International Women's Day: Victoria Poon

International Women's Day: Victoria Poon

Today we’re celebrating International Women’s Day by spotlighting three female entrepreneurs in sustainability about their journey to celebrate their success and inspire others to do the same. We’d like to introduce you to Victoria - a young entrepreneur who went from coffee novice and building an award winning sustainable coffee brand Alpaca Coffee in just two years.

After graduating from a degree in Law, Victoria felt there was more to life than a training contract in Law, but wasn’t sure what career to pursue. Coming from a Cantonese background, she moved to China to study Chinese at Shanghai Jiaotong and Fudan Universities while exploring a way to focus on a line of work that she was really passionate about.

Having grown up around food in Hong Kong, watching “Yan Can Cook” on the TV and with her family being in the restaurant business for a short period of time, food was always a passionate hobby for Victoria. So when she came across Bits x Bites - China's first food tech accelerator and venture capital firm that invested in early-stage startups tackling food system challenges, it really stood out to her as it felt like it was the intersection between food and the startup world. This led her down the path of a portfolio career, always working on innovative projects across food, social impact and startup circles for Danone, the Hults Prize, Techstars and Nexxworks.

At the same time, her passion to create positive social change and entrepreneurial spirit led her to launch the Sustainable Food Project, where she worked with organisations like the Danish government and Nespresso to promote education on circular food economy, and the Potluck Club, a platform for people to host or join potluck gatherings with the mission to break down social and cultural barriers through food. All these experiences amalgamated into work that answered a calling for something bigger than the bottom line.

Just before the pandemic broke, Victoria left Shanghai and moved to Bolivia, where she met an American couple who taught her about specialty coffee and introduced her to the coffee industry. Through this, she grew an interest in coffee and even considered working for the couple to help export coffee around the world.

As she returned to the UK after her travels, she noticed a gap in the market for plastic-free specialty coffee and the opportunity to start a business in a cause she strongly believed in. Unsure if this was a solid business idea, she created her brand Alpaca Coffee within two weeks, positioned as 100% plastic free coffee company, to validate the idea and see if anyone would back it. Then, as she puts it, “One impulsive decision leads you down a whole journey!”. Within 30 days, they got 164 backers and overfunded at 244%.

Since then Victoria has continued to grow the Alpaca brand. In the two years since started Alpaca Coffee, she’s made sustainability and ethics as standard in the company. 

A few months ago Victoria reached a key as Moe, who's worked at iconic brands Volcano and Monmouth Coffee joined as her Head of Coffee and Product. This not only helped level up their goals, it's also a huge confidence boost for her to see others believing and investing in Alpaca too.

Looking to the future, Victoria is clear that Alpaca Coffee will always remain plastic free with compostable packaging, and she's looking to grow the brand further by bringing out the personality of the company.

Victoria feels very proud of where her product is today and wants the whole world to see the sustainability impact of it too. Not only has she built an ethical, sustainable and disruptive business that has been completely bootstrapped, she was also voted Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

Asked about her advice to other female founders about, Victoria emphasises the importance of focusing on the journey and doing things mindfully: "The best way to start a business is just to start and learn along the way. Being a startup you feel a lot of pressure - everything is so fast and you have to get it right, but from a mental health perspective if you put too much pressure on yourself you will burn out and won't enjoy the experience. Certain things cannot be rushed, you need to understand and think, what and why you are doing things, certain things you cannot rush that applies when building a company.”

Quoting the African proverb “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”, she also emphasises the importance of community. Whether it's drawing into a mentor network or finding friends who have been on a similar journey, Victoria believes having people who can support you through your down times and rejoice with you on your highs is crucial to building a successful social enterprise.