Entrepreneurial stories paint canvasses of ups and downs that remind us that life is often a shared experience. For the entrepreneur, inspiration and motivation are useful for the journey of business ownership. They help us to recall that there are others who have gone before and seen great success through dedication and commitment. Today, we have another feature of someone who has sown into and supported the agricultural sector in Jamaica, Shelly Heaven, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of FarmLinkr.
FarmLinkr helps farmers and fresh produce re-sellers find more markets for their produce and get better prices by reaching direct buyers both locally and abroad. They also help buyers consistently source the best produce for their businesses and homes at competitive prices, by providing access to a wide range of sellers and great quality produce. Farmlinkr is one of the first online marketplaces focusing on the selling of fresh farm produce by multiple farmers and re-sellers for purchase by both businesses and household consumers. Shelly said, “FarmLinkr is like the Amazon for fresh produce.” Through FarmLinkr, Shelly said “we hope to transform the agricultural sector and help farmers get online to market their produce to Jamaica and the rest of the world, regardless of where they are.”
Shelly is an Accounting and Management Studies graduate from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. She also has an Executive MBA with her focus area being “Disruptive Innovation, Disruptive Business Models and Management Strategies for Emerging Economies.” Shelly has multiple interests and has dedicated her time to investing and becoming educated within her areas of interest. She noted that she was motivated to go into business because of her long-term goal of achieving financial independence, which she did not see being done through a traditional career.
Additionally, her interest in agriculture started from an early age where she saw her father growing his own crops in their yard. She recounted, “I also remember waking up early and going to the market with my parents and walking through the markets to get to school. I have always observed my surroundings and noticed problems and thought of solutions. I would ask myself what happens with all of this produce at the end of the shopping day and I observed a lot of waste.” She went on to point out that she believes that agriculture is truly a sleeping gold mine that needs to be tapped into for national economic development. Her passion for economic development for Jamaica and wanting the nation to achieve its Vision 2030 goals, mixed with her interest in agriculture led Shelly to go into this business that she hopes will transform Jamaica.
Innovation and technology in Agriculture
The leading element in FarmLinkr’s business model is their e-commerce feature. In 2017 when FarmLinkr began, entrepreneurs were aware of online marketplaces but Covid-19 accelerated the pace at which individuals bought into this idea. Shelly had seen the prospects for business in this way and the reach it could have and went for it. She maintains that though many online marketplaces have now risen up, FarmLinkr has a niche which is their dedication to be a marketplace for farmers and fresh produce. “We are positioned to partner with farmers because we are specifically focused on them and what is important to them,” she said. Shelly also sees that, “with the growth in technology and innovation, there is so much that can be done without some of the hassle that previously came with entrepreneurship.”
JBDC and Agriculture
The Jamaica Business Development Corporation has seen the value of the Agricultural sector which forms an important part of the Jamaican economy, accounting for 7.3 % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018. Like Shelly, JBDC sees the importance of the role farmers and fisherfolk play in nation building. Through major initiatives such as “Formalising Operators in the Jamaican Agriculture and Fisheries Sectors’ project, the JBDC hopes to bolster these sectors. The project which is being funded by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), aims to transform 100 registered farmers and fishers registered with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) into formal operators, and to develop a model that would enable them move along the MSME continuum.
Encouragement for Entrepreneurs
In times of discouragement on the entrepreneurial journey, Shelly said, “I always remember the purpose behind doing what I am doing. I want to see our farmers transformed and our nation advanced.” She noted that her own journey from corporate into entrepreneurship was a big step and she questioned if she could do it and if she had what it would take to succeed. Shelly commended those who decide to go into entrepreneurship at a young age because it shows remarkable bravery.
She shared that entrepreneurs must be willing to invest time and recounted that one of the first major hotel clients FarmLinkr got, took a year to acquire. Many do not appreciate the behind the scenes work that has to be done to achieve the success that is desired. She also added that it is always important to revisit your business model to see if what you have is yielding the results you want and from there make necessary tweaks. When asked to highlight the two major elements for success as an entrepreneur, she said, “I think firstly it is important to hold your product or service to high standards and being dedicated to producing quality work. Also, think about the customer service you would want to receive and dedicate yourself to giving wow service to your customers.”
FarmLinkr has seen successes and hiccups but Shelly says they are hopeful for the prospects in the future. They see themselves continuing to engage large hotels, supermarket chains and restaurants and are looking to go further into export, all while continuing to provide quality products and services to their clients.
Entrepreneur Weekly hopes that stories from entrepreneurs like Shelly Heaven will inspire you to look at your passions and become deliberate about pursuing your entrepreneurial ventures.