“I dreamed up the possibility of bridging traditions that celebrated one's roots. One part from my heritage, the other, from my new home. It just so happened to be chocolate. And that's how the idea began.“
Marielle Flores-Moens was born in the United States and lived in the Philippines before moving to Belgium last year to be with the “love of her life”, Matthias, who’s now her husband.
After completing her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication in 2007, she started her first business doing affiliate marketing for a global skin care brand based in the United States.
In Belgium Marielle started developing the idea of combining the two worlds where she lives in and create a product that bridged the cultures together, sharing the best they can offer. This is how Belgian Tableya, a fine-flavoured chocolate product made with Philippine cacao-beans with Belgian chocolate-making expertise, was born.
With this brilliant idea in mind, Marielle registered her company, Theo & Brom, in 2018. As Belgium is renowned worldwide for its artisanal chocolate and the Philippines is an emerging producer of fine-quality cacao beans, , it felt like the perfect combination. Right after registering her business, Marielle became a member of the Social Club in Ghent to expand her network in Belgium and she rented a small office in a co-working space where she could meet other people.
Despite her drive and motivation, she had a few initial challenges, the biggest of which was finding a good chocolate-maker in Belgium who wanted to collaborate and produce the Tableya chocolate. Marielle reached out to numerous chocolatiers, but each time she was knocking on a closed door:
“I faced rejection countless of times after pitching to almost every chocolatier I could find in Belgium. That did not stop me from believing in my dream until someone said yes to take my project to life.”
Eventually she found a very well-known well-known cocoa consultant who was interested in the project and wanted to help her.
Since the beginning, Marielle has always been very proactive. She looked up some online resources about doing business in Belgium; however, a lot of the information is in Dutch, a language she she has not mastered yet. Moreover, she needed access to funding to be able to start up, produce and bring her products to the market. She run successful crowdfunding campaign, but this was not enough to develop her business further and she hit some cashflow difficulties.
This was when she got in touch with microStart thanks to Racso, a Filipino artist based in Belgium, who already used of microStart’s services. Marielle applied for a loan and was assigned to a business advisor, who assessed her and her business idea. She had a good case, but she needed to strengthen her credit application: she submitted it twice before it was accepted. Marielle was also paired with two mentors who provided advice on marketing and business and financial planning.
She is incredibly resourceful and continues to look for new opportunities. She has been recently selected for the “Start-It” @ KBC Programme, Belgium’s largest accelerator program, which also supports prospective young entrepreneurs. Marielle was one of the nominees for the micro-entrepreneur of the year awards (MEY-awards) in the category of Women Entrepreneurs.
Reflecting on her journey, Marielle says:
“These tableyas are born of tenacity. Of a firm resolve and sheer determination. While all great things start with a dream, ours started with a bean.”
microStart is a leading Belgian microfinance institution, which provides loans and business advice to entrepreneurs who want to develop their activities. It is part of the Youth Business Europe programme, a regional initiative supported by the Citi Foundation to help young entrepreneurs to start or grow a business.