Photo (L-R): Nigel Walwyn CEO and Founder of Caribbean Smooth, LLC; Sandy Headley, Vice President of Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, Inc, (ACE); Scott Cooper, Board Member of Caribbean Smooth, LLC; Jason Sleeman, Business Banking Relationship Manager Fifth Third Bank
When Caribbean Smooth founder Nigel Walwyn visited his father in St. Croix in 2010, he handpicked sun-ripened mangoes, coconuts, and his childhood favorite, passion fruit. After years of making delicious fruit drinks from scratch, he concocted an adult beverage pairing his fresh juice with local rums and spices.
Back in Atlanta, Nigel’s fruity mixture gained a steadily growing fan base, eventually encouraging him to leave his 25-year career as an award-winning television journalist to take up entrepreneurship. In March 2014, Nigel set out simultaneously to learn about business and researching the alcohol industry. He developed his concoctions into a product that could be mass-marketed, and built new relationships. In the first months, Nigel basically went back to school by attending classes put on by SCORE, self-teaching with the aid of the SBA Learning Center, and even mirroring the master’s program undertaken by his girlfriend through Strayer University. Armed with a treasure trove of new knowledge, Nigel proceeded to build his management team, secure permits and licenses, and began looking at ways to raise capital. He quickly found out the alcohol industry is extremely capital absorbing, and his dream would go nowhere without an infusion of funds to start production. The next 18 months of sharing his vision with anybody who would listen and pitching potential angel investors went nowhere. A crowdfunding campaign helped raise some funds, but nowhere near the goal needed to get started. However, it helped boost the owners’ equity, and when the opportunity came to meet a banker interested in helping new and small businesses enter the liquor industry, Nigel and his team were ready. The meeting led to an introduction to Sandy Headley with Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), and she became impressed with Nigel’s journey to make his dreams a reality.
Nigel and Sandy immediately began working on the process to get approval for an ACE Community Advantage loan. With no sales, no collateral, a decent credit score, and attractive financial projections, Nigel and his startup fit the profile for which the SBA Community Advantage program was created. Months of document gathering and due diligence came to a jubilant conclusion as Nigel closed on his SBA loan, precisely three years after he founded the company. Production started immediately on the inventory for the introduction of his Ou-Oui! Premium Rum Liqueurs. Sales began in May 2017 in Georgia and New York. Let’s Sip ‘N Say Oooo-Weee! to that.