When Leigh Tucker visited Peru in 2015 to hike the Salkantay Trail, little did she know that it would lead to a successful business venture in the health food industry.
Tucker, an entrepreneur with strong Tampa roots, is the creator of the Kiwicha Bar
. And what is Kiwicha? It’s an ancient seed native to Peru, and it’s the name of a so-called “superfood” that hasn’t yet amassed the fame and cult following of quinoa.
During her trip to Peru, Tucker lived off foods made with the seed, which happens to be naturally gluten-free -- a key fact considering that Tucker is gluten-intolerant. She was so taken with the seed that when she returned home, she began cooking with it. Six months of experimentation led to the development of a healthy snack bar that her friends and family loved.
Yet it wasn’t until her brother started taking the bars to meetings that she thought about turning the cooking experiment into a business. After adapting the recipe 11 times, she came up with the existing recipe and launched her business in June 2016.
Tucker started by visiting Tampa’s natural food stores and juice bars to sell her product. Only a year later, Kiwicha bars can be found at 40 locations around the Tampa Bay area including Rollin’ Oats
, Nature’s Food Patch
, Xtreme Juice
and Squeeze Juice Works
Banking on success
A huge part of the Kiwicha Bar’s success in this first year can be credited to the connections Tucker has made through her relationship with USAmeriBank
While Tucker hasn’t needed any startup capital or funding at this point, she says that her banker has always taken a genuine interest in her business and success. Whenever she walks into her branch, Scott McClelland, retail market manager, has a thoughtful suggestion or business connection that is applicable to her business and can generate action right away.
“USAmeriBank really does care to see its customers do well,” Tucker says. “The service and support its bankers provide is like old-school banking that I didn’t think existed anymore.”
So when USAmeriBank announced a new program designed for women entrepreneurs, Tucker was at the top of USAmeriBank’s list for membership.
USAmeriBank officially launched Women Entrepreneurs (WE) last fall. It aims to support local businesswomen and enrich their lives through handcrafted banking solutions, networking and educational opportunities.
With a staff that is more than 70 percent female and a customer base that includes more than 1,500 female business owners, USAmeriBank has been a leader in recognizing the growing role of women professionals in the community.
“At USAmeriBank we take pride in serving as thought leaders and community conveners for our customers,” says Cami Gibertini, SVP/Retail Market Manager, Director of Women Entrepreneurs. “WE is about more than addressing financial needs. It’s about providing meaningful networking opportunities that connect women and build mutually beneficial relationships.”
For a pre-launch event, Gibertini put a call out to all of the bank’s relationship managers for a list of bank customers who could be asked to join. It was no surprise that Tucker was on the list. Also on the list was Susan Ward, co-founder of Buddy Brew Coffee
, a fast-growing Tampa company that now has five locations around the Tampa Bay area and whose products are sold at select Publix and Whole Foods locations.
The two were serendipitously seated next to each other at the event and immediately hit it off. Ward wondered why the bars weren’t being sold at any Buddy Brew locations. So the two women set up a separate meeting, and Ward subsequently ordered the bars for her Kennedy Boulevard and Hyde Park Buddy Brew locations. Over the past six months, the bars have been selling like crazy.
“The bars were a perfect fit for our locations because they completed a missing category we weren’t offering at the time,” Ward says. “We had a lot of pastries and egg-based dishes, but we didn’t have a gluten-free option or a sweet treat for our plant-based diet customers.”
Collaboration benefits both businesses
The partnership isn’t just beneficial for Buddy Brew; it also has helped Tucker take her business to the next level, and much faster than she had anticipated.
“Buddy Brew is a trusted brand in the community that has built a loyal following,” Tucker says. “Partnering with them has lent credibility to my business, which has been tremendously valuable.”
For Ward, she takes great pride in being able to support another female entrepreneur.
“There is tremendous power in women supporting women,” Ward says. “It’s a great opportunity for me to be in a position to help other women grow their businesses. And one that I am honored to do.”
In addition to meeting other women who can help their businesses and careers, WE members enjoy benefits like free access to USAmeriBank branch conference rooms and free notary service. They also receive invitations to attend quarterly networking events and other special WE events.
In addition to meeting Tucker at the pre-launch event, Ward has made other valuable business connections through WE. For example, another WE member who previously held business meetings at a Starbucks, now schedules coffee meetings at Buddy Brew after connecting with Ward at a WE event.
“I am blown away by the caliber of women and the connections I have made at WE events,” Ward says. “It seems like something great comes out of every event that I attend.”
For more information about WE, call 813-418-4068 or visit USAmeriBank
or follow WE on Facebook
Laura Fontanills is an account manager with B2 Communications. This article is part of a series about local entrepreneurs who have benefited from SBA lending and other bank programs. The series is supported by USAmeriBank. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.