Despite the cold, coffee lovers gathered at a corner of the room in Webster’s Bookstore Café for the discussion on Haiti’s economy and its coffee production on Wednesday, November 7. Panelists, including members of Biatha, Penn State professors and guests sat on chairs which formed a somewhat crooked circle.
Jobi Calixte is the founder and president of Biatha (www.biatha.com), the State College-based company which imports coffee directly from Haitian farmers and sells it to State College locals since June, 2012.
She was motivated to start a business after visiting Haiti, Calixte says.
“I didn’t mean to start a business. It’s just my personality. When I see a need, I try to fix it,” she explains.
“I want people to know that we are open to feedback. I want to do this and ask for feedback specifically and just reach out to people and say ‘hey, we want to hear what you have to say.’ If you have an idea, an opinion, tell me whatever it is because we are students just like them, or younger than them. We haven’t figured out [about running a business] or we don’t pretend that we’ve figured it out.
The second thing is, we want people to know that this is just a beginning. We’ll keep going with it. Haiti has so many opportunities and people don’t realize that. We just want to start a dialogue, start a conversation, about poverty in Haiti and what we can do to eradicate it,” says the senior finance major.
Among the guests was Ernestine Hunter, a senior labor and employment relations major.
“I saw one of the ads posted in the library and I was interested so I emailed [Calixte]. Then I saw another ad at the Pattee/Paterno and you know, I thought ‘why not check this out.’ I wanted to know more about coffee,” Hunter says. “I learned that it takes a lot to start up a company. From all of [Calixte’s] experiences, you have to network a lot. Networking is very important.”
Nicole Webster, a professor in the College of Agricultural Science, who attended event as one of the panelists says Biatha “has so much potential to be very successful. [The Biatha team] just ha[s] to stay focused, using this platform to reach out to others who have experience to help them get better connected—both Penn State and on a state-wide level, to some extent national level.”
“After hearing more about [Biatha], I definitely plan to be involved as much as they allow me. It’s very interesting, exciting,” Webster adds.
With so much support, it seems like the company is headed in a good direction.
“I’m really looking forward to growing this company,” Calixte says. “I’m a finance major and looking into a career track. I’m thinking like what I’m going to after I graduate. I see [Biatha] in my future… I really want to keep this going, see how big we can get. Right now we are looking for funding. I know we can do this. We have an awesome team.”
Calixte and her team at Biatha are also competing in Penn State’s annual Ag Business Springboard Competition, a business plan presentation competition.
Photo by Fuli Wang