Catalyst Trade believes that "coffee is a sacrament" inviting us to grab a cup and join them as they revolutionize the way coffee is traded. Co-owner Emily McIntyre was looking for help growing her international business when she found the Oregon SBDC Network Global Trade Center and participated in the Global Trade Management program in the spring of 2020. Faced with the challenges of building a business across multiple continents and cultures, and compounded by a global pandemic, Emily was inspired by the class sessions on cultural competency taught by David Kohl. This is her story.
Emily, what inspired you to start your business? My partners and I have been working together in Ethiopian coffee since 2014. Our continued vision is to shift the way Ethiopian coffee is traded toward better profit distribution throughout the supply chain. Catalyst Trade is a majority Ethiopian-owned business that is founded on the Core Values of Sustainability, Excellence, and Innovation.
Before coming to the SBDC what challenges were you facing in your business? We've had some cross-cultural challenges due to Americans and Ethiopians working closely together in the business. We've also experienced challenges with supplier relationships, the challenges of growth, and of course financing. One constant challenge we face is the hurdle around our lack knowledge and the ability to find resources to solve problems with international trade. Thanks to help from the Global Trade Center we have learned to navigate these challenges successfully.
What types of services did you receive and/or in which programs did you participate? I took the Global Trade Management course in the spring of 2020 and have received counsel from a number of the program’s advisors on a variety of topics since.
How have the services or programs helped you overcome those challenges? As a kid from the Midwest who didn’t leave the United States until I was 30 years old, founding and leading an international business has been challenging on a personal level. I found the Cultural Competency section of the Global Trade Management (GTM) curriculum to be immensely helpful. As David Kohl spoke about the issues inherent in our work It was like lightbulbs went off in my head over and over again! Learning about "high touch vs. low touch" cultures was one of the most insightful moments, because it perfectly described many of the intense interpersonal challenges my business partners and I face as we navigate international relationships. Learning a thought framework with which to interpret many of the things that have happened to me was life-changing and has really improved my ability to understand the various cultural aspects that inform what I do on a daily basis working across Ethiopian and the US cultures.
What have you been doing to innovate (pivot) your business through the adverse conditions surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic? Our cash flow cycle is longer than a year, which means we are constantly pivoting to “be there when the ball lands." 2020 was no different. In February we were about to stop taking orders for the year because we were concerned about growing too quickly. Instead, we ended up using the year to build our team and systems while we helped our customers transition and pivot and pivot over and over again. Heading into 2021, we are planning for a solid growth year, but have a lot of backup plans in mind should we catch any more curve balls.
What would you say to other small business owners thinking of working with the Global Trade Center? If you have any interest in doing international business, I highly recommend the Global Trade Management Course as a primer. However I have found that the real incredible resources are the chance to freely (and respectfully) access the expertise of the program advisors like Warren Banks, Allan Christian, Scott Goddin, Jim Newton, and Dave Kohl as I go through the process of growing and exploring business opportunities. I am deeply grateful that, no matter what I face, I have such exceptional and wise advisors to learn from!
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