After completing her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication in 2007, Marielle started her first business in affiliate marketing for a global skin care brand based in the United States.
When she moved to Belgium from the Philippines last year to In Belgium, to be with the “love of her life”, Marielle had an idea to combine her two worlds and create a product that brings the cultures together. This is how Belgian Tableya was born; a fine-flavoured chocolate product made with Philippine cacao beans, crafted with Belgian chocolate-making expertise.
Marielle registered her company, Theo & Brom, in 2018. As Belgium is renowned worldwide for its artisanal chocolate and the Philippines is an emerging producer of fine-quality cacao beans, it felt like the perfect combination. Right after registering her business, Marielle became a member of the Social Club in Ghent to expand her network in Belgium and she rented a small office in a co-working space where she could meet other people.
Despite her drive and motivation, she had a few initial challenges, the biggest of which was finding a good chocolate-maker in Belgium who wanted to collaborate and produce the Tableya chocolate. Marielle reached out to numerous chocolatiers, but each time she was knocking on a closed door:
“I faced rejection countless of times after pitching to almost every chocolatier I could find in Belgium. That did not stop me from believing in my dream until someone said yes to take my project to life”. Eventually she found a very well known cocoa consultant who was interested in the project and wanted to help her.
Since the beginning, Marielle has always been very proactive. She looked up some online resources about doing business in Belgium; however, a lot of the information is in Dutch, a language she has not mastered yet. Moreover, she needed access to funding to be able to start up, produce and bring her products to the market. She run successful crowdfunding campaign, but this was not enough to develop her business further and she hit some cashflow difficulties.
She was put in touch with M-UP member, microStart, and applied for a loan. She was assigned to a business advisor, who assessed her and her business idea. She had a good case, but she needed to strengthen her credit application: she submitted it twice before it was accepted. Marielle was also paired with two mentors who provided advice on marketing and business and financial planning.
She is incredibly resourceful and continues to look for new opportunities. She has been recently selected for the “Start-It” @ KBC Programme, Belgium’s largest accelerator programme, which also supports prospective young entrepreneurs. Marielle was one of the nominees for the micro-entrepreneur of the year awards (MEY-awards) in the category of Women Entrepreneurs.
Reflecting on her journey, Marielle says:
“These tableyas are born of tenacity. Of a firm resolve and sheer determination. While all great things start with a dream, ours started with a bean.”
microStart is a leading Belgian microfinance institution, which provides loans and business advice to entrepreneurs who want to develop their activities. It is part of Youth Business International’s Youth Business Europe Programme, a regional initiative supported by the Citi Foundation to help young entrepreneurs to start or grow a business.