FREDERICK, Md. — While most college business students are learning concepts and applying lessons theoretically in the classroom, Shepherd University senior Valentina Preciado Bello was immediately taking every class and applying it to her own successes.
Preciado Bello, a Colombia native, and her business partner, Camilo Sanchez, also from Colombia, began talking about business ideas amid quarantine, and from there, Nati-vos blossomed, a coffee bean business forged through their Colombian roots. The beans are now used and sold at Dublin Roasters Coffee in Frederick, Maryland, an artisanal coffee shop, among other coffee shops, as well.
“I remember I was in a business marketing class the first semester of my senior year,” Preciado Bello said. “The professor said, ‘Build a strategic marketing plan for a brand that is already out there.’ And I was like, ‘What’s the point of doing that?’”
Instead, Preciado Bello designed the plan for her own business, Nati-vos being the direct beneficiary of everything the senior was learning right at that moment.
Preciado Bello’s background isn’t necessarily in coffee, but she’s had a deep connection to the drink — and now the beans — as she’s grown up.
“I do not come from a coffee grower family, but my dad, he loves coffee. He’s a coffee connoisseur,” Preciado Bello said. “He loves coffee of any kind. So growing up, coffee was present in my life a lot. I met my business partner two years ago, almost three years ago, and during quarantine, we came up with this project. We had nothing to do and were like, ‘Let’s try to see if we can work something out.’”
Sanchez, her business partner, is a third-generation coffee grower, his grandfather starting the family’s coffee farm. However, the newest generation is approaching the business from a different aspect as he and Preciado Bello work to directly connect the farm with roasters and stores.
“We are the ones that grow the coffee,” she said. “We work with about 2,000 coffee growers back home, and it’s a family-owned business. We are basically trying to eliminate the middle man. We want our coffee growers to get the money, what they worked for.”
Pointing to a bag of her beans at Dublin Roasters, the passion inside Presciado Bello is clear, her answer heartfelt when asked what she loves so much about the beans.
“I love the people behind it. That’s what I love the most,” she said. “It’s the stories behind it and the effort people put into it. Coffee’s not just, ‘I’m going to go get coffee;” there’s stories behind it and years of work. They have been working for about 20 years, and I’m 23.”
Preciado Bello said the whole business would not be possible without the support and trust from Jose Gomez Lopez and the 2,000-plus specialty coffee growers in Buesaco, Narino.
Thinking back to her first cup of her own coffee, Preciado Bello couldn’t describe the experience simply, a wave of emotion and thoughts coming to mind.
“It was amazing, because the container got here on Dec. 4,” she said. “Our work started in October, so we took about two months to get the container here. Seeing that it was coming to life, basically a dream came true, I was super excited.
“We have 18 varieties of the specialty variety. All of them are completely different, and they go through different processes. It was such an experience. It was weird to see, ‘This is something I’ve been working for.’ It had been a whole experience. It has been a very nice experience.”
However, the journey hasn’t been without it’s share of bumps and scary moments, including approaching Dublin Roasters owner Serina Braley Roy for the first time, the owner who eventually became Nati-vos’ first account.
“I was nervous,” Preciado Bello laughed. “Serina was my first (owner) approached. ‘Camilo, what do I tell her?’ He was like, ‘Be you.’ I was like, ‘OK, let me just be me.’ I came up to her, sweating. I didn’t know what do to. I was scared.”
Roy glanced proudly over to Preciado Bello, a woman taking huge steps for herself and her business and putting her skills and knowledge quickly to good use. The Dublin Roasters owner said there is no other way her organization conducts business than the same way Nati-vos presents itself.
“That’s been Dublin’s mission (to know the people behind the beans),” Roy said. “We’ve been around 21 years, but I had to buy it from distributors until about 15 years ago when I scraped up enough money to go on the trips. Now, that’s the only way we do business, which is super good.
“I’m happy to be her first account. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I know what it took to grow it, to pick it, to get it to market, put it on the boat, get it here and through inspections and customs, to get a trucking company during all of this and get to me at a fair price.”
Roy is happy to be there to teach Preciado Bello and Nati-vos anything needed to succeed in the business. She said she was drawn to Nati-vos because of not only the quality and the fair pricing but the stories that came with the account, the direct knowledge of those who bring Nati-vos to life.
“We want to know where our food’s coming from, where our coffee’s coming from, and to tell the story, from a marketing standpoint, it’s much faster to get you to enjoy the peaberry-washed Nati-vos coffee,” Roy said. “What better way than to tell you the story, let you taste it, let you buy it, to give you everything we know about the family and the struggle and the success.”
So far, Dublin Roasters customers have enjoyed what they’ve tasted from Nati-vos, the brand recently being showcased in Dublin Roasters’ coffee club selections.
“This month, we used it for our coffee subscription club, the Java Luv Club, and it was received really well,” Roy said. “They get it delivered to their door every month. They can get it weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. It went really well. People are trusting me that I’m choosing the right beans for them. We’ll do it again.”
Preciado Bello thanked Roy, her professors and everyone who has helped the company grow this much and taught her along the way, as she continues to evolve with Nati-vos in the industry.
“I’ve noticed that the coffee industry is very welcoming,” she said. “It’s not like everyone is competing. We all are helping each other. That’s something I really appreciate.”