Maura De Leon was in grade six her aunt would tag along to Divisoria for her banana business.
“Maaga pa lang sumasama na ko sa tiyahin ko sa Divisoria. Dun sya bumibili ng mga saging. Tapos sa ibabaw na ko ng mga saging natutulog. Sa sampung tumpok, sabihin nya ibenta mo walo, iyo na yung dalawa. Kaya siguro ako nahilig sa negosyo, kasi bata pa ko, namulat na ko sa negosyo.”
(Very early in the morning I would go along with my aunt to Divisoria where she would buy bananas. Then I would be sleeping on top of the bananas. For ten piles of bananas she would ask me to sell eight and I get the two piles. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn to business because I was exposed to it at a young age).
This little girl would later find herself in various businesses, from garments to chemicals, and the latest as the country’s pioneer in healthy sugar --- stevia. She’s now the president of the Glorious Industrial and Development Corp., the maker of stevia sold in the leading supermarket and drugstores.
Of ventures and losses
De Leon’s first venture started at the age of twenty-five. She got into embroidery business and stayed there for 17 years, until the industry’s downturn due to influx of garments from China. She incurred debts and she eventually folded up.
The turn of events did not deter her, though, she ventured once again into other business – to chemicals. She asked her friends what possible business she could get into and one suggested chemicals.
“Para akong magkakasakit pag hindi ako nag negosyo (I felt sick if I will not get into business),” De Leon said.
She then studied how chemical products are done. One of the leading grocery store gave her the opportunity to become the supplier of the store’s housebrand, so her foray into chemicals began with her production of soap, powder detergent, toilet bowl cleaner, fabric softener, liquid dishwashing and more. However, that venture was halted when her chemical warehouse was destroyed by fire.
Despite yet another loss, she ploughed on. This time venturing into an unchartered territory: stevia.
One of De Leon children was taking up medicine at the time when she stumbled on her child’s book and read about diabetes and the rising cases of the disease. Coincidentally, De leon’s sister suffered a stroke around that time, as a complication of her diabetes. Little did she know that these minor events will lead her to another enterprise.
Still recovering from another loss, she solicited suggestions from friends and family on possible business idea. A friend came home from Malaysia a pitcheda healthy coffee product. De Leon’s team embarked on product formulation.
“Kung magko-coffee tayo, tapos wala din naman syang magiging pagkakaiba sa malalaking players sa market, baka hindi rin tayo maging successful (If we get into coffee business that is similar with the big time market players, we might not succeed),” she addressed her product developmentteam.
Then a doctor told her about stevia, a plant that serves as sugar substitute but is grow only in Paraguay. She became hopeful when she heard the word “plant.” She was reminded of the time when her family was into farming. She hired an agriculturist to look for the plant stevia in Baguio, La Union, and Tagaytay, but after a couple of months the agriculturist returned empty handed.
Not all is lost, though. She had a child in Europe who was able to send her the seeds of the plant which will be the core of her business. They struggled for three years to make stevia adaptable to the Philippine soil. But the next challenge was what to do about it.
Of pains, triumphs and government’s help
In the early stages while her company was developing possible commercial products, she tried to make use of stevia as feeds to chickens and hogs. She noticed that chickens which normally laid 12 eggs were producing 24 eggs when fed with stevia. And the pigs who fed on stevia were more meaty and do not smell bad even without bath for several months.
When a family member suggested approaching DOST for assistance, it was thenthat the family discovered the many services a government office can offer.
She would have preferred that small businesses in the barangay or municipalities know about the services of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) right away.
“Nang mag start kaming mag-inquire sa DOST, nabuhayan kami ng loob. Sabi ko nga at that time, kung ang mga nagnenegosyo nga sana alam na may assistance ang DOST, mas madali,” De Leon said as she recounted the various ways they tried to make stevia useful.
De Leon said that they first approached DOST-National Capital Region in 2009 and got assistance a year later.Among the DOST technologyinterventions are the following: cabinet type dryer, form fill & seal machine, calamansi juice extractor, shrink tunnel, bench top pH meter, refractometer, and digital incubator.
The company also availed of other DOST services such as: Technology Needs Assessment; Technical Assistance on Food Safety, Seminar on Good Agricultural Practices, and Consultancy for Agricultural and Manufacturing Productivity Improvement.
The interventions lead to increased gross sales by 40 percent, improved product quality and safety, and enhanced packaging. The company also stopped outsourcing of its packaging.
Her company, the Glorious Industrial and Development Corporation, is the maker of the Sweet and Fit stevia which is the first organically-grown stevia in the country. The company has been in the business of food and non-food products for six years now.,
Before DOST, the company had over 30 employees which now has grown to over a hundred, including stevia growers.
Since partnering with DOST, they became more convinced and proud of their product.
“Very proud kami na assisted kami ng DOST. Noon, nung walang naga-assist, medyo hesitant ka pa, kasi si stevia hindi sya masyadong kilala. Pag tinanong kung ano ang Stevia, kung safe ba yan? Pag sinabi naming assisted po kami ng DOST, parang ang laking tulong nya na ang tao nagtitiwala doon sa safety ng product,” De Leon said.
(We’re very proud that we’re DOST-assisted. Before, when there was nobody assisting us, we were hesitant because stevia was not yet known. Whenever we’re asked what is stevia, is it safe? When we say we’re DOST-assisted, it helped us a lot in boosting public’s trust on product’s safety).
Aside from manufacturing food and non-food products, the company is advocating Filipinos’ return to farming. The company wants young children to see and enjoy a nearby farm, that is why aside from healthy farm products, they’re also expanding on farm eco-tour.
De Leon’s life’s goal is to contribute to other people’s well-being. She came from a poor family and she wants to help others improve their lives.
“Naniniwala kasi ako na lahat may potensyal. Kailangan mo lang silang gabayan sa pagnenegosyo, may parte na ispirituwal. Gusto ko yung pagwo-work nila sa kin, may na-contribute ako sa buhay nila,” she added.
(I believe that everybody has potential. You only need to guide them in business, also in the spiritual aspect. I want to have a contribution in their lives of people who worked with me).
She seldom let go of people. Most people who have been with her in her embroidery business days are still employed with her now.
For other information on the governments technology products and services at the National Capital Region, visit http://ncr.dost.gov.ph/
MAURA DE LEON, PRESIDENT of
Glorious Industrial and Development Corporation (GIDC) tells how her love for business fuelled her drive to keep on going despite several business setbacks.
MAURA DE LEON, PRESIDENT of
Glorious Industrial and Development Corporation (GIDC) recalls her childhood trips to Divisoria with her aunt and her exposure to farm life coming from a family of farmers in Bulacan.
MAURA DE LEON, PRESIDENT of
Glorious Industrial and Development Corporation (GIDC) is not one to rest on her laurels. Now that her food product Stevia is popularly marketed, her next goal is to make children experience the farm life through affordable eco-tours in their Stevia Farm in Bulacan.