According to Michael “Shell Trinidad and Tobago paired me with a mentor for a ten-month period which would assist me in navigating within this renewed dispensation which includes re-tooling, adapting and scaling up my business for further growth.”
Complete the Form to Download the Shell LiveWIRE Deal Book
Shell LiveWIRE is Shell’s global flagship social investment Enterprise Development programme, with a vision to strengthen local economies by promoting entrepreneurship, innovation and meaningful employment. Since inception in Scotland in 1982, the programme is facilitated in over 15 countries and supports thousands of entrepreneurs willing to transition their bright ideas into sustainable businesses. Download the Shell LiveWIRE Deal Book.