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I’m doing what I want - that’s the bottom line’

Last update - Thursday, September 11, 2008, 00:00 By Metro Éireann

In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s MEET THE BOSS, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Jennylynd James of Caribbean Enterprises, bringing Caribbean food to Ireland.

A weekend at the Electric Picnic is going to use up plenty of energy – even more so if you’re working there, as Jennylynd James was two weekends ago.
“I’m still exhausted from the experience but it was worth it,” says James, who was on site as part of the festival farmers’ market, selling her Taste of the Caribbean food range.
Trading at events for the past three years has given James the know-how to run her own show effectively, but it still means pre-dawn starts from home in Waterford to bring fresh produce each morning. But since her food usually proves a big hit – James’s potato pies and vegetable patties sold out every day, keeping the festival-goers, well, going – she’s happy to put in the hours.
James, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago and holds a PhD in food science, came to Ireland after six years in California, where she built up her background in food science.
“I was working in the technology, research and development end of the food industry as a technical manager for a while,” she says. “But I wanted some European experience, and was considering the UK when I applied for a job with an Irish company and got the position.”
James is an industry expert in food safety and has written extensively on the subject, including peer-reviewed articles on food biochemistry and tropical fruit operations in Latin America. Her most recent scientific publication is the book Hazard Identification in Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.
With her experience in quality assurance and food development, James knew she could make a go of it on her own when she decided that she actually “didn’t like the concept of being employed”. Her business, Caribbean Enterprises, started small and has grown gradually. “I import spices, herbs, some sauces and teas straight from the Caribbean; Saint Lucia and Jamaica,” James explains. “Some of the items I get from London. I organise air freight of coffee and chocolate and other cocoa bean products from suppliers in Trinidad.”
However, rising transport costs are causing her to make some changes to her business. “As freight is getting more expensive, I have decided to concentrate more on developing my own brand, made here in Ireland,” she says.
The response to her products has been phenomenal. The Taste of the Caribbean range ( now includes outlets at Dun Laoghaire Farmers’ Market, specialty food shops around Ireland and at events nationwide, which are well worth the early starts. “You get to know the organisers of these events, and that’s the way you get your name around for doing other things,” says James of her networking skills.
Based in Waterford, James also has the use of a dedicated industrial kitchen space at one of the Dublin City Enterprise Board’s (DCEB) units in the capital. Her latest product sauces include Rasta Pasta, Jamaican Jerk and Bad Boy Pepper sauce. The latter “is the hottest chilli sauce you will probably ever taste”, says James.
“It was a challenge thrown down to me by my Irish customers who wanted something really spicy and I developed it especially for them. It really should come with a health warning!” Most of her clients are Irish, with some from the Caribbean and Jamaica. “Everyone is pleasantly surprised to find a Caribbean food stand at an Irish farmers’ market,” she laughs.
James also promotes her products at trade fairs, the next being Shop Expo at the RDS at the end of this month. Such exhibitions can be prohibitively expensive for small start-ups. “But I have been lucky to get involved with the DCEB,” says James, “and I am exhibiting as a participant of theirs on a reduced rate.”
She also reaps the benefits of being a member of the DCEB Women in Business network, finding their advice and mentoring a great help. “Getting training at lower rates has been brilliant. I knew my science, but have had to learn the accounting and marketing side of business.” James praises the value of making contacts in this network, and has already employed members to build her website and manage her accounts.
Some might ask why women entering business are afforded special treatment.  According to James it is because they face particular obstacles and need the encouragement. “Men still dominate in business, women rear the family and then need the extra help if they then choose to go into business,” she says.
She agrees that many women are not motivated by profit alone. “Although it is necessary to turn a profit, women want the freedom and flexibility that running their own businesses gives them.”
Having sold some property in California before her move to Ireland, James was able to self-finance her own start-up, and she says that the best piece of business advice she ever got was to avoid pensions and buy property. “I’m doing what I want, and that’s the bottom line for me.”

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