Interview with Lia Bijnsdorp: “Entrepreneur of the Year 2021”
On 19 November, Holland House Mexico celebrated the Day of the Entrepreneur (DVDO), an initiative of MKB Nederland. Entrepreneurs in Mexico were nominated, 3 finalists were selected and through a public online poll the winner was announced as the third “Entrepreneur of the Year”: Lia Bijnsdorp, Owner of United Producers of Mexico.
HHM intern Dylan Jerzijnska invited Lia to share her experiences about her company here in Mexico.
First Lia, I want to congratulate you again on winning the Entrepreneur of the Year award! Can you please tell us a little more a bit more about yourself? How did you become a Dutch agro-exporter in Mexico? What inspired you?
It is a long story, first we lived in Mexico City with my family, my husband is Mexican and then we decided to move to Michoacán, because we liked it. And it was a very messy time there, basically with a lot of complications, but either way, we got started.
My husband is a Physician, so he said let’s put my practice in Morelia, and I was invited to do workshops with teachers from Michoacán. To make a long story short, that resulted in an exchange program between a community of elementary schools in the Netherlands and elementary schools in Michoacán basically. That evolved and became an exchange program with teachers from the Netherlands visiting Michoacán and the teachers from Michoacán, visiting and doing practices in the Netherlands and things evolved from there.
We started working also together with the Dutch Embassy, we did a Dutch week or Semana de Holanda in Michoacán with Dutch events, and from that week on, we got contacted by growers, by producers of avocados and mangoes telling us that they wanted to export to to the Netherlands, because The Netherlands ends up being the port of entrance for fruit exports from Latin America.
From there, we started looking at different formats. At first, we had an alliance with a group of project managers to export products and that didn't work well, so then the growers themselves formed a group and invited us to support them with export activities to Europe.
So, I started a company in the Netherlands which originally was called United Producers of Michoacán, then we changed the commercial name to United Producers of Mexico and we started looking at different aspects that needed to be improved in the export processes, because Mexican exporters, and especially the growers, they wanted to export but they were not always prepared, they didn't have standardized processes. We started working with Wageningen University on all the items that needed to be improved, and we're still doing it.
It started as a volunteer work and ended up being a business, we always cared about the social impact, our goal has always been to help growers to be exporters, which is a huge task here in Mexico.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently when you first started the company?
Everything! In the beginning we started working together with growers that were exporters, but we didn't really appreciate at that moment the knowledge that was necessary and the lack of standardized processes.
So, if I knew what I know now, I think we would go 10 times faster than we are, because we are not a big company, but we have a lot of alliances with big companies, we have several alliances mostly with Dutch companies, because we offer them solutions and of course there are also solutions from other countries, but I say: “let's keep the Dutch in the Dutch”
What would you say is your favorite part of UPM?
Our mission has always been to create a social impact, but also a sustainable impact, there is still a lot of room for improvement in sustainability and every time it is more needed.
We always try to stimulate growers to do a conversion to organic products, there is a lot of fruit that goes to waste if they have organic growth and we always try to find alliances usually with Dutch importers, with their companies. We can work together and say, “if you have your specialist that travels all around the world and here's a group of growers that already has a good volume of products, let's work together”. Sometimes it is in the form of a project, we worked together with project financing, for example, with Rabobank Rural Funds or Rural Foundation and other Dutch financing organizations with focus in agriculture.
Thank you for your time and sharing your story Lia! Do you have any recommendations for other entrepreneurs who want to start in Mexico?
There are two words that we never use in our UPM organization, one of them is “no” and the other one is “problem”. We simply don't use those words, we analyze things and then the answer will come by itself basically, but never use the word problem, because then you will get a problem.
There is also a lot of trust among each other, among our colleagues and myself, we listen to each other, we do not have that much of a hierarchy, we always start from the belief or the faith in what we do as a group, and then if we set a goal, then we just all go for it and work on it!
Lia Bijnsdorp has also written a book. Interested to read more about this? visit: https://ladoctoralia.com/la-gran-congruencia/#
The book will be available from December 23th on Amazon for everyone!
Interested in learning more about Lia and her company United Producers of Mexico?
Visit her website or one of the company’s social media channels: