What would you say if we told you that the first-ever kid snack brand with no hidden sugars or masked veggies to go to market was Latina-owned and founded? What if we told you that brand is now ranked among the Top 5 natural toddler snacks in the entire country? It’s true, and Fresh Bellies founder, Saskia Sorrosa, did has done it all with the help of almost all Latinx and BIPOC investors. The entrepreneur, who is originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador, leaned on those who understood her vision and shared her culture to bring her vision to life.
Launched in 2016, Fresh Bellies, is a healthy snack line geared toward kids — though the brand now has an adult line for grown ups — created with the idea that kids can enjoy flavorful, nutritious foods without masking or hiding the ingredients that make them healthy. The line features a full range of freeze-dried fruits and veggies as well as crunchy, savory snacks made with ingredients like beets, mushrooms, peppers, yellow onions and even garlic, many of which are inspired by the Latin American foods Sorrosa enjoyed as a child. Now, Fresh Bellies is sold in more than 4,500 stores throughout the U.S., including big names in grocery like Target, Sprouts, Walmart and Whole Foods.
When Sorrosa was conceptualizing Fresh Bellies, she knew it would work but she needed one crucial factor? Funding. By turning to investors with shared experiences, she was able to get just that. “I developed Fresh Bellies after searching grocery aisles in vain for food to feed our family that wasn’t loaded with sugars, artificial flavors, preservatives or tons of salt. Once I decided I would create a solution, I partnered with a renowned chef to formulate our very first flavors. Soon after, we started selling Fresh Bellies products at local farmers’ markets in Westchester County, New York. A few months after that, our products launched in grocery stores,” the mom-of-two tells HipLatina.
But, getting the company off the ground was not without financial barriers, and took some creative thinking from Sorrosa. A recent report from WIRED details the various challenges Latinx founders experience attempting to raise funds from venture capitalist, noting that Latinx founders who raised funds in 2021 made up only two percent of all venture investments.This remains virtually unchanged since 2018, Sorrosa says. It’s a sobering statistic, particularly when you realize that the number of Latinxs working in the investment space has decreased significantly since the start of the pandemic.
While Sorrosa launched her business back in 2016, she knows the struggle all too well. “Raising capital as a Latinx female founder can be challenging, and I learned early in my journey that when investors looked more like me, or when there was representation on the other side of the table, the conversations were more productive,” she tells us. “The challenge is that investors tend to work with those they have always worked with or with what is familiar to them. It’s human nature. This is why diversifying the investor pool to make the start-up ecosystem more equitable is so critical.”
Sorrosa firmly believes that growing the Latinx and Black investor pool will open a world of opportunities for Latinx founders, who can, like her, tap into their own networks to access funding for their growing companies. As Fresh Bellies grew, she reached out to potential investors she personally knew from the Latinx marketing space, her former marketing job with the NBA, and even a connection she had with a Latina-led angel investing bootcamp, Pipeline Angels. “As I grew the business, I specifically set out to tap into my diverse network and through those networks, reach Latinx and Black investors with a mission to support founders like me. Today, these BIPOC investors make up close to 90 percent of our cap table [a table that shows a company’s company’s percentages of ownership],” she says. Also revealing that her latest bridge round of funding for Fresh Bellies was made up entirely of BIPOC investors.
One way to dip your toe into the world of investing is to join what’s called an “angel network,” also known as an “angel syndicate,” a group that invests in startups together, typically being between $25,000 to $100,000. And all together, those checks can make a massive dent for founders and entrepreneurs looking to get their businesses off the ground or grow them.
Not only that, but the more BIPOC investors there are, the greater the benefits for BIPOC founders will be. When investors can relate to a founder, they are more likely to understand the goals and challenges of those founders, and be willing to take a chance on them.
“The shared experience theory’ of investing means that if more Black and Latinx angels or VC’s [venture capitalists] are created, or if more diverse fund managers or decision-makers are hired at investment firms, they’ll invest in more founders of color. This is because they’ll see themselves in these founders, they’ll recognize patterns and understand problems they may have experienced themselves, like culturally shared experiences,” Sorrosa says.
It’s further proof that representation matters not just in the media we consume or the workplace environments we choose, but in all areas of life, especially those that impact our financial wellbeing and our likelihood to reach our professional and personal goals. “In the end, the more entrepreneurs of color are funded, the more wealth we are generating in these communities and the more opportunities to grow the number of angels and VC’s of color over the next decade. It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Sorrosa says. To sum it up, the more BIPOC investors there are, the greater the chances of BIPOC founders succeeding are.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or you’re considering becoming an investor, Sorrosa has a bit of advice: “My message to Latinas out there who are thinking about taking a risk or starting their own hustle and are wondering whether it’s the right time, my message is this: there is never a ‘right’ time — there is only right now. Believe in yourself, stay true to your purpose and move in the direction of your dreams, one step at a time. You have everything it takes to make it happen for you!”