Investing in more than a business: Investor engagement with Essence of Fiji

Recently we took Deb Sadranu, Founder and Managing Director of Essence of Fiji to meet with our investment partners, Enterprise Angels in New Zealand.  Enterprise Angels has facilitated over $40M of investment in 80 different early stage and established businesses since launching in 2008. Founder Bill Murphy and Impact Investment manager, Kristen Joiner (pictured) are proactively building interest in impact investing amongst their members and many have expressed a strong interest in doing good and making money. 

We have been working with Essence of Fiji, in partnership with Pacific RISE since mid 2018. Enterprise Angels generously hosted TDi and Essence of Fiji for the week and provided us with a unique opportunity to present informally to their network and observe their pitch night.

We chatted with Deb at the end of her trip to get her key insights.

 

Tell us about the experience… 

Deb: I’ve had a fabulous week!  I’ve spent this week learning and preparing for a final investment pitch in August and the experience has been invaluable.

I got the opportunity to attend my first pitch night and listen to others pitch.  The main thing I got out of this was actually what I should avoid when I pitch in August.  It was also good to see who was in the audience and what they ask.

I also got the opportunity to share my pitch and field questions in a more informal setting over breakfast with some of the investors. This confirmed all my strengths as a business: 20 years of history, my knowledge and expertise, and our sustainability focus. It makes you appreciate things that you bring to the table.

I would not have been prepared without the input and support of TDi, especially on the financial side of things.  As an entrepreneur, I know my business and customer well but not the financial jargon.  For example, on the first night when I was watching the pitches, one guy was doing really well but fell apart at the end because he couldn’t answer some of the questions. I can’t help but feel like had he had support of TDi, he would’ve been more confident, and able to answer those questions.

 

What have you learnt?

Deb:  Without this experience, I don’t think I would have considered things that would seal the deal.  Like, being prepared for questions, reviewing and knowing my financials and using the right language.  It gives you such an advantage in being able to answer all questions asked of you and following through with validation.

You get an idea of what investors care about.  In the past, I’ve been quite optimistic in my business forecasts.  What TDi taught me during this process, is to represent my projections more conservatively because it takes the pressure off myself to meet returns on investment.  I feel relieved because analysing things a bit more closely, we realised we could reduce the size of the building [our planned investment] without impacting earnings and it’s actually more efficient than the original proposal, and takes the pressure off the investment.

It also confirmed our value as a successful, Pacific Islands-based social enterprise.  None of the Angel Investors I spoke to had a background in impact, so it was an exciting opportunity for Essence of Fiji to set a benchmark for impact, and success in the Pacific Islands.  The impact message really resonated with investors, and their advice to me was to lead with it. I’m proud that, come August, we will be the first impact pitch for this group.  It shows it can be done and puts the Pacific hub on the map!

The best part was, I left with the confidence that we can do this well.  So much time, effort, money, psych prep goes into a pitch like this – you’ve got to make it worth it.   As an entrepreneur, instinctively, you want to do it all, but every bit of outside help, helps to see the bigger picture. I’m so glad I did this.

 

What does it mean for you…

Deb: Over the past 20 years, I’ve never had capital injection into the business – everything has been done from the company – and I’m proud of that.  However, with the expansion I’m attempting needs a big injection.

It’s a crucial stage of expansion and growth, where we want investment to build a purpose-built building, which reduce overheads dramatically (tens of thousands a month which could be better spent elsewhere).

More than that, it’s allowing us to prepare for the bigger picture.  I moved to Fiji and began Essence of Fiji ten years ago because I could see the need for education for girls.  Once I set up the school and employment pathways were created, I saw a bigger responsibility beyond providing employment.

The business has become a community for the women I employ who would otherwise feel isolated and struggle to find the support they need. Through the business, we have nurtured equality, their understanding of their social standing within their family, and more recently creating a safe environment for transgender people.

TDi talk about doing ‘good and making money’.  For me, one doesn’t work without the other.  When you’re passionate about impact, and you run a business – the balance happens naturally.  They interact and evolve together.  The business evolves, because I have empathy – I know and work with the women in villages – and understand their needs. Without this, the business would not be sustainable.

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