Terri Pauline Smith on building Wake Jamaica, medicinal mushrooms, and making a difference that matters

Terri Smith_Blog Header

Describe your business in a few words?

Wake is an intersection between smart tech and fungi medicine. Wake offers medicinal mushroom supplements and legal psilocybin assisted clinical immersion experiences in Jamaica. This therapeutic experience provides deep healing, clarity, and direction.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

There were several moments throughout my life which led to the decision to start my own business. 

When I was a teenager, I developed a passion for social entrepreneurship and social impact work. I understood the challenges faced by poor undereducated adults and marginalized youth on an intimate level and this was the driving force behind my decision to attend the University of Toronto where I studied Literature and Social Cultural Anthropology and developed an expertise in Labour Market Re-entry for injured workers and poor adults.

In 2010, I moved with my husband, Ronald Smith, to Jamaica to care for my 104 year old grandfather and decided to establish a farm on land that was suffering from soil exhaustion and could only support the growth of bamboo and other tall grasses. After years of research, we developed a unique, proprietary process that converts bamboo leaves and lemongrass into an ideal substrate for growing dozens of different strains of mushrooms. 

Over the last decade, I’ve worked with groups of rural women and other stakeholders to establish micro mushroom farmer development centers and clusters of farmers across Jamaica. I founded the Network of Women for Food Security in 2010 and continue to work with this network of trained mushroom producers to increase the capacity of the local industry in a decentralized production model. 

I believe in a triple bottom line approach to growing: every community entered must be better when we leave – financially, socially and environmentally. My goal is to create a network of over 1,000 women who are trained as artisan growers and operate their own micro-farms with sustainability and topsoil restoration practices in place. Alongside education in mushroom cultivation, Terri’s training also educates on the medicinal properties of mushrooms, enhancing the marketing and revenue-generating potential of the women involved in her network. 

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I’m currently the CEO of Wake Jamaica Limited, the founder of the Network of Women for Food Security and the Association of Mushroom Producers Limited and co-owner of Jamaica Exotic Mushrooms. 

In 2020, I partnered with Wake, an intersection between smart tech and fungi medicine. Wake has developed a personalized approach that allows research, monitoring, and incorporation of results from clinical studies on a one-to-one basis. 

From state-of-the-art clinical trials, to a full line of medicinal mushroom supplements, I cultivate edibles, gourmet medicinals and psilocybin mushrooms for Wake. Wake supplements contain only mushrooms, and are free from binders, fillers, grains, and other adulterants. Wake hopes that each bottle of mushrooms sold will impact a rural community in Jamaica, and help support the empowered women who grow them.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I’ve always been a disrupter and I am not good at working for people. I learned very early from the former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, if I wanted to create the best work environment for myself, I would have to become an entrepreneur.

I was a high school drop out and a young mother. I would read an extraordinary amount of books reading everything I could get my hands on about business and entrepreneurship. I was often actually more equipped with more knowledge than the people who I was working with.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

I am a gorilla marketer. I read the book The Art of Gorilla Marketing and a book about Nanny of the Maroons. I put these two together. I never had the money to do traditional marketing, so I had to find a way to get in front of people.

At one point, in 1984, I started a magazine called Preferred Employee Directory, outlining different Employers. I charged hotels $5000 a page for an ad in the directory to advertise to workers about why their hotel was a preferred employee.

I went to the public library and found all kinds of books about how to design social studies and implement them. I collected data, and formatted it to be able to go to the hotels and pitch my ideas. It worked! I ended up with not just a magazine but also a thriving consulting business from this.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

The biggest challenge has been the pandemic, personally and professionally. We’ve all had to make significant adjustments and learn how to pivot but I believe our communities and Wake, specifically, will come out on the other side much stronger. As for Wake, it has halted our legal psilocybin clinics and slowed our plans for growth but has given our team time to reflect, get organized and reevaluate our next steps as a business. The pandemic has had severe mental health implications on our communities and I am personally very excited about the future of psilocybin clinical trials and how they can benefit and improve the wellbeing of those affected.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Personally, I am very proud of the institution that my husband and I have built Ronter (aka the marriage of Ronald + Terri). This corporation is 27 years old and has been full of amazing wins and desperate losses. We love each other more than ever, and are more solid than ever. This is the foundation of everything I do. He is the precise engineer, and I am the big picture visionary. He takes my ideas and puts form to it; I take his form and put an audience to it. We complete each other. One doesn’t work without the other.

I was the inverter, the visionary, the designer, the pursuer of the mushroom industry in Jamaica. I established criteria for exports. I introduced the idea of mushroom cultivation. It’s amazing to see everyone at the table now. But there was no table before; I built the table.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

“Tell me about your intention in applying for the job”

Tips: go with your gut about a person and trust your intuition. Someone may look so beautiful on paper, but if you can’t wait for the interview to be over, don’t hire them. If someone doesn’t look great on paper but there is something about them that is working… give them a shot. l Trust yourself. They may help you build what you’re building. Don’t hire anyone who makes you feel bad about the job you’re putting out there. Having a clear vision of the impact you want you company to make is very important

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Prior to the start of the pandemic we had a significant gourmet mushrooms business. Most of our large customers for edible mushrooms are hotels and other players in the tourism industry, so when they closed down for Covid we had to pivot away from cultivation of edibles and move towards increasing our medicinal and psilocybin mushrooms production. 

The impact of the pandemic has been very paradoxical on the local mushroom industry. It has been the best of times with lots of new foreign investments from large North American companies investing in psilocybin mushroom research. It has also been the worst of time for the local micro mushroom farmers who have seen the market disappear.    

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

At Wake, my vision is about leaving a positive impact for the people who grow my mushrooms.

Wake is furthering our US business endeavors and partnerships. We’re expanding into the Canadian market. Our Q2 relaunch is going to be a very exciting time for the brand and our customers. 

Our social impact work in Jamaica is ramping up with the upcoming launch of my micro farming training center in St.Ann, Jamaica. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

It ain’t over til it’s over. Where you start does not have to be where you end. I started the year in excruciating pain and not being mobile. By the end of 2020, I was mobile, pain-free, and on a personal level, I had a unique and incredibly strong business partnership. There was a clear need for all the mushrooms that I wanted to grow and the amazing opportunity to have more positive social, environmental, and social impact on my community.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I am the point in life where I stop having “what ifs’ and just see life as magical. I do wish I knew that it was all going to be okay. The sleepless nights and endless worries and commitment to targets – I wish I knew I didn’t need that. Being me was enough.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

10 dogs, 20 goats, and a husband that keep reminding me that I have responsibilities no matter how much other stuff I have going on. The farm life keeps me grounded.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Play silly games on your phone when things get too stressful.

Always make time for device-free time with your loved ones.

Sleep in on Sundays.

Always have a glass of wine with your dinner.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

My first psychedelic experience with psilocybin was in August 2020.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

1. Make a list

2. Listen to your favourite music while you work. For me, it’s peppy jazz and afrobeats.

3. Stay hydrated. Nick Murray, Wake Networks CEO, taught me this one. Coconut water does a great job of keeping you hydrated.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being an Entreprenista is very exciting for me because it affords me the opportunity to talk about the awesome power of enterprise and mushrooms as a vehicle for delivering change to the lives of women and youth across Jamaica. As the CEO of a successful local mushroom company in Jamaica I have a chance to impact my country socially, environmentally and financially. 

Wake Jamaica is making access to treatment for mental health more democratic in a country where most of the society suffer mental illness in shame and silence. Women and youth growing mushrooms for Wake Jamaica improves their income and food security. In communities where poverty and unemployment is oppressive we can impact change by improving the minimum income.

Share it!

Posted in
Tags

Leave a Comment





8 Inspiring Latinx Entreprenistas that have launched groundbreaking companies

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ve put together a list of 8 incredible Latinx women founders that have launched groundbreaking companies. Check it out: Jessica Alba: The Honest Company Founded in 2011, The Honest Company makes sustainable, well-designed products that work – built on transparency, trust, and a deep sense of purpose. In…

Susan Sarit of Operations-Made Easy on achieving your goals by getting organized

Describe your business in a few words: I am a mom, daughter, sister, business owner, and more! I started my business for both financial freedom and to be a work-at-home mom. I created Operations-Made Easy to help diverse women with the Operations of their business. Deliberative, disciplined, and detail-oriented are just a few words we…

Lisa Nutt of Make Every Minute Count on personal and professional growth

Describe your business in a few words? The Make Every Minute Count ecosystem encourages us to go (do that thing), grow (personally and professionally) and give (through a membership based family to family giving circle). What made you take the leap to start your own business? I’m a serial entrepreneur. This is the third time…

Connection Coach Kristjana Hillberg on trusting your intuition and having an open mind

Describe your business in a few words: I’m a Connection Coach who helps women unearth their deepest desires, move from auto pilot to intentional action and prioritize their wellbeing. What was your background prior to starting your own business? I’m a multipotentialite – meaning, I have tried multiple things and tested multiple careers ranging from…

Martha Stewart & Marley Spoon: Finally Back to Delicious Meals For Everyone

Cuisine varies by culture, but no matter how societies segment and define themselves, certain foods show up in households across the globe — only differing in their forms. Some of a culture’s time-honored meals are created by its culinary icons.  Among America’s culinary icons, Martha Stewart is, without question, its most trusted. In 2014, Martha…

7 Entreprenista League Members share the biggest business challenge they overcame and what it taught them

Brand Photographer Brittney Guy-Atakpo of Brittney Jean Photography The biggest business challenge I have faced is sticking to a schedule that made me feel productive and good about my work ethic. What I have learned is that there is no right or wrong schedule or routine that produces success. I have been more grateful for…

Courtney Spritzer of WorkRobe on her “secret sauce” for a successful product launch

Describe WorkRobe in a few words? WorkRobes are designed to have you looking your best during any video meeting, so you can go from bedroom to boardroom in seconds and in comfort. My mission is to reimagine what you wear to work (from home).  Can you pinpoint the moment you knew you wanted to create…

Brand Photographer Brittney Jean Guy-Atakpo on helping women show up confidently on camera

Describe your business in a few words? I’m Brittney with Brittney Jean Photography & Company. I help women show up confidently in photos and on social media to grow their brand and business. I’m a Brand Photographer and Strategist. I have over 5 years working for Fortune 100 companies in sales and marketing and over…

Lorena Tapiero of Conscious Consulting on the power of networking

Describe your business in a few words? Conscious Consulting is a Latina-owned, bilingual marketing and public relations agency with 20 years of experience in the hospitality, sports and wellness sectors. Our thoughtful, comprehensive approach helps brands establish clear communication priorities and a long-range vision for meaningful press coverage, value-added partnerships and sustainable influencer relationships. As…

Lindsay Applebaum Stuart of Mamalux on the beginning stage of business

Describe your business in a few words? Mamalux is a first-of-its-kind leakproof sleep solution for breastfeeding moms. Our Kickstarter launches on 10/19! What was your background prior to starting your own business? I spent the first 10 years of my career as a sports journalist for the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated! So this has…

Jessica Bargenquast of Lady ChangeMakers on organic marketing strategies that work

Describe your business in a few words? Lady ChangeMakers is an exclusive e-commerce platform for women-owned businesses to gain valuable exposure and sales. Most of my life I’ve been encouraged to be seen and not heard. Growing up extremely introverted and shy I felt invisible. I wanted to create a platform so women-owned businesses could…

Jennifer Gligoric of EntrePods on the importance of mindset

Describe EntrePods in a few words? Cutting-edge entrepreneur and investor network answering the question “So Now What?” for business owners powered by fractional consultants and coaches with decades worth of experience. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I had no choice.  My mother owned a staffing company for 54 years…

Certified Financial Planner Maggie Gomez on investing and building wealth

Describe your business in a few words? An accessible place where anyone can learn to invest and build wealth, regardless of their net worth. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I realized that it was only those who were already wealthy that had access to quality financial guidance. I got…

Claire Jones of Cushy Couture on shifting paradigms in the fashion industry

Describe your business in a few words? Cushy Couture is a customer-driven clothing brand that creates high quality sweatpants in a wide range of colors and patterns that come in three different inseam lengths because we believe that you don’t have to settle for less. We create functional sweatpants that will last you for multiple…

Writer, Speaker, Podcaster, and Life Coach Chelsea Austin on taking care of yourself first

Describe your business in a few words? I advocate for others to find their own self-worth and acceptance through self-care, love, respect, and storytelling. What made you take the leap to start your own business? When I started writing my book and my blog, I don’t think I ever realized it would become a business.…