Figure out what you want in your lifetime

hilo cafe fair and sustainable coffee connects you with the coffee farmers

Please introduce yourself and your startup hilo cafe to our readers!

I am Martín Rojas Arboleda, I am from Colombia but came to Germany to study a Master of Science in sustainability. I like sustainability and I think it is our generation’s responsibility. Hilo is an alternative system for conventional trade. It is a project that combines science, business, and social initiatives to kick-start sustainability processes in the coffee system.

Why did you decide to start with hilo cafe?

Because I think that in the era of sustainability systemic changes should be the rule, not the exception. I made it a career decision to strive for it, and Hilo is a very long-term research experiment, or attempt to trigger one systemic change by first accepting the complexity behind it. 

What is the vision behind Hilo Cafe?

Set a new standard for the values in the coffee commodity system: The values which kickstart and sustain long term sustainability processes. 

Why does coffee require a systemic change? 

Normally, the coffee we drink is produced in a system that was created in the 19th century. A system based on low prices set by international markets. It compensates for low prices with large quantities. And large quantities mean cheap labor, social inequality, and environmental degradation. For example every year 100,000 hectares of tropical forest are lost to coffee plantations worldwide. We are in 2019, and the international price for coffee is at its lowest in 14 years. Below 0,5 EUR/pound, which does not even cover the costs of production. 

That has to change. 

With Hilo, we propose an alternative system that provides a monthly income to small-scale farmers. It is a holistic approach to sustainability. The farmers who produce this coffee have been receiving a monthly income since May (2019), and we want to continue. That is why we are doing a crowdfunding campaign.

How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge has been figuring out how to move forward as we work decentrally, and out of pure motivation: A very steep learning curve indeed! So far, we have been working voluntarily and made a few investments to have the groundwork of our project: A committed team, a value chain, and a communication infrastructure that educates and inspires. The biggest challenge now is to move away from working voluntarily, that is another reason why our crowdfunding campaign should be supported. 

Who is your target audience?

Lots of people consume coffee, lots of people are worried about the changing climate and want to see systems change, some people believe that solving climate change means a lot more than cutting CO2 emissions and that it is complex and systemic. We are talking to every one of them, and motivating them to Join the Weave! 

What is the USP of your startup?

We think it might be the first time there is one system integrating producers and consumers in a system working toward allocating compensation for coffee work based on the concept of universal basic income and community-supported agriculture.

Where do you see yourself and your startup Hilo in five years?

After proving our concept with the ongoing crowdfunding campaign in Startnext, we finish establishing our infrastructure to reach the critical mass for: A big project for big impact. We fully establish an organization in which both producers and consumers are participants and we move from business-trading to sustaining a new system. This means: A regular living income for one family in exchange for their 2020 coffee harvest, plus funding for the educational project are secured, both for an entire year. It also means being one step closer to making a regular living income: A new standard for the coffee industry.

In five years, I move from establishing the first Hilo Core Team, to coach the creation of 3 more Hilo Core Teams. I also kick-start the integration of the Hilo system with other products. With Hilo, in 5 years, we educate, inspire and connect a network in the thousands with our sustainability-oriented value-chain.

Hilo is a stable system which runs and functions parallely to the conventional coffee trade, and has reached the breakeven-point, supporting at least 9 to 12 small scale coffee farmer families. We are able to see the first results of the project Jardín Municipio Lector, which hopefully has grown to reach many more rural schools in the region. The financial stability and a stronger social fabric are established, so we have a fertile ground to kick-start environmental sustainability projects. Ultimately, we have set a best-practice example for other commodities, and that can also be adapted to other areas.

What 3 tips would you give to founders?

  1. Figure out what you want in your lifetime (In my case is sustainability)
  2. Encourage people to understand what they want in their lifetime (within Hilo we create an environment for that to happen).
  3. Cooperate with the ones aligned with what you want (In Hilo we say: Join the Weave!)


More information you will find here

Thank you Martín Rojas Arboleda for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

Sabine Elsässer

Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

Leave a Reply