By Catherine Chen
Yve-Car Momperousse is the founder and CEO of Kreyol Essence, an agribusiness specializing in luxury beauty products made from organic ingredients from Haiti. In addition to being a social entrepreneur, she has founded eight non-profits throughout her career. Yve-Car is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Agriculture and Rural Development here at Cornell and is the former Director of Cornell’s Diversity Alumni Program.
To begin with, could you tell us how you came across the idea for Kreyol Essence? What was your main inspiration or motivation for creating the company?
Yve-Car Momperousse: I had an event to go to at the University of Pennsylvania so I decided to straighten my hair for the occasion. My hair looked great for the event but, unfortunately, when I washed my hair a few days later, clumps of hair fell out. After crying and realizing that I had heat damage, it dawned on me that whenever we had any issue (hair, skin, body aches, etc.), my mom used Haitian Black Castor Oil, or as its known in Haiti, “Lwil Maskriti,” to solve the problem. There was always a little bottle under the bed where she kept this magic oil. I searched in stores and online for this organic castor oil but to no avail. Instead, I found a number of different women who wanted to get their hands on the oil without having to sneak it in from Haiti. I spoke to my mom and jokingly said that I should start a castor oil business, and she said it was a pretty good idea! We started to think about what the social benefits could be for Haiti: hiring women, working with farmers, and so much more. From there, Kreyol Essence was born.
How has Kreyol Essence tangibly impacted Haiti?
YM: It is too early to share specific data, as we just completed our proof of concept phase. However, our investors, Haitian government officials, and community leaders are excited about the tangible impact we will have in the next three years. Kreyol Essence will solve complex economic, environmental, and social ills all through the sale of raw ingredients to manufacturers and beauty products to consumers.
There is a major need for small and medium enterprises (SEM’s) to operate in Haiti and create jobs; SEM’s are the economic engines to every society. My company will create over 300 jobs in the next three years. The company’s success will encourage other entrepreneurs to invest in Haiti.
Every year, hundreds to millions die from mudslides, hurricanes, and other environmental challenges. Since our products are made by planting castor beans on marginal land, the castor bean is one of the few plants that can restore degraded land in 6 months. This enables subsistence farmers to intercrop food on what was unusable land. Paying farmers to plant the castor bean as a business also helps with reforestation. Haiti has less than 1% of its forest intact. We will plant about 55,000 castor trees that generate continuous income. Other forestation projects have failed in the past because people make more money cutting trees than planting. Additionally, the castor plant will help with greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. These are some of the benefits that our investors such as USAID, Yunus Social Business, and Deutsche Bank are excited about.
How will Kreyol Essence have an impact on women in Haiti, where women are considered the backbone of the country but are often the most vulnerable? Is there an impact on women in the United States?
YM: One woman told me that she had never had a formal job and that her husband abused her because she was completed dependent on him financially. He reminded her that her job was to bear children and have sex with him. Once hired as a producer, she not only had money, but pride to stand up for herself. I knew that I was going to help women get jobs, but I didn’t think that it would allow them to remove themselves from situations that are both mentally and physically dangerous for them.
Another woman with four kids told me that it would typically take her four-hours to travel to Port-au-Prince to sell small quantities of castor oil. Not only was her family suffering because she wasn’t home, but the market place she frequented is controlled by gangs who charge women to sell their goods and steal from them. Since I am purchasing a steady supply of product from her, she doesn’t have to leave her village or her family to make money. I have a number of testimonials from our women producers and farmers that we hope to place on our website (www.kreyolessence.com) soon.
Here in the States, one benefit that I did not expect is that women have really responded to the diversity we showcase in our marketing. In addition to creating beauty products, I like to think of myself as an ambassador for what the standards of beauty are. Eurocentric beautify is not the standard and all women should be celebrated.
How do you see Kreyol Essence growing in the future? (5 years from now, 10 years from now)
YM: In the next few mvvvnths I will complete fundraising for our series A round of 1 million dollars. Our goal is to reach 3 million in sales and create over 300 jobs by 2017. Kreyol Essence will disrupt the beauty industry by sourcing exotic ingredients and products from a country that is untapped and overlooked. Forget the South of France; Kreyol Essence is going to make the South of Haiti the epicenter for natural and luxury cosmetics! We will be the first cosmetic brand from the Caribbean to reach scale through our hybrid B2B and B2C model.
What is your opinion on corporate social responsibility? Do you think companies today are pressured to make a positive contribution to society?
YM: I think corporate social responsibility is important, but needs to go beyond a 5-10% budget line item. From the onset, as a social entrepreneur, I created a company that solves many of today’s pressing problems in developing countries. Social responsibility is integrated into everything we do at Kreyol Essence so it’s not a forced activity. It is part of the company’s DNA and is part of business as usual. Anyone with a different belief system would not fit into the culture at Kreyol Essence. But just to be clear- that does not mean we don’t focus on sales and numbers like any other business. If anything, as a social business, we focus on profit and sales even more because lives are at stake.
As a successful female entrepreneur, what advice would you give to young women who are interested in starting their own businesses?
YM: Mark Twain said, “to succeed in life, you need two things: ignores and confidence.”
A bit of ignorance is good. When you don’t know what your barriers are “supposed” to be as a woman or as a young person, you are not constrained. I attribute many of my accomplishments to a bit of ignorance. So enjoy not knowing everything.
Confidence is paramount. Women feel they must master a skill or topic before they leap into it. Men are the exact opposite. Women should trust self, their destiny, and use their resources. Have people in your circle who are going to remind you that you are amazing, beautiful, smart, and that you can accomplish anything you want! This is important because the world is going to tell you differently.
As someone who is not only female but of Haitian descent, and Black, when I walk into many rooms, I am the only person who looks like me, thinks like me, and has my background. That can be seen as an advantage, but can also be something that shakes me confidence. When I go to meetings in Haiti, it is still very patriarchal. People ask to speak to Mr. Momperousse or they address my fiancé and business partner first. I secretly enjoy their looks of dismay when they find out I am the head of the company.
Lastly, identify your outlets for stress. Mine is prayer, CrossFit exercise, carrot cake, motivational speeches, and hanging out with very close friends. Whatever works for you, identify it because you will need it.