In my last blog two weeks ago (link), I wrote about the luncheon speaker at the Marketplace 2015 event, John Palmour who started technology company Cree and grew it to a $1.6B global business. And just as John was an inspirational speaker, I also found inspiration from a local entrepreneur and business owner who I met for the first time and who was seated next to me lunch: Valee Taylor, cofounder and co-owner of Taylor Fish Farm (link) in rural, charming Cedar Grove, North Carolina. I was intrigued, and scheduled an appointment to visit Valee and his fish business.
Here is a little of Valee’s story: He grew up in a rural farming family in North Carolina and was one of the first African-Americans to attend and graduate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, despite groups like the Ku Klux Klan who were working hard to prevent Black North Carolinians from advancing. After working for several decades and retiring, Valee and his sister had a vision for starting an agribusiness near their rural farm. Valee worked for several months as an unpaid intern with the NC State University Cooperative Extension Service to learn about fish farming, and then with their assistance established Taylor Fish Farm in 2009. Valee prides himself on running an outstanding model business, providing us with the best tasting and healthy tilapia in the world. (see their sign in the first photos above.)
Taylor Fish Farm continues to operate successfully as a family-owned business and is certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council. And Valee believes in giving back to his community by funding the nearby Anathoth Community Garden which now feeds 132 needy families. (see photos below)
Here are some key business lessons we can all learn from this inspirational entrepreneur:
• In starting a new business, we do not need to do it alone. Valee aligned himself with top experts in the agribusiness field to learn the fundamentals of the business.
• As a smaller local business, Valee knew he had to differentiate himself from the mega-companies from China supplying fish to the US. He did this by developing a product using leading scientific methods that has a superior taste and that is contains only a minuscule fraction of contaminants as prescribed by US Whole Food Quality Standards. And being state-side, he can get truly fresh fish to the market quickly instead of sending it half way around the world.
• Valee reinvests his funds back into his business as well as supporting community work instead of surrounding himself with unnecessary trapping. We met in an un-airconditioned small cement block office with simple furniture. No fancy company car and ornate corporate furniture for Valee!
So, readers of this blog, when you shop for tilapia, ask your grocer if they buy Taylor Fish Farm tilapia, and seek the best taste and highest quality from this American-based supplier!