In this series, we interview Wesleyan students and recent alumni who have founded businesses, nonprofits, and social enterprises. This post features Renee Dunn ’14, founder of Amazi, a mindful food company. Renee has been a guest speaker for the Patricelli Center Fellowship. Read other Student Startup stories here.
Tell us about your startup:
Amazi is a mindful food company, on a mission to help you Snack on Purpose – impeccably sourcing and uniquely crafting clutter-free fruit snacks. Not only are all Amazi products minimally processed with clean ingredients, they’re also rooted in a strong social mission and commitment to sustainable value-chains by keeping ownership of the product process in country of origin. Produced in partnership with farmers groups and locally owned businesses in Uganda, we aim to promote economic development, job creation, and connected supply chains.
Why did you decide to create your startup?
While at Wes, I studied abroad and did my thesis research in Uganda, researching the political economy of formal enterprise and entrepreneurial environment in Kampala. I was struck by the high degree of hustle, yet perplexed by the persistent lack of business growth, employment opportunities, and variety in product offerings. Businesses were transient and short-lived, hedging the growth potential of the entrepreneurs behind them and limited in their value addition, industry, or innovation. With such a rich agricultural sector and staggering unemployment, I wanted to encourage local Agriprocessing to provide growth avenues and local supply chains, and figured the best way to do that was to be the market connection. Enter Amazi!
How did you choose your legal structure and what was it like incorporating?
LLC (single member). As far as I recall, it wasn’t that complicated – though I did have a cousin in corporate law help me through it. I incorporated in Delaware. I think the harder part is doing business in the DC area I have to consistently navigate compliance and registrations in 3 states…DC, MD, VA.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had many challenges along the way (product consistency/managing product development internationally was definitely one of the larger issues I faced in the first year), but I think I’m still on the brink of our biggest challenge. It’s time for us to grow to the next level to really get any traction in this space, and I consistently struggle with the balance of keeping us competitive while simultaneously maintaining commitment to our mission. Scaling in a way that is sustainable and impactful at a small, startup scale is a constant puzzle – especially given that this is my first stint in the CPG space, and I’m learning as I go! We’re still very much in the start up phases, and with limited resources and bandwidth (Amazi is still essentially a one-woman show) it’s hard to ramp up – we’re competing in a space with companies that are less concerned with sourcing standards, or don’t have to deal with complex international sourcing. They just focus on sales and business development, whereas my energy right now is split. My priority now is to shift that and delegate or outsource as many of the operations as possible, so I can focus on driving Amazi forward – because what difference does our mission make if we don’t survive as a business?
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t worry so much about getting it right (still relevant).
Try Amazi (you can find it on campus, check out our full list of retailers, or order online), request our products at your favorite grocery stores/coffee shops, and share with your friends! Even following us on Instagram (@amazifoods) or checking out our site Amazifoods.com is a boost. Anything to build brand awareness. Oh, and if you’re looking for a job or internship with a dynamic food startup – shoot me an email ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). We’re looking to build out both our operations and sales teams.