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Sorrel processing invention gets DBJ funding

Thursday, August 20, 2015

WHEN Allison Turner approached the Development Bank of Jamaica two years ago she had something more than an idea and her robust entrepreneurial drive. She and her husband Oral had a really rough prototype for peeling sorrel fast.

Getting her feet in the door wasn't easy. But sheer determination got her an interview. That lucky day, DBJ's affable Managing Director Milverton Reynolds introduced himself before she saw a programme officer. ""It was clear she wasn't going to take no for an answer," says Reynolds.

That was not an option for Allison. She and Oral had invested too much time in creating the new machine. Oral had tinkered with various ideas for years, and experimented with different tools before he had a Eureka moment and figured out how the gadget would work. "Even some of my kitchen utensils and cutlery got into the mix," says Allison.

Oral finally cobbled together a rough device to peel the petals off the prickly sorrel at a rate that could revolutionise the sorrel industry. Sorrel production is a slow process because peeling the petals is labour-intensive and done by hand.

Enthusiastically, they showed the prototype to farmers who they believed would help them get it ready for production. But everyone wanted it exclusively, while the Turners' idea was to produce something for the industry.

"All who expressed an interest in the machine wanted us to keep it a secret," says Allison. "That just didn't sound right."

So Oral put it aside, and it sat still for a year in their house. Not one to give up, Allison decided to seek funding for it through the DBJ.

When she finally met Chris Browne, a DBJ account executive, he was excited by the prospect of revolutionising sorrel production. After he heard her story, Browne asked one vital question: Can you produce this machine at a price affordable to the cottage industries that use sorrel?

Her confident answer secured a grant for the Turners, enabling them to move quickly to produce a more professional prototype and seek a US Patent to make sure this invention was Brand Jamaica all the way.

The model they had taken into DBJ's offices was, to put it kindly, a little rough. But once they proved it could work, Browne knew this was a winner. The partnership born out of that encounter is a living example of how the DBJ is helping MSMEs, and the Turners are grateful.

""Because of the DBJ, our little vision is going to put the Jamaican sorrel industry first in trade of this product," says Allison. She says the agency gave practical support that has helped to fine-tune their strategy and expand their vision. The DBJ grant provided funding to assist in business training, some of which the Turners got at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Montego Bay.

The DBJ had them pitch the business idea to some angel investors, and they found investors almost immediately. "I am glad for the investment," says Allison, "but DBJ's governance is worth much more. I am in awe of their experience, links and ideas."