STEPHANIE Pemberton has a mission—to nurture the next generation of the middle class.
And not just in T&T. But in the Caribbean.
The way to do that, she reasons, is through the development of entrepreneurs.
So she established an entrepreneurship development company, Planting Seeds, which focuses on growing/promoting small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).
And in the last year, she’s been digitising Planting Seeds.
The company’s digital offering was launched last November.
“We were the first to put SMEs online,” Pemberton said.
What began as a television show framed around the US television show Shark Tank, Planting Seeds has now become a hub for entrepreneurs who want to get on store shelves or directly into the homes of customers.
While Planting Seeds started in T&T, she plans to make it regional and international.
After five years of nurturing about 50 entrepreneurs a year, Pemberton told Express Business that she took the opportunity during the Covid-19 pandemic to pivot her company to a digital platform which offers a suite of services for her clients, from financial services such as accounting and being able to access grant funding to listing their websites and networking with other business.
“Through this platform, businesses are provided with onboarding resources as well as the ability to identify gaps in knowledge, and have access to a marketplace, delivery system, funding, investments, distribution, financial statement generation and legal aid,” she said.
In digitising her own business, she was able to digitise the businesses of all the clients who list on her platform.
She now hosts 300-plus businesses and said she has 500 more to onboard onto the digital platform.
“I believe that every single human being has potential for greatness. My vision and goal is to help accelerate that greatness for entrepreneurs who seek to add value to the world and create change,” she said.
So how does she do it?
To start, she’s an entrepreneur herself. She is the chief executive of the Bad Granny Media Group, where she manages Planting Seeds Caribbean, DECODED Caribbean, Bad Granny Media and Bad Granny Ltd and co-founder of PinkCab—a women-only ride sharing platform aimed at empowering and catering to the needs of female drivers and riders.
That experience has given her a lens to see challenges that new businesses could encounter.
What it also does is help her find synergies in the various arms of her businesses- for example, when Planting Seeds clients need help designing logos or doing advertisements, the media arm of her business can facilitate.
For the 33-year-old who sits on the boards of the United Nations GenU and Inter American Development Bank’s (IDB) NextGen, one of the biggest challenges has been in getting people to see their full potential.
Pemberton, a graduate of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, said she has had to teach clients how to quantify their value proposition, how to become financially literate, how to do their accounts properly and how to network with wholesalers.
“There is a general lack of understanding. There are people who have products but that is it. They don’t have bank accounts, and don’t know how to sell their goods. We try to put them on the shelves,” she said.
One of the initiatives that Planting Seeds undertook during the lockdown was a meet and greet with its clients and the chief executives of grocery stores.
She said out of 60 clients who pitched, 40 of them ended up with goods on grocery shelves.
After she graduated, Pemberton gained practical work experience as an investment analyst and a further year of experience as a credit analyst, which she believes helped her serve her client needs better.
To simplify the process for future clients, she has built in all the applications in her website to help with accounting, putting together financial statements and access to grant funding from her partnerships with agencies such as the IDB.
It will cost $650 a month to access this on the Planting Seeds website.
As a bonus, Pemberton said delivery is free to anywhere in T&T.
“My platform will enable anyone to get online very quickly,” she said.
She reckoned that while the response has been good, there are about five clients she has never managed to onboard or work with for various reasons.
One of them, she recalled, had problems with the digital format which could not be resolved.
Last year, another client took her to task on Facebook, on a post about bad service.
Pemberton defended herself publicly but eventually let it go.
She said it was a stressful period and the lessons learned from the experience would be carried through in all future negotiations with clients.
This philosophy she linked to her favourite quote by iconic American athlete Wilma Rudolph, which says: “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
Last year, Planting Seeds was selected by the IDB out of 14 top start-ups from South America and the Caribbean to pitch and connect with key industry players at the IDB Lab Forum, the leading event on innovation and inclusion in Latin America & The Caribbean.
Pemberton described the experience as instructive as it allowed for sharing and engagement in networking, venture capital funding, financing and about the mobilisation needed to reach set goals.
She observed that she has already secured partnerships with Microsoft, VC Funds, IDB Lab and other major corporations from the engagement.
In addition, she managed to source a warehouse to house goods from her local entrepreneurs in Miami who want to take their business international.
“We’ve got connections in Belize. We’ve got connections in Mexico. Those are the next two countries that we’re looking at. I’m going to Barbados so we can set up there and then we’re going to be now connecting Latin America and the Caribbean. And that takes time. It’s definitely something that I am 100 per cent committed to building out because it’s not just Trinidad that has this problem and going to that event at the IDB just kind of solidified that for me. It was like, all of our neighbours are going through the same issues. It’s a problem. It’s a world problem. Africa is going through the same issues as well. I sit on the United Nations board and we’ve been talking a lot about Africa and I actually see myself one day ending up in Africa. For some reason I see myself at 45 being in Africa. I don’t know why,” she laughed, “but I see that happening. I’m 100 per cent all in, you know. It’s not a hobby.”
Why is the Planting Seeds platform different? “Our model is not to make money on deliveries; it’s a subscription-based website, where the entrepreneurs pay their subscriptions and are able to distribute their products effectively and at a good cost to the end consumer. And they also get tapped into the network so they are able to get their goods distributed onto wholesale shelves, they are able to get access to grant funds on the site to different companies that we work with,” she said.
She said in June 2022, there will be a new edition of the show. “For me personally, I love doing it and I love getting wins for people and I love that community. It’s something that I personally like but it’s not always a bed of roses. You know what I mean? It’s not that you can’t win everybody all of the time,” she said.