OECS YES In Action highlights Sharayah Brown
British Virgin Islander student-entrepreneur seeking to create a niche market for her island home in the wake of Hurricane Irma
This month, OECS YES In Action caught up with Sharayah Brown, a 19 year old business owner from the British Virgin Islands linking the past to the present with a modern take on herbal (bush) teas.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Born and raised in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI), I had an adventurous and exciting childhood. I was fortunate to travel around the world and learn and grow from many great experiences in my youth.
I attended the Althea Scatliffe Primary School in the BVI and, upon graduation, I moved to Leeds, England where I began my secondary education. During secondary school, I transferred to the United States and graduated from the Pine Forest High School in May, 2016.
Currently, I reside in the BVI and I am attending H. Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) where I am pursuing a double major in Business Administration and Human Services.
When did you first notice your inclination towards entrepreneurship?
Like many others, I always said that one day I will establish my own business — following the footsteps of both my grandparents (John and Sylvia Rhymer) and my father (Shelly Brown), all owning successful small businesses in the BVI.
In late 2018, I attended the Saira Hospitality Pop Up School and I explored an idea I once had about creating a unique experience in which the BVI will have a product that will be exported throughout the world.
After completing the course, and becoming a BVI Hospitality Ambassador, my vision on the development of a unique product was clear. I pursued and completed additional courses and undertook months of research on herbal benefits and, as a result, Herbal Immense came to life in April, 2019.
What were you doing before you embarked on this entrepreneurship journey?
Throughout my high school years, I was always interested in the study of Psychology.
After graduation from high school in 2016, I returned to the BVI and began an online Psychology degree at Grand Canyon University. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma devastated the island in 2017 and, without a stable connection to the internet, I fell behind in my courses.
Now, with a bit of experience having started my academic journey, I aspire to be a Neuropsychologist — this is why I am currently studying human services.
What inspired you to start?
Hurricane Irma hit the BVI on September 6, 2017. The damage was extensive and I felt as though I was being pushed backwards — with my education and my finances. I felt confused and hopeless.
After the devastating event, my family and I returned to Florida to continue pushing forward. I began my first full time job there. I worked at a clothing store until I was able to plan my next steps.
I returned to the BVI to visit my family in mid 2018. I was still seeking my direction in life so when my mom, Stephanie, sent me the application information for the Saira Hospitality Pop Up School I felt a sense of hope.
Following this course and everything that I had learned, I felt as though anything was possible. I also learned to view the devastating hurricane not as a tragedy but a chance to start afresh. It motivated me to transfer my credits and to continue my studies at HLSCC along with putting my ideas together and eventually starting my business.
What obstacles, if any, did you face and how did you overcome them?
Starting a new chapter of my life after a major hurricane was a difficult journey. My parents were not as financially stable as before, considering the island was now being rebuilt and many jobs were affected. As a result, I had no money to put towards my business.
I got a job at Fischer’s Cove, Virgin Gorda. I worked during the day, went to college classes at night, and was able to save enough money to start my business and follow my plan.
Tell us about the journey from the first spark of interest to where you are currently.
My journey thus far has been one of apprehensions and a myriad of experiences. It took several months of research, creating unique tea blends, doing online certifications and planning everything in detail before I started.
As I did my research, I began to network and meet individuals and other local entrepreneurs who offered sound advice and offered to help me along the way. I worked until I felt that I had earned enough capital to start small. I single handedly created my logo and designed a unique tea box. I then began to advertise my upcoming teas.
In early April, 2019, Herbal Immense was officially launched. From a slow start, the teas began to sell as more and more locals supported and shared information on the business with others. Seven months later, Herbal Immense has travelled to the United States and the United Kingdom! The teas are now being sold in a few locations along with many upcoming events and opportunities before the end of the year.
Herbal Immense is still a fairly new business, it will only improve. I am currently working on upgrading my tea boxes, creating and perfecting my tea blends and offering gift sets for special occasions. My courageous journey has only just begun.
What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
A challenge I faced at the beginning of my business venture was obtaining a trade license from the government and approval from the Department of Agriculture, which took a longer amount of time than I had anticipated.
The most challenging aspect of the business process would be shipping. Living in the British Virgin Islands, we all face the difficult process of ordering online and having to shipping necessary products to our islands. Ordering online and shipping plays a huge role in Herbal Immense due to the need for tea boxes, cards and other essential materials to create my unique product that cannot be sourced on island. As a result, an unexpected delay in a shipment has caused delays in tea delivery to my customers.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of my business. I accomplished my business goals and took the necessary steps to start Herbal Immense. I started with no income, which meant no capital for the business, nor did I have any suppliers. At the beginning of my journey many family members and friends doubted my business ideas.
Now, Herbal Immense has successfully started and is going great. I am very happy about this accomplishment, mainly because it has encouraged other young people to start their own path. My journey has also been a source of personal motivation, knowing that I am making my family and friends proud.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
My motivation comes from within. I was raised with sound Christian values and I attribute my success to my faith. I aspire to be the best version of myself in everything I do. I strive for greatness, but most importantly I am chasing my happiness by doing things I love. My future motivates me, because the more I can achieve now to build my future, the closer I am to accomplishing my life goals.
I am very passionate about expanding my mind and learning new things. This helps me to always have an open and creative mind while I navigate life. I also have a passion for helping others, whether financially, being a friend, or empowering them with positive feedback.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in the near future?
My future aspirations include a PhD in Neuropsychology. As for my business, I want to market Herbal Immense internationally and successfully sell and export our teas out of the BVI. I hope that this product can build a niche tourist market for Virgin Gorda.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced your journey?
Throughout my business journey I have had many great supporters. The idea for Herbal Immense was inspired by my grandparents, they always used bush teas for health. My parents also played a major role in supporting and mentoring me as a new entrepreneur. My mom has experience being part of a family business, paired with experience working in the field of business and human services, so she would always give great tips and advice. My father, being a business owner, also gave valid points, advice and views to support and help me along the way, given his years of experience in the business industry.
What advice do you have for other Caribbean youth aspiring to get involved whether in computer technology or other areas?
My advice to the aspiring youth in the Caribbean is simply to do what you love, but with a plan. Take the time to understand what you want in life and set plans and goals that follow the path to achieve it.
Always be open to learn more, do your research and read many books. Find mentors who are willing to help guide you along your journey to success. Most importantly invest your time and money wisely, attend workshops and do online courses to continually enhance your skills. Through it all remain focused on your goals and remember why you started your journey. Be passionate!
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to advancing my business, and having my local teas sold at different locations throughout the BVI. I am also looking forward to completing my Associate degree at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College and later working on my Bachelor’s degree.
I am so grateful to my family and friends, along with my community supporters, for showing me love and empowering the growth of Herbal Immense.