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From SheEO NZ winners to the Forbes 30 under 30 list: How the Chia Sisters are gaining global momentum

SheEO Summit is a New Zealand organisation that raises funding to help grow female-run businesses. Led by Theresa Gattung in New Zealand, every year the crowd-funding initiative brings together up to 500 local female activators who each contribute $1000 to create the funding pool for five early-stage New Zealand female-led companies. This year, the Chia Sisters ‘Bottled By the Sun’, New Zealand’s first and only solar-powered juice, were awarded a share of up to $500,000 of an interest-free loan.

The funding will enable the sisters to bankroll their ambitious plans for international expansion, along with give them access to invaluable business mentoring via SheEO’s expansive women’s network.

“It feels incredible as a young female founder to have that support,” says co-founder Florence Van Dyke. “Yesterday we met the 250 activators that had all paid money to see us succeed. The feeling of that type of support was incredible, it makes you realise that with the right connections anyone can succeed, and as young women we don’t often feel like we have those connections… Seeing all those women that want to help us was just overwhelming.”

“Hundreds of women stepped forward and invested in us,” comments Chloe Van Dyke, sister and co-founder. “This was incredibly humbling and I feel very supported, it is more than any business could hope for, not just the financial support but that we have a global network of women helping us succeed.”

The announcement follows Florence Van Dyke’s inclusion in the 2019 Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 List just last week. Her sister Chloe only didn’t qualify as she sits at age 34.

Florence and Chloe Van Dyke.

“I was overwhelmed [with the Forbes recognition]. Chloe and I had filled out the application in November last year. I hadn’t received any word from them since then. So, it was a real surprise to say the least.”

“They just sent me an email with the Forbes 30 under 30 summit information that is happening in Hong Kong come July, and said congratulations enjoy your day… It was quite casual.”

Chloe agreed that the Forbes recognition was appreciated on a personal level, but also comments that this opens further doors for sustainable businesses to be recognised for their efforts, rather than just for profit.

“It shows that there is a shift on the world stage that no longer applauds business growth at the expense of everything surrounding it,” says Chloe. “It means that it will no longer be just ethically minded businesses trying to do the right thing, all businesses will need to reconsider how they are doing business and what their environmental and social impact is, because people are starting to care.”

Florence and Chloe have been stocking their food and beverage options in retail outlets since 2012, with an international expansion taking up their focus in the last few years. Florence, a national champion triathlete, says the Forbes inclusion was a great recognition of their hard work so far.

“I don’t think anything specifically has changed since getting that recognition, but it is really nice to see us recognised for a commitment to our values around sustainability, nutrition, and innovation. We’ve worked really hard on those in the last year or two, so I think more than anything else it’s a nice acknowledgment of that.”

Chia was first established as a sports recovery drink, but since then the sisters have now expanded into Awaka, a coconut water-based hydration drink, Bottled by the Sun New Zealand’s first and only solar-powered juicery, and their latest venture; a Hemp based smoothie, which will launch in coming months. The SheEO Summit has allowed the sisters to grow these ventures quicker, as a share of around $250,000 will be used in global marketing and increased product innovations.

“We are going to use the investment for expansion into export markets, and for product innovation,” says Florence. “We have exciting new beverage ranges in the works… One being our new Hemp Protein Smoothie, which will be New Zealand’s first plant protein smoothie. We’re just working on launch over the next couple of months.”

“We have been working on it for the last six months, but this investment has definitely helped move things along quicker… SheEO’s investment will make an immense difference to our business planning, the impossible is possible now. It will springboard us into being able to make moves that would otherwise have been a while off.”

Moves such as global expansion have been on the cards for a while, as the company has ties in New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. Moving into these overseas markets is a constant learning ability agrees Florence, as research lies in the heart of understanding your customer.

“I think the most important thing we’ve learnt is that you have to get to know your customer in every market that you go to. You can’t just assume that your average New Zealand target market will be the same in Australia, it’s really important to do that research.”

“The Australian consumer is not hugely different, but there are certain things that do come into play. Like Australians have a much higher disposable income, especially in the city centers where we are targeting. Brunch is on the rise in Australia, much more than it is here in New Zealand. We have done research that shows brunch is the most important meal eaten out, even replacing fine dining… understanding little nuances like that has helped us in the market.”

Florence admits having a strong influence in their home country is easier, as their location and local contacts mean they have a constant finger on the pulse.

“In some ways, it’s a lot harder to scale to an international market because we’re less sure about what is going to happen. In New Zealand we grew organically, we took our products to local cafes and supermarkets, then it got picked up by New World and Countdown, so we had a much better first hand understanding of the market, and that made it easier to predict what would work and what wouldn’t.”

“We do a lot of research into international markets, but you’re never going to know an export market as well as you know your own. And being completely reliant on people who aren’t part of your business can be difficult.”

Florence credits their strong hold within both local and international markets to a growing global trend of health and wellbeing, one which expands past what consumers are buying and into the effect they’re having from their purchasing habits.

“I think that people are more interested in putting nutritious food and drink in their bodies now, and they are realising the impact that food and beverage has on their general wellbeing. I also think consumers are starting to hunt for more food and drink options that are sustainable… Sustainability is one of our core values and last year we became New Zealand’s first solar powered juicer. We also bottle in recycled glass, and we’re one of the only food companies in New Zealand to have a near zero waste manufacturing process.”

Chia was also named the nation’s healthiest food at the New Zealand Food Awards.

“Sustainability extends to the way we treat our team. We really want our employees to thrive, and that means we are paying all of our employees, including those on the bottling line, above the living wage.”

The sisters have always had this sustainable nutritious outlook as a core value in their ventures, one which is well received by both consumers and now investors alike.

“The feedback has been very positive. We get emails every day from people that absolutely love our ranges… It’s fantastic to hear, especially when we’ve been working on it for a long time.

The investment is a goal by the SheEO New Zealand Summit to get more women lead businesses thriving locally and internationally. At present women owned businesses are only receiving only four per cent of venture capital globally, with less than one percent of corporate procurement going to women-led business.

“SheEO is about changing the way we do business to think more about how we can grow our business in a thoughtful way that acknowledges our environment, community, and family,” says Chloe. “This means the mentoring is looking at the whole picture which feels very supportive. I am very passionate about female leadership, but even more so about supporting all people who are trying to implement positive change. At the moment I am at the receiving end of that support but I hope to be able to give it back and share my learning’s from this experience.”

Florence agrees with the SheEO’s outlook, that there is a lack of women lead business in New Zealand, one which the sisters are also trying to help change. The sisters have offered their own services to help upcoming businesses who may be after advice on the SheEO Summit or how they can get involved. 

“I would love to talk to anyone in interested in applying for SheEO or may be nervous about investment opportunities or growing their business. We really want to help other succeed, and that’s a huge part of our business ethos. We are really in the business of helping others…We’re always looking to learn, and every opportunity to do that is a fantastic one for us. So, we are really excited to get started on the mentoring.”

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