Maintaining Success Marked by Entrepreneurship (MSME): Young businesswomen amid the pandemic (3/3)

by Warren John Ancheta, Trisha Alliah Limbo, and Margaux Maria Yzabelle Riola

(This article is the third of a three-part feature article series. Featuring Hayreen Fe Ecura, owner of Ecura’s Delicacies and Ecura’s Home Kitchenette)

The products of Ecura’s Delicacies / Photos from Hayreen Fe Ecura

At the age of 25, Hayreen Fe Ecura of San Luis Aurora established the Ecura’s Delicacies, a home-based food manufacturing business that offers a wide variety of products, pasalubong, snacks, cakes, bilao orders, and birthday packages. Its expansion is Ecura’s Home Kitchenette, a catering service that offers snacks and meals, packed or buffet, to government and private institutions. Ecura’s businesses were known for wholeheartedly practicing its vision to be “a channel of God’s provision to the family and to the community,” and mission “to help in providing the needs of the family, employment to others, support to the youth, mission, and those in need.”

Hayreen took up BA in Social Sciences, Major in Economics, Minor in Political Science in the university of the Philippines Baguio in 2014. After graduation, she committed herself to the calling to serve the Almighty through helping the rural communities in Benguet and became a full-time missionary for four years. But the Lord brought Hayreen back to her home to minister the lives of her own family and community through business. Little did she know, her missionary work is just a preparation for her leading to build a business that would be a channel of God’s grace and provision for the family and other people.

The Background

Ecura family / Photos from Hayreen Fe Ecura

Hayreen’s family has been relying on the food business for a very long time. Her mom used to cook various meals and snacks in which she sells in order to sustain their daily needs. “Naalala ko nung elementary and high school ako, nag-tatry na rin akong magbenta-benta ng mga cakes, graham balls pagdagdag sa gastos sa school… Kapag may mga biglaang gastos sa school, hindi kami yung family na agad mapro-provide nila. So ako, kailangan kong mag-isip ng paraan para kapag may biglaang kaming requirements, kaya ko mag-provide for myself kaya tumutulong din akong magbenta-benta,” Hayreen narrated. 

They get their daily needs from its sales, but there were days that there was nothing left to buy for the ingredients the next day. Hayreen saw it as a problem, but also looked at it as a potential. “I knew our ability to be in greater profits. The heart to help our family to be financially stable, the hope of blessing others by providing them jobs, ito yung mga bagay na nagtulak sa akin to start and focus on the business,” Hayreen stated. 

In 2017, when Hayreen was in missionary work, she discerned the seriousness of the financial issues of her parents. She expressed the struggle with the expected responsibilities upon her as the eldest child to help and support her family. Hence, she prayed and the Lord directed her to go back home and start a business.

Hayreen just initially planned to stay for three years where she intended to just organize and run the business until it became sustainable enough to provide a passive income for the family, but the progress of the business delayed her from going back to church mission. 

The Trials and Triumph

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Ecura’s Delicacies started in 2018 where their major products are pasalubong snacks like banana chips, gabi chips, sampaloc candies, peanuts and other similar products. It was conceptualized since her hometown Aurora was booming in the tourism industry that time. 

Eventually, the business progressively added kakanin, bilao orders, pasta, pastries and more. So in 2021, when Hayreen saw the potential of a business extension, Ecura’s Home Kitchenette, the catering services, was officially registered. 

This business progression has undergone a series of problems especially when it was beginning in which she tried to overcome. Hayreen encountered challenges in marketing, manpower and equipment, competition, and capital. 

In marketing the products, Hayreen started the business where there were already numerous competitors so there were hardships in selling the products. However, she strategized to produce quality products with unique taste that would stand out to other similar products. 

“Ang naging edge kasi namin ay kapag natikman na nung mga tao yung products tapos sila na mismo yung tutulong sa amin na magpromote ng products namin kasi iba daw kaysa sa usual na natitikman namin dito sa probinsya,” Hayreen emphasized.

Moreover, there were also problems when it came to manpower and equipment. Since Ecura’s mom is a government employee and at the same time the only cook, there are limitations in orders. And at first, there was no equipment either. The production only proceeds through manual labor, but later on the business was able to invest in the equipment necessary for the work.

Like in all industries, competition is an issue especially in the nature of businesses in the province. Hayreen said, “’Yung competition, sa probinsya parang kapag nagsimula ka mayroon at mayroong gagaya so ang hirap nung competition pero dapat kasi as business owner or entrepreneur, dapat sharp yung mind mo na mag-isip palagi ng bago para kahit may gumaya sayo mag-ii-stand out at mag-ii-stand out ka pa rin.”

But the most challenging one for Hayreen is the lack of capital. Since the majority of the clients of Ecura’s Home Kitchenette clients are Local Government Units (LGUs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in which the pay is by contract, there are times that the business’ capital is not enough for survival. So Ecura’s Delicacies tries to fund its business extension, resulting in delay to its planned transition into a physical store and restaurant. But it was solved through the guide and provision of the Lord and Hayreen’s friends who are willing to extend help financially. 

The Battles of a Young Woman Entrepreneur

Being a young woman entrepreneur, it was challenging for Hayreen because it seems like she is going against the norm. “…As a young people, ang expected sayo after mo grumaduate, mag-work ka, pumasok ka sa opisina pero hindi kasi ganun yung nangyari sa akin…naging missionary ako tapos, nag-business ako. So, parang… hindi iyon acceptable sa mga tao,” Hayreen told. 

She also expressed the emotional challenge she is going through because of the pressure to follow the success standards of the majority of the people around her, and the discrimination and degradation of pursuing church missions and business. “…Ang hirap panindigan yung choice ko to be an entrepreneur dahil parang hindi ako tanggap… hindi maibigay sa aking yung tiwala at support kasi nga bata [lang ako]… Ang liit ng tingin nila sa mga negosyante. ‘Ang bata mo na nga, magnenegosyante ka pa.’ Ang liit ng tingin nila sa’yo… Nahihirapan akong ipakita sa kanila na this is a good choice, na magkakaroon ito ng return of investment eventually,” Hayreen stated.

Regardless, Hayreen’s personal relationship with the Lord affirmed her calling to be an entrepreneur, to help her family, to be a blessing, and to be blessed. She was also prayed for and supported by her Baguio ministry. 

In addition, training and seminars aid Hayreen in her insecurity about not having any business-related background. She was equipped with how to manage a business, from having an entrepreneurial mindset to packaging strategies. “Di ko nakita sarili nakita ko na risk taker. Palagi kasi akong takot, tapos tuloy-tuloy na nagpa-equip. I kept on learning, challenging myself to do better. Yun [ang] nag-boost ng confidence ko,” Hayreen told. 

The Edge of a Young Woman Entrepreneur

Hayreen Fe Acura as a Doña Aurora Youth Leadership Awardee/
Photos from Hayreen Fe Acura

In spite of the downsides of her story as a young woman entrepreneur, Hayreen also shifted lenses to see how her age and gender appeared as an edge in the business world. “Based on my observation… advantage ng pagiging bata is that creative yung thinking… compared to those na medyo matanda may somehow leaning towards the traditional way of doing things… As a young people, nandoon yung challenge sa sarili to think outside the box. Tapos siguro yung technology, … social media marketing lalo ngayon ang trend talaga ecommerce… That set us apart as young entrepreneur,” Hayreen emphasized. 

Furthermore, Hayreen enumerated the characteristics of women that make them perfectly in place in the business world: multitasker, articulate, organized, detailed planner, passionate, compassionate, and goal-oriented. She believes that women should occupy larger seats in the business industry without any reservations and discriminations. 

“…Maraming characteristics ng isang babae na needed in doing business. Ang laki actually ng potential ng mga kababaihan, minsan hindered lang talaga dahil gender-biased nga [ang society] o kaya [walang] opportunities pero kung bibigyan lang ng opportunities ang mga kababaihan in the business, I think they will do good, they will do better even,” Hayreen stated. 

The goal of Hayreen is to inspire other people, and make her personal story as an eye opener to the youth for them to invest their hearts in doing the things that they are passionate about and resist the norm of landing a job after graduation. “…As a young woman entrepreneur, I want to be an inspiration to those young people to really know what they want to do in their lives and do it,” Ecura advised.  

The Extension of Success

Hayreen, setting up the Aeta Community Pantry / Photos from Hayreen Fe Ecura

Aside from the accomplishments of being young in the business industry, Hayreen’s success extends to her several recognition, and outreach programs in Aurora.

Currently, Hayreen has several awards and recognitions in the business industry. A few of them are a Filipina Entrepreneur feature from the United States Agency for International Development, Outstanding Young Entrepreneur in Sa Luis, Aurora, Top 3 Business Plan Presentation in 3R  (Resilience for Recovery and Rebuilding in COVID BootCamp) by DTI and many more.

When it comes to outreach programs, she was able to conduct prominent provision for the community. First, she launched #EdukasyonParaSaBata during the business’ second anniversary where they allotted a portion of their sales to provide bond papers for the modules of the students in the daycare and elementary schools in San Luis and Baler, Aurora. Second, the business initiated #SagwanSanLuis project that helps one of the coastals in the municipality of San Luis where relief goods for 400 families were distributed. Third is the #CommunityPantry for the Aeta community. Last is the #SnacksForKids where the business provides snacks to encourage the Diego Ortiz Elementary School to study hard even through modular learning. And currently, Hayreen’s businesses are planning to build scholarship programs for the youth. 

Hayreen stated that their measure of success is “earning and serving its purpose and that is to be a channel of God’s provision to the family and to the community we are in kasi naniniwala ako na hindi lang ako nagi-business para yumaman, para yumaman for myself or for my family lang pero nandun kasi talaga ang puso namin to help, to help other people, to help the community.” 

The Drive for Success

Currently, the businesses of Hayreen are growing market-wise and in ideas, and growing as a family in the business. They were able to recruit resellers in Baguio, Tarlac, Bulacan, Pampanga, Valenzuela, Vilasis, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, and La Trinidad. And even amid the pandemic, Hayreen were able to thrive and reach the highest sales of their business.

Her dream for the family and for the community is what keeps her motivated in continuing the rough path of the business. “My dream for family and community. Hangga’t hindi pa yun naa-achieve, tuloy lang. Kahit ang hirap at times, kahit walang benta minsan kahit pagod na pagod na. Fulfilling kasi dahil alam mong mayroon kang pangarap na gustong mangyari para sa pamilya mo at para sa komunidad mo,” Hayreen stated.

She hopes to set up a one-stop-shop where she plans to include the products of other businesses and dreams to finally build a production area, physical store, and restaurant, and open branches in different places.

Hayreen left an advice to the aspiring entrepreneurs, “Alamin nila kung bakit mag-e-exist yung business nila. They should know the vision and mission of the business… kasi yung mga yun [will] keep them going… kasi kung walang clear vision, kung walang real purpose yung business mo, kapag ang hirap na nang mga experiences mo sa business pwedeng mag-stop ka na lang pero kung may clear vision and mission, clear sayo yun goal mo ng business mo, that will keep you going.” 

The Future That Lies Ahead

The individual journeys of our three young businesswomen are clearly eventful and nuanced. Glaiza, Yani, and Hayreen all came from different standpoints of society when they decided to start their business ventures. Glaiza was lucky enough to receive an offer of business partnership from her distant relative while the other two were privileged to have a supportive and relatively affluent family. 

Nonetheless, the three women are all businesslike and brave enough to enter the world of entrepreneurship. As the days progressed, their different paths seemed to converge to a single trail full of rocks and thorns; The three women all experienced similar challenges brought about by the pandemic as well as the adversity of being a woman in the business world. In spite of all, they were able to triumph and served as a beacon of inspiration for others. Now that the pandemic is subsiding and things are slowly reverting back to the old normal, Glaiza, Yani, and Hayreen are among many entrepreneurs who are faced with yet another challenge: To maintain their success marked by the nature of entrepreneurship after the pandemic.

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