February 22, 2024

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Trinidad & TobagoTrinidad & Tobago
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Several cocoa entrepreneurs will be able to take their businesses to the next level after being successfully matched with investors, said InvesTT.
In a statement the state agency said the Trinitario Cocoa Webinar Series, done in collaboration with the European Union, came to a conclusion on September 28, 2022.
The organisation said the grand finale of the three-part series, entitled “The Cocoa Pitch”, was designed as a ‘Shark Tank’ styled business pitch event.
Two youth start-ups and five medium-sized cocoa SMEs were given the opportunity to present a robust business pitch to investors, resource providers and key industry players with the aim of accessing technical, financial and capacity-building support and mentorship to start-up or scale their cocoa business operations.
EU Ambassador Peter Cavendish said the EU was proud to have been part of this venture.
“The Trinitario Cocoa Webinar Series has become a rich carnival, caravan tour of Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa and chocolate producers. This heritage industry is moving forward to find and delight consumers worldwide with what every Trinbagonian knows, that the best chocolate is close to home – and the European Union has been proud to be a part of this dynamic.”
Trade Minister Paula Gopee Scoon said the sector is “a strategic commodity with the potential to generate foreign exchange and contribute to economic diversification.”
“The exports of primary and value added cocoa products increased by 31% over the period 2020 to 2021, from approximately TT$93 Million to over TT$122 Million. Of this increase, the European market accounted for 41%.”
“There is a clear demand for our products, however, what is needed are innovators to create new products and experiences, and entrepreneurs to ensure that these products are made available.” 
Sekou Alleyne, President, InvesTT said the venture will aid the local cocoa industry.
“The success of episodes 1 and 2 and the execution of The Cocoa Pitch event have enabled us [InvesTT] to fast forward the cocoa business agenda by facilitating investor matchmaking opportunities among European chocolatiers, investors and local cocoa stakeholders.”
Pramilla Ramdahani, Vice President, Investments, InvesTT also shared that the Series aimed to increase bean to bar opportunities and joint venture/FDI opportunities.
With 750 attendees in Episodes 1 and 2, and 244 attendees in Episode 3, representing over 32 countries worldwide inclusive of the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Singapore, Ghana and Jamaica, Mrs Ramdahani expressed confidence that the outcomes of the webinar series will contribute towards the development of a thriving and collaborative cocoa ecosystem.
The organisation said two youth start-ups;  GEM, owned by Giselle Mills and 19-year-old youth cocoa entrepreneur Oshun Matthews, owner of Tamana Mountain Chocolate both delivered strong business cases.
Three SMEs presented their pitches next; Ashley Parasram, founder of the Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company, Tobias Schulze Frenkling representing the Original Trinitario Cluster and Vanessa Moses, Director at Caribbean Roasters.
At the end of each pitch, the distinguished group of panelists comprising Crisen Maharaj, Manager of Capacity Building and Funding at ExporTT, Michael Mcquilkin, Manager, Investment Banking at Republic Bank, John Hadad, Group Co-Chief Executive Officer, HADCO Group, Sandy Roopchand, CEO/Managing Director at Royal Castle and Markus Mann, Producer-Artist-Entrepreneur, shared thoughtful comments and invaluable insights on how each entrepreneur/enterprise can advance their cocoa ventures through various grant funding programmes and partnership and/or mentorship opportunities.
The panellists also posed a series of questions to each pitch presenter which enabled presenters and the live virtual audience to gain firsthand insights into the requirements for a compelling, investment-ready business case.
Next on the agenda was a special presentation made by Professor Pathmanathan Umaharan, Director at the Cocoa Research Centre, UWI, where he highlighted the Chocolate Island initiative, a cocoa, carbon and community innovative project which seeks to attract Impact Investment into the cocoa sector in Trinidad and Tobago, and contribute towards building sustainable cocoa based supply chains.
All attendees were then given a sneak peek into a short film entitled “Trinitario – On The Edge”, produced by filmmaker Denise Speck, who joined from Europe to introduce the trailer video. The documentary explores the storyline of the world-famous Trinitario Cocoa, birthed right here in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Cocoa Accelerator Network was highlighted after, whereby the live virtual audience and all pitch presenters would have been edified on various opportunities to access resources and/or funding required for business growth, such as the Shaping the Future of Innovation project, the Linking Farmers Platform and Government’s Grand Fund Facility, the latter allowing individuals to access up to a maximum of TT250,000 to finance 50 per cent of the cost of acquiring new machinery and equipment.
Albada Beekham, Director of Research at the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries reaffirmed the Ministry’s commitment to support cocoa agri-entrepreneurs through the Agriculture Finance Support Programme, among other initiatives.
All three episodes in the series were moderator by Jessie-May Ventour, a seasoned broadcaster and media professional who effortlessly managed the conversations and ensured a seamless, interactive, informative and enjoyable experience for all. 
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