From PHD to start-up

From PhD.jpg

It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment I decided to start Azure. I tell people that I fleshed out the idea for the business with my father over two years ago, after returning from my 2nd trip to Mexico doing research. My dad was so excited that two weeks later, Azure Foods Limited was created without my knowledge. The business idea also sprung during my first trip to Philadelphia, again, for research purposes. It was whilst sipping coffee and listening to the story of Amigos de Ozolco from one of my participants. When I think about it more, the idea was planted when living on top of Popocatepetl, an active volcano, ruminating over the incredible uses that can be made of blue corn. And that’s when I thought: fuck, I got to do this.

Azure Food Ltd is a company I started for dual purposes: provide one of the healthiest gluten free snacks out there made of blue corn pinole and support thousands and thousands of indigenous farmers in Mexican who live on the poverty line.

Pinole is a powder made from blue corn. It’s prepared using a traditional Aztec recipe that allows pinole to keep for up to 5 years. If that wasn’t cool enough, it’s absolutely delicious. My participants taught me how to prepare it as a warm, comforting drink but I learned that you can also cook delicious desserts with it like muffins, cheesecakes, milkshakes… you name it. Best part: it’s gluten-free. And gluten-free snacks are the fastest growing market of the food industry. So I put two and two together and launched myself from a PhD into a start-up.

This idea grew from 4 years of a wrenching doctoral research at Oxford University, investigating the group of farmers who grow blue corn in Mexico and the group that sold pinole in Philadelphia. I’ve travelled from libraries in Oxford to boxing rings in Mexico, through corn fields of blue, white and red corn fields in Puebla… I’ve witnessed first-hand how difficult life can be for small isolated villages that survive through remittances sent by relatives abroad. I realised throughout that there were all these networks of people and of corn that continuously link Mexico’s indigenous communities to some of the US’s largest cities.

The big question was how to plug these indigenous farmers into the global economy.

Azure is part of the answer. By promoting and selling pinole and pinole snacks, it contributes directly to stimulating local economies, preserving traditional farming practices (intercropping) and indigenous communities and an incredibly rich genetic biodiversity.

This blog is a weekly update of how I am building (or failing to build) Azure into a successful business. I’ve quickly realised that despite having done research for over 4 years on pinole, I know nearly nothing about selling the stuff. A bittersweet lesson has been the realisation that those I expected help from couldn’t or wouldn’t. Instead, my mind has been blown away by the number of strangers who have come with advice, support, time and attention. I love being part of this world even if there’s an 80% chance Azure will fail within a year... Looking forward to figuring it out.