We had the good fortune of connecting with Soraya Benitez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Soraya, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I was born and raised in Queens, New York. The oldest of three, and child to two Colombian immigrants. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot. But we did have wonderful, caring parents who raised us with many of the botanic traditions common to their homeland of Colombia. My father was born and raised on a farm in Cali Colombia near the foot of the Andes mountains, while my mom is from Bogota, the capital. My dad had to leave school when he was just a boy in middle school, to help his family financially. Going to the hospital was only for emergencies, rather, when he or anyone in his family had an ailment, Mother Earth was the best medical advisor. His mantra: “La tierra siempre produce lo que uno necesita.” The earth always produces what one needs.
He raised us with this same philosophy. He was always pointing out nature and wildlife everywhere we would go, even at our local playground. Near the entrance of our local park stood a big blackberry tree. He would pluck the blackberries right off and give them to us to eat. At home, our pantry was always stocked full of herbs and our fridge full of fruits and vegetables. Whether it was chamomile and ginger for an upset stomach or honey and lemon for sore throats, there were always home remedies to help us mend.
As a mom myself now, I have always tried to honor their herbal wisdom, love, and care. When my then four-year-old was sick with the cold, I remember he fought me tirelessly about taking his cough medicine. I was sitting on the couch with my husband and said to him, ‘If only he wanted his medicine as much as he loves his candy”! I asked him if there was anything like that on the market. He said, yes, this company has a cough product lollipop for kids (Insert large pharma company name), I looked at it and said to him, “NO WAY! This isn’t something I would want for myself, let alone my child”. As a caregiver and mom, I felt and feel strongly, moms want to know what is in the products they use, especially those that are consumed. Clean living and clean eating isn’t just a fad that is going away, I believe it is a way of life for moms of this generation. Thus began the journey ‘MommaBear’.
I was still working my day job and when I got home and finished with evening duties (dinner, bath time, reading time, and getting everyone tucked in and tight), I would proceed to work on creating recipes in my kitchen. I even had a little black book to carefully jot down each recipe meticulously. What worked, what didn’t, what was tasty, and what wasn’t. I enlisted my kids as taste testers (let’s face it, who is a better critic?).
Some people hide splurge shopping items from their significant others. Well, that was me, but instead of shoes or handbags, I was splurging on pots, pans, candy molds, ingredient purchases, and other kitchen devices and hiding them from my hubby! One day after I’d nearly burned the kitchen down because I had left the ginger seeping in the honey mixture for too long, my husband came home and said, “This place smells like a pharmacy, what are you doing in here”! It was at that point that I realized I might need to enlist outside help.
What should our readers know about your business?
About our business: MommaBear is a women-led startup building conscientious, organic, carefully crafted, and delicious homeopathic solutions for common ailments that the whole family can enjoy.
What sets us apart: Our products are handmade in small batches, with carefully sourced organic ingredients. We also care deeply about our customers and giving back to our community.
Was it easy? ‘Yes! I had an idea and it came to fruition in a week, easy peasy’- said NO ONE!! It has been a long uphill road that began in 2018. We have heard more no’s than I can count. Someone actually told me to get a day job! No one will believe in you and what you are trying to do/sell if you don’t believe in yourself! You have a plan in your mind and sometimes this is not the way it works out.
Lessons I have learned along the way: a). YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING! Hire and put faith and trust in competent people. You are only as good as the team you build around you! Some things won’t go your way. In fact, a lot will not. If you believe in your story and what you are building, you will need to push through many many many many obstacles! Always have the name of a good: Lawyer, Accountant, technologist (ie web designer..etc). Find a good mentor or two to bounce ideas off of.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In LA or NYC? I’ve never been to LA but i’ve always wanted to go. If they are visiting NYC one day in the city would definitely be:
– Start in the village, east or west. Cronuts at dominique ansel or Russ and Daughters for the best bagel and lox in the city.
– Check out an independent movie at the Anjelica Theater
– Take the train up to the Meatpacking district (14th street) and walk over to Washington street to shop like a hipster (Bond 9 is my favorite perfume ever, very expensive so ask for samples!). check out the amazing architecture and
– For lunch, Pastis is a must, but if you can’t get a reservation, try RH Rooftop for awesome views of midtown. for a walk on the Highline (be sure to first visit the Whitney Museum and make a detour at Little Park).
-The end of the Highline ends where the new Hudson Yard begins, There are plenty of high end shops if you want to shop some more!
– Make your way West to Madison Square park in the Flatiron district. Stop by Eately for the free food samples, and if you need an afternoon snack, you can visit the very first Shake Shack ever in Madison square park for a hotdog! Sometimes there are live artists and music performances so you might get lucky!
-Take the train up to midtown and make your way into central park. You can rent a citi bike and work off all that food. Or, if you’re fancy, do a horse and buggy ride (They’re usually all over central park south)
-Make your way back to your hotel for a stretch or catnap, but be sure to get up in time for pre theater dinner at Marea one of Michael Scott’s top restaurants in NYC. If you’re on a budget there are many wonderful restaruants all over midtown,
-Make sure to make time for a Broadway show or a live performance at Lincoln Center.
I see this might be too much to fit in one day and this doesn’t cover even half of all the fun things there are to do, see, taste!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Gratitude is important and has always helped me stay grounded. I dedicate my shoutout to my Parents (Martha and Dario), the always smiling Margaret Ruschmann (professional mentor), Isabella Chial our COO who has been with us since day one and has always had faith and belief in what we are building, Belen Presbich (our resident part-time CFO) who keeps us out of trouble. Kyla Sternlieb and Allison Larkin who are not only professional mentors but have volunteered their time to be on our advisory board. I am grateful for their time and professional guidance. A most important shoutout also goes to our customers, who place their trust in our products!