|Nguyễn Thị Thu Phương (standing) instructs her employees on how to pack macadamia nuts. — VNA/VNS Photo Hoài Thu
ĐẮK LẮK — For Nguyễn Thị Thu Phương, returning to her hometown to start a business after graduating from university was the best decision she ever made.
In 2014, after graduating from the College of Commerce in central Đà Nẵng City, Phương, from Central Highlands Đắk Lắk Province, stayed in the city to work.
However, she struggled to find a job that suited her and decided to return to her hometown in Phú Lộc Commune, Krông Năng District.
After returning home when local people harvested macadamia, Phương found they still faced many difficulties in selling their products.
Through research, she realised that this could be a good business opportunity and bought some machines for macadamia processing.
Initially, her products were damaged a lot because the machines, drying techniques and preservation were not correct. She lost nearly VNĐ60 million (US$2,600).
After the first failure, she researched and tried again.
"My efforts have finally paid off and been recognised," Phương said.
Her products received good feedback from local consumers, packaged under the trademark Damaca Nguyên Phương and in 2017, the company sold 25 tonnes of macadamia nuts, earning VNĐ450 million.
Phương won the first prize in the first start-up competition in the Đắk Lắk Province in 2017.
She also received support with VNĐ5 billion from Shark Tank Việt Nam, the reality show for start-up investors, in 2019.
These two events were stepping stones on the path to Phương's success, helping her company bring in a stable capital source to operate, expand production and win the brand's place in the market.
Over the past two years, the young girl has researched and launched several new products such as macadamia kernels, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, macadamia oil and is researching to produce macadamia milk.
Phương has also reformed and applied international standards to production and product quality control.
She has invested VNĐ4 billion to build a factory with a capacity of 300 tonnes of macadamia nuts per year.
About 70 tonnes of macadamia nuts had been consumed in 2020.
The company's products have been exported to South Korea, Japan, Canada, Taiwan, and France.
"Phương is a good example of a start-up in Đắk Lắk Province. Over the past years, the province has supported her company to participate in trading activities to promote products and trade," said Phạm Đông Thanh, head of the provincial Young Entrepreneurs Association.
"She is very quick, knowledgeable about the market and knows how to use her advantages. She has conquered a fastidious market like Europe."
In 2019, Phương was one of 34 outstanding young people nationwide who received the Lương Định Của Award, an annual honour sponsored by the Hồ Chí Minh Communist Youth Union Central Committee and given to young people with outstanding achievements in manufacturing, trade, applying modern science technologies, protecting the environment and setting up new rural lifestyles.
2020 was a difficult and challenging year for Phương and her company due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Many plans to expand production and launch new products have been delayed, Phương said, adding that the company also had to cut operating costs and use online sale channels to cope.
"COVID-19 has caused many difficulties and it is also an opportunity, creating a time for the company to re-examine production, business processes, weaknesses that needed improvement, and business plans in the future," she said.
Phương said she fears the brand name of Vietnamese agricultural products, including macadamia products, is not strong enough.
Many businesses and household businesses have yet registered their businesses and are unaware of food hygiene and safety requirements, leading to unhealthy competition in the industry and affecting the brand name of agricultural products, she added.
On her plans for 2021, the 29-year-old said the company will work with local people to form a 100ha raw material area and link with some groups which produce organic products.
"At the same time, the company will expand the factory, research demand, promote our brand and trade promotion activities to expand markets in Europe," she said.
According to Phương, macadamia products of Việt Nam still face great challenges to meet the requirements of the Việt Nam - EU Free Trade Agreement and to export products to the EU.
"Businesses must make efforts and move forward," said Phương.
In addition to her own business, she is also the chairman of the Krông Năng District's Young Entrepreneurs' Association.
She has shared and supported young people with her start-up experiences.
According to chairman of Krông Năng District People's Committee, Trương Hòai Anh, Damaca Nguyên Phương is a young and dynamic enterprise in the locality.
"The company not only gathers members and co-operatives to set up macadamia growing areas and ensure output for farmers but also creates stable jobs for nearly 30 local workers," Anh said.
The company's products recently received certification as 'One Commune, One Product' (OCOP) products.
"This is the good news not only for business but also for the local agriculture sector in the sustainable development of macadamia trees."
For Phương, the fear of failure can hold people back from success.
"You must be confident, persistent and eager to learn," Phương said. — VNS