Blog: patrick struebi


patrick struebi yale

By Colin Paiva

November 3, 2015: Patrick Struebi, founder and CEO of Fairtrasa, recently visited the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute to speak about social entrepreneurship and the founding and development of his own social enterprise. Fairtrasa is a vertically integrated fair trade fruit and vegetable produce group that helps farmers in developing countries to earn incomes over eight times what they would receive in normal local markets. The company also reinvests a portion of its profits into schools and other development projects in farmers’ communities.

During Patrick’s talk, he shared the story of his Fairtrasa's development along with some unique insights about social entrepreneurship. Here’s are four key lessons:

1. Social entrepreneurs connect the dots in new ways.

When Patrick started Fairtrasa, he first focused on two new and undeveloped products: fair-trade Mexican avocados and fair-trade Argentinian wine. Back in 2005, most fair trade products were constrained to coffee, bananas and chocolate. Patrick saw possibility in developing these two new products. Social entrepreneurs need to have this same sort of vision, he told the audience—but they can still work, as he did, within an existing model.

2. Social enterprise gives you impact, but it also gives you returns.

Despite being a for-profit company, Fairtrasa is still a social enterprise. Fairtrasa currently partners with 6,500 farmers in developing countries. These farmers usually see income over eight times higher with Fairtrasa than they would normally get selling to large produce conglomerate middlemen. The combination of better prices and farmer education (resulting in 50% higher yields) helps to lift Fairtrasa’s farmers out of poverty. All the while, Fairtrasa still makes a profit despite their higher direct produce purchase and education expenses. Just because a company is for-profit, does not mean that the company cannot be socially conscious and beneficial to people beyond its shareholders.

3. Social entrepreneurship doesn’t work without conscious consumers.

One of the most difficult challenges that fair-trade and other social enterprises often present is that consumers must be willing to pay more. Some consumers simply do not have the discretionary income to buy what are often higher-priced fair-trade products. Other consumers simply do not care all that much whether their avocados were grown on a small farm or a large plantation. These constraints made for an interesting marketing challenge for Fairtrasa. Because many Western Europeans were more aware of fair-trade and receptive to its social impact, Fairtrasa debuted in Western Europe and has only recently come to the United States and China. Social entrepreneurs need to be aware of these marketing challenges and plan accordingly.

4. Social entrepreneurs don’t teach people how to fish; they revolutionize the fishing industry.

Oftentimes, the traditional nonprofit economic development model focuses on education instead of direct aid with the hopes that beneficiaries will then be able to use their education to better their economic standing. While education is important (and as seen with Fairtrasa, integral to the mission), if there is no market or an underdeveloped/corrupt market in which beneficiaries can use their skills, it is difficult for the person to get ahead. Where Fairtrasa has been so successful is with its unique combination of farming education and fair-trade prices. Because farmers are educated and also have a working market in which they can sell, they are able to escape the cycle of poverty that trapped previous generations.

COMING UP: On Thursday, November 12, 12-1p.m. join Patrick and Rob Lalka, a partner at Medora Ventures, for “Introduction to Social Finance and Venture Capital Investments” at YEI (254 Elm St., 3rd Floor – Door to left of Tyco). Learn about the various social financing options and how you can get funding for your social venture. REGISTER HERE. This event will also feature a Social Venture Elevator Pitch from 1-2pm. All students welcome to submit ideas to share before the group in 1 minute or less and receive valuable feedback from Patrick and Rob. SIGN UP HERE.

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The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute is offering office hours with entrepreneurial experts who are part of the YEI network. Book one-on-one time with an experienced YEI mentor or associate who can give you the insider advice and strategic insight you need to fine tune your startup idea and business plan.

kyle jensenKyle Jensen: Kyle is volunteer mentor at YEI, and co-teaches YEI’s lean startup workshop Start Something with YEI Program Director Alena Gribskov. He is also an angel investor, scientist and entrepreneur. Kyle has cofounded three ventures: Pit Rho, motorsport analytics; PriorSmart, patent litigation analytics (acquired by RPX Corp, Nasdaq:RPXC); and Agrivida, renewable fuels and chemicals. He has a Ph.D. from MIT. YEI Office Hours: Fridays, noon-2 p.m.

patrick struebiPatrick Struebi: A business and social entrepreneur, Patrick founded Fairtrasa, a company that lifts small-scale farmers out of poverty by providing them with technical know-how and linking them to local and international markets. Fairtrasa pioneered the first fair trade avocados in Mexico and then replicated its sustainable business model in Peru, Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Today, Fairtrasa represents over 5,000 farmers and has grown to become the largest fair trade and organic fruit exporter from Latin America with a vertically integrated business structure. Patrick is an Ashoka Fellow, a former Yale World Fellow, an Endeavor Entrepreneur, and was named “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” in Mexico in 2009 (Visionaris), and two times in 2012 by the abc* foundation and Univision. YEI Office Hours: Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Tom Jasinski: Tom is a senior executive with expertise in both startups and global brands. His strategic strength lies in developing deep customer insight from a wide range of branded product and communications assignments, ranging from software, to grocery, to entertainment and retail services. He has operational experience in both startup and global brand organizations, with a focus on building teams that blend creative excellence with strategic rigor to deliver profitable growth. YEI Office Hours: Wednesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Sign up for YEI Office Hours here!

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