This entrepreneur grew up in Port-au- Prince, Haiti, well into her high school years. Post her high school graduation in 2002, Joachim–Sanon-Symietz moved to New-Orleans Louisiana, where she completed her first two years of college.
Seeking a more challenging and rigorous engineering program, she transferred to the University of Michigan (UMich), Ann-Arbor. There she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Operations Engineering in April 2006.
After working across several industries, including beauty, pharmaceutical, financial services and telecommunications; in North America, Asia and the Caribbean, she went on to earn a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania in 2011. Fast forward to 2015, motivated by the need to create jobs in Haiti, she achieved a long- term goal. Joachim- Sanon-Symietz co-founded Les Chocolateries Askanya in Ouanaminthe, a small town in the Northerneastern part of the Caribbean Island.
She’s an avid traveller, having visited 60 countries and counting. She’s committed to mentoring high-school students in Haiti to develop relevant skills to succeed in college and developing Haiti’s next great entrepreneurs. Visit Askanya.ht. Follow on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
SB-C: Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Tell us how that journey began? CJSS: I am from Haiti and already as a teen-ager, I wanted to create positive change and lasting difference in my home country: I wanted to get away from the aid narrative and showcase something positive from our country while creating the many jobs we so need in our rural area (Haiti being generally an agricultural country). I also wanted to create a product that Haitian could be proud of, and that people around the world could savor and fall in love with.
Hence my decisions to study industrial engineering (to learn how to run an a factory or any business in an industrial setting), to obtain a MBA (to learn how to market, sell, raise money and manage human resources), and then gain professional experiences in corporate settings, service industries and in management.
Fifteen years later, I narrowed it down to a Haitian crop – in this case – cacao, (Haitian cacao is among the top 50 in the world). I now worked with more than 3,000 cacao growers (creating the blue collar opportunities) and established a chocolate factory in North Eastern Haiti (8 hours away from the capital Port-au-Prince, hence in the countryside).
SB-C: What are the nuances involved in building a business in the chocolate industry? CJSS: Les Chocolateries Askanya is the first and only Haitian bean-to-bar chocolate company. Our goal is to offer the most delicious and highest quality chocolates made only with Haitian cacao. Therefore, at the start, we partnered with renowned international chocolatiers from Europe, North America and South America (Chloé Doutré-Roussel, Maria Fernanda Di Giocobatti, Charley Wheelock and Duncan Ellinwood) to help us choose our production equipment, train our team and develop our flavors. We also partnered with FECCANO (Federation of Northern Haiti Cacao Growers) to provide us with their certified organic cacao that we use to make our chocolates.
But in addition to having the best raw ingredients, the most qualified trainers and the most dedicated team, we also established all the sections necessary to have a functioning business, mainly: a product development department, a production department, a marketing department, sales department and human resources department. All these sections are necessary to efficiently and successfully run the business.
SB-C: Who has been the most influential force on you since starting your business? CJSS: My husband. He has been so understanding, caring and willing to let me shatter our very comfortable life to realize this dream. I believe that without his unconditional support, I wouldn’t have been successful that quickly. Often we underestimate how the support (or lack of support) of our significant other (and immediate family) can make or break our morale when dealing with entrepreneurial challenges.
SB-C: Our community serves women. Some argue that women have special characteristics that make them great entrepreneurs. Do you agree or disagree? CJSS: The male members of my team tell me that I am very persistent, that I look at challenges in different angles and look for creative solutions. I would say that often, women show that ability to look for and find creative solutions that determine their success.
SB-C: Agriculture is a big aspect of your business. What is it like working with cacao farmers in Haiti? CJSS: Haiti is also an agricultural country – where up to 40% of the active population depends on agriculture for livelihood. However, often, due to the lack of infrastructure or access, they are often unable to obtain sustainable revenues/income for their crops. Les Chocolateries Askanya purchased certified organic fermented and dried cacao from the 3000 farmers of FECCANO while our sister company G&S Cacao obtains wet cacao beans from a network of 200 and growing cacao farmers. We have developed strong relationships with FECCANO management and are able to discuss and solve any issue if/when they arise. In addition, the farmers who sell to G&S Cacao are always happy to welcome us and provide us the best of their crop.
SB-C: What are the major challenges you are facing at the moment and how are you solving them? CJSS: As an entrepreneur, I face the same challenges, you would face in any setting, under funded, under staffed and there's always the unexpected. But we’ve managed to resolve them and move forward. Cool Hunting New York, an award-winning publication that uncovers the latest in design, technology, style, travel, art and culture – in collaboration with Cadillac, named us one of the top 25 entrepreneurial ventures changing the world.
SB-C: What advice would you offer to women interested in developing a confectionary business? CJSS: I would ask them to make sure they have all the pieces of the puzzle aligned. Having a great distribution but no great product can lead to failure. Similarly having a delicious product without the ability to market it properly will not bring success. The entrepreneur does not have to have all the skills herself. But she needs to be aware of the gaps and fill them with trusted and competent resources.
SB-C: We share secrets and success in our community. What has been the secrets to your success thus far? CJSS: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There will be good days, and bad days, but at the end of the day – it’s about how you realize your vision. Without an objective, as well as the will and the plan to implement the said original objective, one would probably not go very far.