Vega is solving a major problem in the coffee industry: 80% of coffee farmers worldwide (20 million farmers) are trapped in a cycle of subsistence farming, earning around $1 per pound of coffee which is ultimately sold for upwards of $20 per pound. Typical coffee supply chains include around 20 middlemen and can take up to 6 months for the coffee bean to reach the consumer.
Vega empowers coffee farmers in Nicaragua to process their own premium beans, and connects them directly with coffee lovers on their online marketplace.
Vega participated in the 2014 Agora Accelerator. We had the chance to speak with one of the Co-Founders of Vega, Noushin Ketabi, about her experience in the Agora Accelerator.
You were more early stage than many of the other companies, but had very high (and fast) growth potential. What value did you gain from the Entrepreneur Retreat?
The Retreat really marked the start of Vega. My cofounders and I had just left our previous jobs, and in the weeks before the Retreat, two of us had moved down to Nicaragua to start in-country operations. Our consultant Mary was an awesome resource, and the cohort structure helped us really get to know our fellow entrepreneurs, and understand their businesses and experiences. The sessions on leadership, investment structures, business models, and pitching were instrumental for us in starting our venture off on the right foot, in particular because we were so early stage. We made friends from countries throughout Latin America, and learned so much!
What did you learn from your peers in the Agora Accelerator that had businesses at later stages than you?
We learned the power of perseverance from our fellow entrepreneurs. Everyone, in the story of their enterprise, had some fundamental experience(s) that was either arduous and/or didn’t go at all as they had planned. Talking to our fellow entrepreneurs and learning how they applied patience and creativity to work through those obstacles taught us a lot. Although we had been planning to start Vega for a while, hearing first-hand actual risks and difficulties inherent in starting a new venture abroad (and that you could tackle them!) was a great way for us to adjust our expectations and apply a realistic perspective moving forward.
Although you did not receive full consulting, how did being part of the agora community contribute to your fast growth rate and success pitching to investors?
Our consultant Mary was always there for us whenever we needed her. Immediately post-Retreat, she helped us start thinking through Vega’s mission and values, and define our respective roles as co-founders. This higher consciousness organized us, so we could start functioning like a real company. Mary gave us fantastic advice and feedback as we applied to funding opportunities, and was 110% there for us with anything we threw at her — interview prep, financial projections, comparative market analysis, whatever! We couldn’t be where we are today as a company without Mary or the other Agora staff, who were always on hand to help with any specific questions that we had along the way.
What advice would you give to someone considering participating in the Accelerator?
Absolutely apply! From start to finish, being a part of the Agora family has been a wonderful experience. From the first day of the Retreat to today, I feel as though I am a part of a supportive—and awe-inspiring—community of changemakers. When you decide to take the road less traveled, there’s nothing more valuable than finding that community. Also, the connections we made with funders and advisors over the course of the Agora accelerator has been critical to us as we seek our first round of funding and take Vega to the next level.