Shark Tank contestant and joint owner of SAP! Beverages, Charles (Chas) Smith believes the economies of the United States and Trinidad and Tobago may be polar opposites, but the drive, determination and grit of the entrepreneurial spirit are the same.
Smith was speaking to reporters prior to making a presentation at a workshop at Holy Faith Convent, Penal. The aim of the workshop was to build the spirit of entrepreneurship in the students.
“It is very hard and it takes a lot of determination and grit to really get something off the ground, but it is very empowering to be able to work for yourself.”
“We are very supportive of entrepreneurship of any kind, we are big advocates of young people starting their own businesses and trying to help people think about what they can do in the future and giving them new options about what they can do for work.”
Smith, 29, also acknowledged that funding may prove challenging for start-up businesses, but noted that communities may be able to come together to assist young entrepreneurs.
“One of the big challenges is funding for businesses here because a lot of people have great ideas. But it is one thing to have great ideas and it’s another thing to turn that into something real, but we are really trying to inspire people to be their own bosses and really help solve problems in their local communities.”
Smith is a member of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Professional Fellows Reciprocal Exchange Programme, which is partially funded by the US State Department. The programme seeks to promote entrepreneurship in the region.
He said SAP! Beverages is a non-alcoholic beverage company based in the US state of Vermont which began operations about three years ago.
“We make healthy non-alcoholic sparkling beverages that are made out of the water of maple and birch trees, maple sap and birch sap. They are really nutritious and very similar to something like coconut water but have a different kind of taste but the same kind of health benefits.”
“We are making our own products so now we are looking to expand our business using a wider range of flavours and other ingredients.”
Smith said although the company is young it has made significant inroads with its products, now being sold in over 1,000 stores throughout the north-eastern US.
So how did he hit upon the idea of using maple and birch sap to make a drink.
“In the United States right now, all the products on the market are moving towards a healthier option for people, whether it is in food or beverage.
"People are really starting to look at sugar and fat and salt and really examining what we are putting into our bodies, so in the United States, there are these big health trends right now away from sugar, and our products, they have a little bit of sugar in them but they are really nutrient-dense and have less sugar than the colas.”
He said the sugars within the drink are “completely natural" as the products are “single ingredients so we don’t add sugar or water or anything, so the maple is completely pure.”
“And the second reason is our family has been in the maple syrup industry. We have been producing those products for over five generations. The maple sap, if you add heat to it and boil it and turn it into maple syrup, but if you take the water directly from the tree, you can make great drinks out of it.”
Vermont makes 70 per cent of the maple syrup in the US.
Smith also touched on his appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank. He said although they, (his cousin and business partner, Nikita Salmon) had turned down an offer by one of the sharks (entrepreneurs) to invest in the company, SAP! had witnessed a growth in demand.
“It was awesome,” he said, adding he had never visited Los Angeles prior to appearing on the show.
“We just learned so much, we got so much good advice but we didn’t accept the deal that was offered to us. It was a great experience and that has helped build the brand and built awareness of the company.”
Meanwhile, Kristle Gangadeen, who was instrumental in bringing Smith to Trinidad, said the workshop was to raise awareness about entrepreneurship and creative thinking.
“We want to show them that it’s not just the kids in the business class but scientists and the humanities children, people who do food and nutrition can become entrepreneur and be part of the entrepreneurial eco-system which our country so desperately needs.”
Gangadeen, who attended Holy Faith Convent, said one of her goals is to start an entrepreneurship school in the new school term.