UPLB alumnus and team win the UN Best Small Business 2021
UPLB alumnus and team win the UN Best Small Business 2021
by Paully May Z. Valencia

The Varacco Inc., a company from the Philippines, is recognized as one of the winners for the Best Small Business: “Good Food for All” competition this year from 2,000 competitors around the world.

Ariestelo Asilo (BS Nutrition 2007) jumped with joy and excitement when he received this good news. Aries, a UPLB Alumnus and native of Batangas, pioneered Nutripreneurship, short for Nutrition and Entrepreneurship, through coffee production and research. He is the chief operating officer (COO) and co-founder of Varacco Inc. with CEO Kathleen Manto, as his co-founder. It is an early present for the partners when they received the good news as Timplado, their café restaurant with a registered trademark, celebrated its first anniversary this year.

All the dreams that he is fulfilling now began with a question, “10 years from now, what do you like to do?” Aries was still a student when this was asked by his professor. This question made him think. He realized that within that span of time, he wanted to own a business. Armed with knowledge, skills, and network, he opened his first business venture, an agricultural company, in 2013. The first attempt was unsuccessful but that did not hinder him from trying again. He opened another business, an accounting company helping small businesses in organizing their system. For two years, he diligently worked as operations head of the company. However, he got burned out and decided to close it down just like his first company.

The Calling

Aries decided to pursue a master’s degree in business management at the University of the Philippines through US Peace Corps Alumni Foundation for Philippine Development. This is the same scholarship that assisted him to finish BS Nutrition in 2007. Through this, he was exposed to various trainings, seminars, and conferences which widened his network, experiences, and research exposure.

In 2018, Aries was introduced by a common friend to Kathleen “Kat” Manto. He saw Kat with a group of mothers making coffee as a small business. That time, he recalled the coffee trees in Lobo Batangas where the coffee beans are unharvested and scattered only under the trees and were only consumed when needed. The idea came back to him that the coffee beans can be utilized for commercial use.

They decided to be business partners and started Varacco Inc. Aries’ ambition of owning a coffee company became possible. Kat was more focused on the coffee products and it was her idea to develop a dip coffee product. Aries for his part, was interested in the coffee business development and research.

Aries’ goal was to attain a sustainable food service system by progressive value addition leading to increased productivity, profitability, and product quality. With this burning passion, he also shared his innovative model on Nutripreneurship by speaking at national and international conferences. He tapped partners from different universities and on top of that, he has one patent and five trademarks to his name. With these achievements, Aries was also recognized as 2020 UPLB Distinguished Alumnus for Nutrition Entrepreneurship and Community Nutrition. This year, Aries also won a grant from ACDI-VOCA for his coffee research funded by USDA.

Mentors

Before he started business in 2012, he consulted three men whom he considered as mentors, namely: Dr. Romulo Davide, Mr. Antonio “Tony” Meloto, and Dr. Aries Alip.

These three men helped him visualize the path that he wanted to take. He wanted to replicate Dr. Davide’s national program called “Farmers’ Scientists Training Program” (FSTP) where Aries will focus with coffee and call it, “Coffee-based Farming and Entrepreneurship Engagement (COFFEE) Program. In the future, he also wanted to have his own Rural bank just like Dr. Alip’s CARD bank. Just like Mr. Meloto who owns a farm, Aries, wanted to also have his own coffee farm. His learnings from these men guided him towards the fulfillment and success of his business.

Creating the Brand

The partners, Aries and Kat, started Varacco Inc. in 2018. The focus of this company is on selling coffee. Though there were many challenges that happened in 2020, the partners pushed through with the launching of Timplado in July 2020. They have carefully thought of the strategy before they started launching digitally. All the challenges that the partners faced have been rewarded as they celebrated their first anniversary last July 31.

Their coffee is branded as Circa 1740 because that is the year that the Spanish brought coffee to Lipa. The Gobernadorcillo that time ordered to mass produce coffee. Lipa became affluent with the production of coffee. “We want to give honor to our heritage and culture in Lipa,” Aries explained. Timplado was coined by one of their partners. It should have been the name of their coffee because it is already mixed or “timplado”.  The partners thought it would be better as the store’s name because it was very Filipino. Now, Timplado is becoming popular not only in Batangas but also in nearby provinces. As the income came in, their store became bigger and better.

The Opportunity

In 2020, Aries became a fellow of the Young Southeast Asian Leader Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellows Program for Economic Empowerment. This opportunity opened a lot of doors for competitions, grants, and the like. Since one of the things that Aries wanted to do was research, he conducted coffee research with his team. His technical coordinator urged him to apply for the UN Best Small Business competition. Aries became curious and read about it. He felt that their company would have a good chance to win in the competition, so he applied even though the deadline was drawing near. With the dedication and effort of their team, they went through the tedious process of preparing for the competition.

“May isang essay doon na pinakapaborito ko. What would you want to tell the government to help you? Sabi ko, I will not ask the government anymore. They are already having a lot of things to do. What I will do is that I will do my best to help the community, and, in that case, we’ll be helping the government,” Aries recalled.

Moreover, another question made him grateful of the opportunity to share their advocacy and be heard by the United Nations (UN). The competition assessed the applicants based on their business’ contribution for a healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food for their communities; their vision’s strength; and their impact.

They prayed hard to win and God answered their prayers. Out of 2,000 hopefuls, they placed in the top 150 and became one of the semi-finalists. Their journey didn’t end there. As semi-finalist, they are required to create a 2-minute video answering all UN’s questions. Moreover, this video should not exceed 2 minutes and should not be edited. Aries was challenged and he prepared his team. Thankful for his theater experience during his undergrad years at UPLB and the dedication of their team, they produced three versions. They carefully chose one for their entry. After three weeks, all the hard work paid off, Varacco Inc. was named as one of the finalists!

With God’s guidance and support from his family, partners, colleagues, staff, and friends, Aries will continue chasing his dreams and molding future generations with his passion, knowledge, and love for coffee. That could be the secret ingredients of Aries’ own perfect “timpla” (mix).