Alexandra Littaye is the founder of Azure, the first distributor of a Mexican superfood made of blue corn called pinole. Azure is dedicated to sourcing corn from indigenous farmers, lifting them out of poverty and contributing the preservation of their cultural practices and Mexico’s rich agro-biodiversity. Azure launching their products on Amazon in the new year and gearing for the sales of the first energy bites made of pinole in Spring in Mexico and the UK. Alexandra was inspired to create her start-up after finishing her PhD at Oxford University. Since, she has worked at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment as a Development and Research Associate. In a previous life, she lectured in the Middle East on philosophy.
Q: What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I’m an academic by trade. I finished my PhD at Oxford on heritage foods and blue corn producers. Previously, I’ve taught philosophy to undergraduates in the Emirates. During my PhD, I boxed a lot, winning regional and national amateur championships. I decided I could apply the grit and aggressive confidence I developed in the ring to the issues I explored in my PhD. Entrepreneurship fits like a glove.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Having a novel idea for a product or service that people want and, finding creative ways of turning it into reality and in the hands of customers.
Q: How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
A: Half way through my PhD. I saw the concept of selling pinole tested in the US with partial success. There was a huge gap in leadership and organisation I believe I could address. After finishing the PhD, I received funds for my start-up. When someone is willing to give you cash because they believe in you, you know you are onto something.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: Grit – it’s a lonely endeavour when you’re a team of one, and the first believer of your idea. You also need to know how to persevere despite getting rejections, fall-backs and when you’re strapped for cash.
Passion – you eat, sleep and breathe your start up. If you aren’t deeply in love to begin with, you are going to have a hard time weathering hard times. Your passion is also infective and will encourage others to get on board.
Adaptability – your ideas and strategies need to pivot quickly in order to respond to demand or roadblocks. It’s important to keep true to your vision but you need to know how to go with the flow when you discover more and more about your target audience.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: I get to turn my ideas into reality… and being my own boss.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Aduna – they’ve put baobab on the map of superfoods. I love their work with women in Ghana. They’ve managed to create a demand for baobab when none existed before whilst staying both exciting and true to their core mission as they grow successful.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: How did you get to sell your very first bar!??
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: My first order of 15 boxes of pinole from Europe’s largest Mexican food and beverage retailer.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: Don’t think that friendship is a proof that you work well together.
Q: How have you funded your ideas? Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
A:I received prize money from Oxford University Innovation Challenge. I also received a private donation that helped me set Azure up.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: You are surrounded by incredibly competitive and hard-working individuals who are interested by a whole wide range of things. This keep you sharp and constantly intrigued. They also give you a sense of FOMO. Oxford can be overwhelming and a little difficult to navigate. You need to keep up to date with everything going on, the deadlines, the grants etc.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
A: Oxford University Innovation, Skoll Centre, Enterprising Oxford, the Foundry.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: It’s not about your product. It’s about what your consumers (think they) want.