Case Studies

Chocolate-loving entrepreneur scales snack business bite-by-bite

originally in the financial post

Mariam Ekram loved athleticism, sports and fitness, so she couldn’t understand why she was still having chronic health issues. When she turned to a nutritionist she found her answer. “She said the way I was eating was terrible,” laughs Ekram. “So I decided to change my whole lifestyle and started eating really, really clean.”

Taking matters into her own hands

As a chocolate and snack lover however, finding clean, healthy snacks free of preservatives and filler proved to be difficult for Ekram. “I couldn’t find anything that satisfied my sweet tooth and my need to eat clean,” she says. “So I took matters into my own hands and started making small, healthy, snacks for myself. My friends told me that they really liked them and before long I started selling them at the gym I worked at. People loved them and it slowly started growing.”

Her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and Kewaza snacks were born. Her business started gaining real traction when she started going store to store to get her tasty snack to a wider audience. A few stores turned into about 50 and became too big for her to tackle alone. She signed a deal with a distributor, moved into her own kitchen facility and in 4 years Kewaza now has 8 different products and is in more than 600 locations.  Ekram also recently finished shooting an episode of Dragon’s Den featuring her Kewaza chocolates that will air this season.

“It has evolved organically,” says Ekram, who acknowledges being an entrepreneur has brought lots of challenges. “There’s no one stop shop that tells you this is how you exactly start a business. This is how you budget. This is how you don’t overspend or be overly optimistic. I made a lot of mistakes.”

But the learning process has only strengthened her resolve and made her realize she can’t go it alone. “A part of that process is knowing how to manage cash flow,” she says. “Managing cash as an entrepreneur is one of the biggest challenges.”

Managing cash flow with FundThrough

Running her own kitchen and maintaining her own equipment is a big expense. As Kewaza grew, waiting on invoices became a burden. “FundThrough lets us pay the immediate payments that need to go out and keeps us afloat,” says Ekram. “When we’re so small that banks won’t give us a loan, it’s the push entrepreneurs need. It’s a solution to a problem that keeps entrepreneurs up at night. If you’re in a constant state of worry you’re not at your best performance level.”

FundThrough uses state-of-the-art technology to connect directly with those financial tools a business owner like Ekram is already using, such as QuickBooks accounting software and her business bank account. Within hours the entrepreneur can access their customized funding limit from as little as $500 up to millions if needed.

“There’s no lengthy application process so customers like Mariam don’t have to wait a long time to get approved,” says Steven Uster, FundThrough’s founder and CEO. “Owners only take what they need, with repayment broken up into manageable weekly payments. It’s all automated and transparent.”

Looking to the future of business (and of chocolate)

The automated system FundThrough uses alleviates a lot of stress for new entrepreneurs, whose time commitments are already stretched thin. The company’s focus on customer service is also much appreciated by business owners like Ekram. “They want to see you succeed,” she says. “Entrepreneurs have a common trait in worrying about growth. Having someone who cares and helps can make all the difference. They are continuously asking how they can work to make us better. I appreciate FundThrough is there with me hand-in-hand as I grow.”

Now that Kewaza continues to have success, Ekram is looking at expanding. She has signed new distribution deals and plans to launch bigger product lines. She says being an entrepreneur has lots of ups and downs but with those comes the power of having a positive mindset. “I think entrepreneurship is 80% mindset,” she says. “It’s the resilience and perseverance within the individual that helps them get through the challenges. I have the capacity to manufacture other products, like brownies and cookies. Now it’s about making my creative vision a reality. FundThrough allows me to do that.”

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