Co-founder of Progeny Coffee
Established: 2016 | Number of employees: 5
Website: progenycoffee.com | Social: @progeny_coffee
“Progeny Coffee is a sustainable coffee chain that helps lift farmers out of poverty while delivering high-end coffee to our consumers with full traceability and transparency.”
Why did you and your co-founder, John Trabelsi, decide to start Progeny Coffee?
I am from Colombia, and I was born and raised on a coffee farm. We experienced all the struggles the farmers there go through, always chasing a better price that never came.
My grandpa told us needed to go to the U.S. to seek out better opportunities. Originally, I wanted to be a fashion designer, and I worked in fashion in New York—that’s where I met John, my co-founder.
But when we went on a trip to Colombia, it dawned on us that the price we pay for a cup of coffee in New York didn’t translate to the farmers in Colombia. We asked ourselves, “What’s broken? How can we fix it?” and eventually, we had this idea to create a sustainable chain that more directly benefits the farmers. Because profit in the coffee industry shouldn’t come at the expense of the people who grow it.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you start something, make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about. Because hard times are going to come, and if you don’t have that passion, it will fade out. Money doesn’t fulfill you at the end of the day.
When something like a pandemic happens, you need to give it 200%, and you have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to do that. For us, being a mission-driven company is our deep passion, and knowing that families are looking up to us and counting on us—that helped us get through.
What was the most significant challenge Progeny was facing prior to interacting with ICA?
We experienced massive growth in 2018. But it happened so fast, and we didn’t have a lot of experience in how to be a CEO or build a team. We made a lot of mistakes because of a lack of knowledge.
But then Diana [Tremblay, ICA’s Chief Program Officer] reached out to us, and she was so persistent! She kept calling and persevered until we got into the mentorship program. It was all so on point—the advice, everyone she connected us with—and it was really exciting.
We eventually joined The Accelerator at ICA, and that really became a pillar for us. We walked in as a team who was hoping for something we didn’t yet know how to achieve, and we walked out owning our leadership positions and knowing that we could do it. ICA gave us the tools to create culture and growth. Even after we graduated, we kept in touch daily—I would call Diana with a problem, and ICA would always go the extra mile for us.
Progeny is driven largely by its mission to support farmers in Colombia. How do you envision your business contributing to a more equitable small business ecosystem here in the Bay Area?
We’re working hard to make sure we can provide a 401(k) and health insurance for our employees. To be honest, this raises the cost of an employee so much, and when you’re a small business, it can be really hard. But I made sure that our projections took into account what that would cost us. I had to make sure we could cover that.
Because health insurance is necessary—your employees having that peace of mind is necessary. And when our employees are well taken care of, that makes a big difference in how they contribute.