Hoya Highlight: Emily Stone (C'07)

Emily Stone (C'07)

Co-founder and CEO, Maya Mountain Cacao

Describe your current position and what led you to take your job.

I started Maya Mountain Cacao in 2010 in collaboration with chocolate makers and indigenous Maya farmers in Central America. We are building an industry-shifting alternative to traditional commodity and certification models in the cocoa supply chain, facilitating direct and meaningful relationships between farmers and buyers. I came at the work originally from a social and environmental impact perspective, and that is still the driving force behind everything I do to grow Maya Mountain. One of the projects I am most excited about now is the world-class demonstration farm we are building in collaboration with an indigenous Maya community in southern Belize. Check out our Kickstarter to learn more!

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

Organizing myself out of a job by developing leadership in our team to take over running day-to-day operations. I have done almost every job at Maya Mountain, from recruiting farmers to fermenting cacao to entering bookkeeping data in spreadsheets and Quickbooks, but now I can focus more of my time on strategic, big-picture problems and solutions. I am extremely proud of the nearly 100 percent indigenous Maya team in Belize for taking on a very steep learning curve and driving the company toward success—everyone works hard and smart and gets the job done, despite very little prior education or experience in running a business.

Describe the launch of your company, Maya Mountain Cacao.  What was the most surprising aspect of the startup process?

I moved to Belize in 2010 after learning about the interest of some chocolate makers in buying organic cocoa from Belize. The country had never exported cocoa to the U.S. before and was struggling with a failed commercial experience exporting to Europe, so there was a great market opportunity. I literally started by knocking on farmers' doors, hitchhiking or taking buses to reach out to these very rural communities. Luckily, I met a young farmer early on who was interested in helping me get the word out by translating the concept of a new market structure into Q'eqchi Maya, the local dialect spoken by most farmers in Belize. This farmer, Gabriel Pop, is now an owner of the company and a key leader of the business. Looking back, the most surprising aspect of the startup process was that we made it through the infinite challenges we faced! Perseverance and optimism pay off. Anything is possible.

What was the most useful advice you have received?

Do not be afraid. Fearlessness is key in entrepreneurship. A mentor once compared it to trying backflips off of a dock as a kid—you need to have faith in your own ability to make it happen. Many people will stare and some will cover their eyes in fear as you take your leaps in building your business, but move forward with confidence and you will surprise yourself in nailing it.

Describe the most challenging moment in your professional development.

I studied sociology and Arabic at Georgetown. I literally changed majors to avoid taking any finance courses. Documenting, analyzing and understanding the business' financial history and trajectory is a constant challenge as I have learned it all on the job, but has become one that I have learned to enjoy. There is nothing more satisfying to a business owner than the clarity of a well-designed financial model.

What education or skills prepared you the most for your career?

After Georgetown, I did a one-year leadership program in environmental organizing called Green Corps. It was one of the hardest jobs I've ever had, but Green Corps emblazoned in my brain the critical skills of managing a team, strategic planning, effectively communicating a message to the public and handling failure with grace and optimism.

What resources have aided in your professional development?

In 2013, I was selected as a McNulty Fellow and entrepreneur in the Agora Partnerships accelerator program, which dramatically increased my financial fluency and ability to apply financial considerations to strategic planning while connecting me with a network of dozens of social entrepreneurs throughout Latin America. I highly recommend that all newbie entrepreneurs seek accelerator programs to support their networking, fundraising and education goals.

Describe why you started Maya Mountain Cacao and what you see for it in the future.

I started Maya Mountain Cacao because I was frustrated by the chocolate industry's overreliance on certification models to improve the lives of the more than five million smallholder cacao farmers around the world. Since our founding in 2010, we have created a dramatic disruption in the industry, working with eight chocolate makers in the U.S. and Europe and with more than 75 on our waiting list. We have been covered in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Huffington Post and more. This past year, we scaled our model and incorporated a sister company in Guatemala, the first exporter of premium cacao from indigenous communities to the U.S. I see our business continuing to grow into new geographies, impacting thousands of farming families and creating a new model that could be replicated not just in cocoa but in other high-value commodities as well.

What aspect of the Georgetown University experience had the greatest influence on your professional aspirations?

Georgetown's sociology curriculum had a number of courses focused on trade, globalization and the Americas. Professors like Timothy Wickham-Crowley challenged my pre-existing notions of economic structures and economic justice, opening my mind to innovative new possibilities. I have stayed in touch with a number of my most influential professors over the years, and I'm so grateful to them for their support. The Georgetown community thrives on concepts of justice and empowerment, truly a gift to all students.