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  HOME | Colombia (Click here for more)

Colombian Builds Thriving Wafer Dessert Business from Humble Origins

MEDELLIN, Colombia – A Colombian female entrepreneur is enjoying tremendous success in her second go-around at launching a business, running a prosperous family enterprise that offers a twist on a traditional Latin American wafer dessert known as the oblea.

Natalia Quintero had to learn her business acumen the hard way though, with her initial attempt at launching a company – making ice cream cones and related products at her home in this northwestern city – failing after two years.

“Everything collapsed because of poor management,” Quintero told EFE.

But she bounced back from that hardship and now runs a business that runs like clockwork and makes deliveries nationwide.

“Our products are found everywhere from La Guajira (northernmost Colombia) to Amazonas (southernmost), and we’ve even made deliveries to the United States, Spain and Mexico.”

To raise the money needed to make a new start, Quintero worked at a telephone company and her husband, Juan Carlos Usuriaga, got a job as a driver.

They saved up to buy their first 10 machines and re-started production, said Quintero, who said she and her husband and business partner found that obleas were being “neglected” in the market and saw an opportunity.

Their second company was named Obleas Michel after the couple’s third daughter, since her arrival represented prosperity and a new start for the family.

The company’s innovations include modified machines that make thicker and more visually appealing obleas, a dessert-sandwich that typically consists of two thin, circular wafer cookies held together with an arequipe (caramel) spread.

“My husband is very smart. He was the one who came up with that change,” Quintero said of a recipe they developed with the help of food engineers and after experimenting with different ingredients.

“It was a hit because no one knew about that type of hard oblea, which isn’t divided up and doesn’t get soft. They’re crunchy from start to finish,” the business owner said.

From that moment on “we went all in with our obleas,” and gradually the orders increased and our sales rose.

Obleas Michel started with just two customers and just 1 million pesos ($300) in product sales per month but gradually grew and hired its first employee.

The business took a big leap, however, thanks to training courses Quintero underwent at Corporacion Interactuar, which offers a comprehensive portfolio of training programs for micro-entrepreneurs.

“That’s where the change really began. Without that knowledge, this business wouldn’t be what it is. We starting doing things like setting schedules and delegating roles,” said Quintero, whose company now employs 16 people and has expanded its daily oblea production from 500 to 25,000.

“I’m not the same woman. I’ve even changed a lot physically. I feel empowered and with another mindset. I feel capable and with the strength to keep moving forward,” she said.

The business’ success even improved her marriage, although at first Quintero said her husband “wasn’t able to accept that a woman was doing more of the leading than he was.”

“It was tough to change that mindset. He was more closed-off and machista,” she said.

Interactuar’s director of knowledge and network services, Andrea Zuluaga, told EFE that that Colombia-based financial and business development services company assisted 40,000 entrepreneurs in 2018, 56 percent of whom were women, a sign that the business world is becoming more balanced in terms of gender.

 

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