My St Lucia: Entrepreneur Johanan Dujon
Founder and Managing Director of Algas Organics, Johanan Dujon, developed the idea for his business when he saw how much damage sargassum seaweed was causing to St Lucia’s coastline and ultimately its fishing and tourism industries.
Johanan, 25, wanted to convert the tonnes of sargassum that was washing up every day into a useful agricultural product, and set about researching how he could find a solution to this growing problem.
Four years later, Johanan has developed Algas Organics from a fledgling idea into a thriving company with plans to develop regionally, especially once the first Sargassum Seaweed Processing Facility in the Caribbean opens in St Lucia later this year.
Johanan spoke to Yello about the challenges he has faced as a young entrepreneur and why there is nothing he would have done differently.
Describe yourself in three words.
Innovative; determined; fluid.
What motivated you to start Algas Organics?
The idea for Algas Organics was born on a friend’s couch in 2014. The news came on, and for days on end the headline was ‘Sargassum seaweed is wreaking havoc on St. Lucia’s east coast and the west of the Caribbean’, with no end in sight.
I’ve always believed that when faced with a crisis/problem, one must look for underlying opportunity rather than complain and sink into habitual and learnt helplessness. This belief was one of the core driving factors for me.
I wanted to prove that with research, determination, and innovation, it was possible to convert sargassum into a product which could revolutionise the agriculture industry and other industries down the line.
What products do you offer?
The product on the market at the moment is the Algas Total Plant Tonic, which is an all-natural bio-stimulant designed to stimulate strong root development.
The tonic is applicable to commercial farming, lawn care and landscaping because once a plant has a better root system it’s going to absorb more nutrients, grow quicker, and will save you money on fertiliser.
Soon we’ll also launch a potting soil, called Sarga Moss, and that’s basically a by-product of the sargassaum processing which we use to create the tonic.
Who are your clients?
Farmers, gardeners, landscapers.
The tonic is used by Sandals hotel chain on all of its greens and properties in St Lucia, and soon that’ll also be throughout the region.
Massy distribute the tonic, and in St Lucia the product is available through the biggest distributor of agriculture products on the island, Renwick & Company.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting the business?
Self-doubt on a number of levels. It’s quite a shift when you make that transition from being an employee to an employer because now it’s all up to you.
You are the person setting targets, producing the products, monitoring quality control and dealing with customers, so you have to manage a lot more, and it’s a big challenge.
Even the best person would doubt themselves and wonder if they’re doing the right thing and whether they might fail.
Is there anything you would have done differently, knowing what you know now?
Absolutely not. As a new entrepreneur, I’ve always made decisions which I felt were in the best interest of the company (substantiated by a mix of 80% facts and 20% gut feelings).
Some have worked, some had to be tweaked, but either way I’ve learnt from it and become better overall.
Why did you want to be an organic company?
It was very important to me, because I cannot in good conscience create a product that will solve one problem but will persist in the environment, and then potentially cause other problems for generations to come.
We believe that we can use the Caribbean’s biodiversity to create products for the agriculture industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others, and these products can achieve their goal of controlling pests or whatever it is, without destroying the environment, or causing further damage.
So we take pride in producing products which are environmentally-friendly, pet friendly and user friendly.
Tell us about the Sargassum Seaweed Processing Facility.
The facility came about through funding from the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) and our partnership with the Saint Lucia Fisher Folk Co-operative Society Ltd.
We approached the Co-operative after seeing the impact sargassum was having on the fishermen, and partnered with them to create alternative livelihoods so that the fisher folk could make money by collecting and processing sargassum.
After we started that, the Government of St Lucia, GEF, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), all got onboard with funds.
The intention of the plant, which should open at the end of this year, is to allow us to scale up our operation and have a bigger impact on the sargassum problem.
What are your plans for the future?
Making Algas Organics a ‘household’ name in the biotechnology and agriculture sectors within the Caribbean and North America.
Is St Lucia a good place to be an entrepreneur?
Definitely. I’ve always said, once you can survive and thrive in St. Lucia, the rest of the world is a piece of cake.
You have to go through so much more here as a start-up company. In other countries you might get more support and funding but in St Lucia there are quite a few hurdles in place for new businesses.
So you have to learn to do a lot of things on your own which makes you more resilient.
What advice would you give aspiring St Lucian entrepreneurs?
Choose something you are passionate about, which solves a problem and put your unique spin on it.
Create value for your customers and understand that in business you will get punched in the face many times, eventually you just learn how to predict, dodge and fight smart.
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
The ability to build out your vision and be in control of some aspects of your destiny for the better part of your life.
Which businessman / woman do you admire most? Why?
The magnate I imagine myself to be in the future after firsthand experience with the challenges, bouncing back, learning from them quickly and continuously improving.
I admire the tenacity that takes, and the fact that I am blessed to keep finding the reserves to do it.
What do you love about St Lucia?
Its rich biodiversity. St Lucia is a biodiversity hotspot and its home to about 1,300 indigenous plants, which is exciting, because it means that there are plants here with properties that could revolutionise so many industries.
A lot of other countries do not have the plants that we have and that means we can offer the world something that is unique and only available from us.
What three places would you recommend for a first-time visitor to the island?
The Pitons; Sulfur Springs; and La Tille Falls.
What do you do when you have time off?
Read and think of ways to improve.
What is your philosophy in life?
Nothing happens to you. You are in charge of the outcome of your life to a great extent, once you focus on the things which are in your sphere of influence/control.
If you want to be the next billionaire or basketball player or footballer, put in the work, believe in yourself and make the right connections and it will come to pass.