If you think your idea of opening a business in a foreign country will never work, think again.
Today, I am proudly introducing to many of you, a few very young and very ambitious Belizean and Caribbean entrepreneurs who, just this year, started their business adventures in Taiwan.
When I thought of approaching entrepreneurs specifically for this blog post, there were only two names that popped up in my instant memory. The first Belizean business that came to mind was ignite_merch.tw, a brand created by Belizean entrepreneur, Josh Petillo. My thoughts then went to an Instagram Story posted not too long ago: my friend AJ, had slo-mo unveiled some taco ingredients out of a box! Which business had that intriguing unveiling belonged to, I pondered —> Tacobox!
Right then and there I had two entrepreneurs. Yes! Tacobox would become the second business that I decided would form part of my very first “entrepreneurs in Taiwan” blog.
Off I went into my Direct Messaging and sent my interview request to both. To my utter delight, out of these two businesses, I got introduced to a handful of other new entrepreneurs: Love Always Wins, Caribbean Seamoss, Irie Roots, Nidibri, Vibez Multimedia Ltd. and Belizean Flavaz. Perfect!
I felt like a real journalist, sending my interview requests and scheduling Google Meets even though I had zero idea how to even use the Google Calendar much less record the videos. Nonetheless, I was determined to continue with my mission: Showcasing the bright minds that have found the courage to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality!
And as our interview progressed I found myself more intrigued by what I discovered. Read for yourself…
Ignite Merch – The Positive Narrative
“I wanted people to know that we are all in this together, basically as foreigners out here together, right? Let’s not have a hostile energy towards each other, right? let’s spread a positive narrative, right? help each other, be respectful and do what you have to do and just be great, be the best version of yourself.”
In early February – February 11, 2021 to be exact, Josh pressed the send button on his Instagram direct messaging and off went pictures of bright red, white and blue-colored pillows with the hot stamp “IGNITE – THE POSITIVE NARRATIVE” – on each side of the yellow stamp, the Belizean and Taiwanese flags. Josh put his faith on his friends and asked them to share the pictures on their Instagram. These quickly became popular among both Belizeans and Taiwanese alike.
His merchandize started off with the pillows, then went unto shirts and hats with designs such as: Belize as well as Belize Est. 1981, 501 with Belize’s flag and flora and fauna, Ignite Merch, among others.
As Josh puts it ” I wanted to make a statement, I wanted Belize to be known in Taiwan. So like when you hear Belize, ‘Oh I know, 我知道， 我知道！’” Pretty soon he had people asking him if he also did graduation mugs and graduation sashes…and so, his line of merchandize expanded to all you can see on his Instagram posts – my personal favorite, the Belize Est. 1981 gray windbreaker.
But the brand’s supporters are not limited to only Belizeans and Taiwanese, no no! His friends from Latin America, the Caribbean and other places also started asking; “Why don’t you do for Guatemala? Why don’t you do for Honduras？ Why don’t you do for Eswatini?” he excitedly explains, “I have no problem doing that.” He has even had customers from abroad ordering his merchandize. How cool is that?!
And if you didn’t already know, Ignite Merch does special customized designs, catering to a wider customer base. He doesn’t normally put the special custom orders on his posts, and he ensures that he asks permission from the client to even do so. Josh has his main clientele at heart, he has made his high-quality products very affordable, especially to students with tight budgets. Of course, as customers we have to factor in the shipping expense, so all in all, the prices are pretty good.
Being an entrepreneur is not easy. There may be many who start selling customized merchandize but sadly, their dream is short lived. Josh’s advice to anyone who has already started a business is: “You have to be consistent when you are doing it. Anyone with a business will tell you, it takes investment. Not only finance, it takes a lot of time as well, so you have to be consistent in everything you do.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Ignite Merch is a staple name in the Belizean diaspora in Taiwan – that is the power of Josh’s arduous and constant work and marketing savviness. To find out what went on during this exclusive interview, you will have to wait for Ignite Merch’s Special Feature Blog coming to Soul Expressions soon 😉
Orange Walk Tacos Delivered Straight to Your Doorstep – Tacobox
If you are a Belizean in Taiwan and love to look at your friend’s Instagram stories, then surely you must have seen one or two of them proudly share pictures of these colorful, mouthwatering tacos!
Tacobox is the creation of a hungry-for-Orange Walk-tacos young Belizean entrepreneur, Ginelky Gongora and her St. Lucian business partner, Nyhymn Terrance.
They had been thinking about this business opportunity for some time. It was constantly on their mind during the pandemic, especially because less people were willing to get out of their houses and go to busy areas. Also, affordable tacos were not easy to find in her area, says Ginelky. It would be like killing two birds with the same stone. One, Ginelky gets to eat tacos that remind her of home and two, she can provide affordable, great tasting tacos to people in Taiwan. She would either make the free delivery herself in the Taipei/Taoyuan area or send it delivered via 7-11, Familymart and via the Post Office. Nyhymn for his part, would take care of the business in the South, since he is based in Kaohsiung and would make the free deliveries in the Tainan and Kaohsiung areas.
So one day, Ginelky and Nyhymn were riding their scooter and the name of the business suddenly and effortlessly came to Nyhymn: Tacobox (Tacos that get delivered in a box) Makes perfect sense, right? On their way back home the next bright idea surfaced, equally as easy: their slogan would be “Reheat and Eat” Because… you get it, right?
The idea of selling precooked tacos seemed like it would work, they thought, after all, many people around the world like eating tacos! And work, it did! Despite the fact that they are both still full-time undergraduate students with homework, projects, presentations, part-time jobs and thesis on their plates, they still manage to find time and put that extra effort to ensure that Tacobox becomes a well-known name among both foreigners and Taiwanese. They ensure that the pollo asado, pork with pineapple (Al Pastor) and Cochinita Pibil can have that smoky flavor that can only come from “charcoal oil”. Their orders can be made through their Facebook page, Tacobox, and through their Instagram page.
On August, 2021, Tacobox made its debut in Taiwan. Business has being going very well so far and feedback from customers (they already have loyal customers), have helped their fan base and followers grow. They have only gotten great reviews which also motivates them to continue preparing great tasting tacos and providing great service to their valued customers. If you haven’t tasted it yet, send them a DM and remember “Just Reheat and…?”
You Never Know Who You Are Inspiring – The Story of Nidibri
“One day I watched this entrepreneur and she basically started from zero and she was growing very slowly and she was like: “Just do it. So I was like ‘Who do I know that is as passionate about hair -Azriel!’ shares Cyleen, “so I contacted her and I was like, Yo girl, like I have this idea. We sat down at a restaurant and we talked it out.”
And so Cyleen Morgan and Azriel Pinel started their journey of discovering how to formulate hair care products for Type 3 and Type 4 hair. After a lot of research, they finally launched their products into the market in Taiwan in October, 2021, a year later after that fateful meeting. Nidibri, the name of their business, is a Garifuna word for “hair”. They chose this word as one of them identifies as a Garifuna (one of Belize’s ethnic groups) and also because “it exudes a sentiment of unity and pride in embracing our natural crowns, which is one of the founding philosophies of our company.” If you look for their Instagram page you will see Nidibri preceded by the word “Sistacurlz” – that is the name of their hair care line.
During our interview, I commented to both Cyleen and Azriel that for their business to be in the market for such little time, their packaging looks so professional, I mean, take a look for yourself! This, ladies and gentlemen, is the product of extensive research and a lot of arduous time and effort spent by these two young entrepreneurs. But professional appearance does not mean you have to pay arm and leg for it. Nidibri has made the products affordable for everyone and formulated it in such a way that it will work well for all hair types.
This is probably very intriguing for some of you out there, because for as long as I have been in Taiwan and hung out with friends with these types of hair, the comments have always been the same: It is very difficult to find such products in Taiwan and they would have to be ordered from Amazon. For them, hair care comes at a high cost and requires a lot of constant tender love and care which equals to heavy investments.
No worries, dear friends, Nidibri has come to your hair’s rescue and is here to stay. These partners in business plan to expand to a complete product hairline in the not-so-distant future. Cyleen shares her personal aspirations and the limelight that keeps her going when the feelings of doubt start to lurk around: “For me it has been to expand and provide jobs… I would like for us to cultivate a company that has a culture of positivity and productivity and people that we hire, it’s not a curse for them, it’s a blessing, they love their job and feel confident that they have that job stability they are treated properly and are properly cared for.”
After hearing their full story, I want to open a business of my own! For now, I’ll stick to writing.
Not all situations are as bad as they seem – Love Always Wins
When the pandemic raised the national restriction level to 3, many students found themselves with more time on their hands as education moved to online platforms. For Jahson Phillips, originally from Belize City, Belize and now studying in Taipei, Taiwan, it was a time of reflection and inspiration. Jahson made the wise decision to “make lemonade” with the golden time and started to turn his lifelong dream into a reality.
“I’ve always had an interest in fashion, and always had the thought of opening a business related to it.” states Jahson. During his summer vacation in 2021, he started to teach himself how to create graphic designs and after sorting through a vast array of ideas, settled on “Love Always Wins.” Inspired by the lessons his father taught him and his brothers to always have a positive mindset, regardless of the situation.
Jahson’s fashion designs are also inspired by streetwear and he therefore chose oversized clothing – sweaters, T-shirts of dark colors and vintage graphics of light color contrast to represent his brand, LAW. He aims to grasp the attention of everyone who loves this trendy attire, particularly catering to teenagers and young adults.
He also spends a lot of time researching on clothing textures and materials that feel comfortable to the touch. His hope is that those who support his “project” are very satisfied with the price they are paying for the garments as well as with how they feel while wearing it.
For now, Jahson wants to learn more about his craft before he starts thinking about what’s next. He is considering options of how to best advertise his products online and exporting but he is not in a rush.
If you are into oversized streetwear and want to support a fellow Belizean, you can reach out to Jahson through his Instagram page as this is the main platform used to advertise his seasonal wear. In the future, you can also visit one of his pop-ups and try on his designs -exclusive wear that will only be found during such events. Stay on the lookout!
A delicious fusion of Caribbean and Belizean taste – Irie Roots
While we are on the topic of exclusivity, I did not manage to secure an interview with Jamaican-Belizean Sule Smith before my self-imposed deadline of publishing this article. I did, however, learn of his very inspiring story through other communication means.
Sule was born in Jamaica, where his dad used to run a Tour Guide Company with the name “Irie Routes”. At a primary-school age, Sule moved to Belize. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor degree in Mechanical and Electrical engineering in Tainan where his Jamaican patties business, also called “Irie Roots” is run. Sule wanted to honor his father’s memory by adopting the same name and because “Roots” is meant to emphasize “Never forgetting where you’re coming from.”
Sule caters particularly to the Caribbean community in Taiwan and hopes that other cultures can also have a taste of the Caribbean through his patties. If you are located in Tainan, for a small delivery fee, you can get delicious Jamaican patties delivered to your doorsteps. If you are in other parts of Taiwan, he can send your orders via 黑貓 (Hēi māo), mei you wen ti la!
Despite not having had the privilege of getting to know more about Sule and Irie Roots at the time of publishing, I was really touched by the driving force behind his business idea. When there is a will, there is a way right? Look out for his exclusive feature in the near future.
Sea weed or Sea moss – its Sea-good! ~ Rich and Thick – Caribbean Sea Moss
Childhood memories buried deep in my memory resurface when I realize that “Sea moss” is none other than “Sea weed”. For whatever reason us Belizeans have given this drink a different name, the fact remains the same, in June, 2021, it was finally made available in Taiwan and now you too can enjoy this delicious Caribbean drink within two days of ordering!
But the sea moss drink is not the only product Rich and Thick Caribbean Seamoss founder, Nyhymn Terrance, a St. Lucian entrepreneur, sells in the Taiwanese market. Sea moss gel and cheese cake are also his crafts of love. Sea moss gel, he explains, “is the base for all the products. The sea moss gel is what I use to make the cheese cake, the drinks and you could use it for many other things. Some women use it in their hair, some use it as a moisturizer, some people use it in their soups. Vegans use it in replacement of eggs, it has so many uses.”
Of course, I had never heard of sea moss gel, so the more I heard, the more questions I had about the product. Nyhymn patiently explains that I can make all sorts of smoothies with the seafood gel. As for benefits: “it helps increase your energy level, it has 92 of the 102 minerals our body needs (By this time I am mind-blown) and is classified as a super food being that its packed with so many minerals. It helps to suppress your appetite if you drink it as a morning smoothie, like, it’s really a meal by itself.” Who knew!
Nyhymn’s start-up story is a little different than the others. After he searched for seaweed for many years in the Taiwanese stores and finally found it, he started to make the drink for his own enjoyment. He posted some pictures on his social media page and immediately started getting requests from friends. They wanted to enjoy it, too! The slight nudge from his friends, who believed in his God-given ability, aided in the decision to “Why Not.”
Although he is a very busy man, he comes home every day and prepares quality original, peanut, coffee and coconut flavored sea moss drinks, sea moss gel and cheesecakes to fulfill the increasing orders. A degree in Culinary Arts has aided Nyhymn in creating the perfect blends and complete set of products. And now that he knows exactly where to purchase his ingredients for preparation and containers for packaging, business can only get better, right?
As I said in the beginning, you can order your goodies through his Instagram page and also check this post for money transfer details. Please remember to provide feedback and continue coming for more. Stay healthy, stay strong, buy Caribbean Sea moss!
Hobbies that Pay – Vibez Multimedia Ltd.
Christmas is right around the corner and you may be wondering what to do or where to go. If you are a young foreigner in the Southern part of Taiwan, chances are you’ve probably already seen one of this entrepreneur’s flyers advertising an event, a DJ or a party. That flyer probably caught your immediate attention for being so… fly!
I wouldn’t be surprised if you already figured out who the person behind these works of art is. For the rest of us in other parts of the island, the idea of finally “knowing someone” with this talent may come as a pleasant and intriguing surprise.
An engineering student at Kun Shan University, Raybert Laing, originally comes from Belize City, Belize. He juggles his time between getting good grades and honing his skills at graphic design, photography and videography for Vibez Multimedia Co., his business venture.
“I bought my first DSLR camera to do photography just as a hobby. I went out just taking pictures and getting familiar with the camera and how it works and I started watching a lot of YouTube videos to learn how to edit.”
He then started to learn how to create his own video content. Soon after, he got his first photography gig at BWA Events at which time he tried his very best and even more to leave a good impression. They saw how good he was with his photography and video skills that it wasn’t long before they asked him to join the team.
Raybert has also been asked to carry out birthday, wedding and graduation shoots and has also been asked to collaborate in some projects such as music videos. He distinctly remembers once traveling from Tainan to Yilan to complete a job. It turned out that he learnt quite a few lessons about clients, their personalities, what they look for in a hire, etc. More importantly, he feels like he grew as a photographer.
Raybert feels happy that he can count on his talents to earn some money and have a more comfortable stay in Taiwan as he finishes his last year of undergraduate studies. He is grateful to his mom for initially financially supporting him and comments that now his mom is proud of what he has become.
If before you were still unsure of who to hire for the above-mentioned creations, I hope that by now you can consider giving Vibez Multimedia a try. Remember, the greatest memories in life are said to be free but are they really? Ask anyone with a beautiful portrait on their wall if that came at no cost.
Seasonal Delights to Make Your Weekends Bright – Belizean Flavaz
Let’s see if you can solve this riddle:
For those Belizean, Caribbean and Latin Americans that live in Taipei City, culture related food should be synonymous of Belizean Flavaz, Fruit Cake and Rum Popo? Belizean Flavaz. Rice and Beans on a Sunday? Belizean Flavaz! Panades, tamales, tamalitos, turkey dinner, Seré or Hudut in November? …
Although those that have already ordered from them might go like “Oh! you mean Melody?”
Melody Wagner let’s me know it’s not just her that forms part of Belizean Flavaz but all the behind-the-scenes shopping, cooking, delivering, etc. is done by her team. Even her past roommates used to play an important role in tasting and encouraging Melody to sell. And even though this past year they focused primarily on selling at culture fairs and some catering here and there, Belizean Flavaz is working on a more stable and consistent menu that will deliver delicious culture food twice a month hopefully at a predetermined and centralized location in Taipei.
The primary purposes remain:
- Belize has several ethnic groups and each has different great tasting food. What’s more, we have shared culture with the Caribbean and Latin American communities that foreigners would feel a little more inclined to try it. The hope is that the wider community and locals can have the opportunity to have a taste of Belize year round.
- Belizean Flavaz knows that those who live in the dorms do not have many options when cooking their own meals. Also, it would not make sense to buy so many ingredients if you are only cooking for one person (yourself). That is why they want to give those students affordable meals that make them have that closer to home feeling. Keeping in mind that the meals are literally a “labor of love”, the Belizean Flavaz team makes an effort to meet the customer halfway. Usually the deliveries are done swiftly so that whomever orders receives the food warm. Most of the time, it would be meeting at a certain MRT stop. For those catering requests, Belizean Flavaz takes the food directly to the party spot and culture fairs. The latter would be the only way Belizean Flavaz makes a slight profit.
If your concern is that you do not live in Taipei but still want to order, they are looking into delivering via 7-11. In case you are planning a trip to Taipei, don’t hesitate to contact Belizean Flavaz at least two days prior and my gial Melody and her team will hook you up!
From the Blog of Mayra Guerra Torres.