XIAMEN, China–It was a long and arduous journey to Xiamen, China, for St. Maarten entrepreneur Ameera Groeneveldt and her Align Body Solutions back-brace prototype. She heads home without gaining a sought-after partner to grow her back-pain solution business, but a whole lot richer in knowledge and outlook.
Groeneveldt was the only representative of the Caribbean in the international competition track and Common Action Summit organised by the China-based Promotion Association for the Global Youth Innovation Leaders Community PLIC of the Fourth China College Students “Internet Plus” Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition hosted by China’s Ministry of Education and several other ministries and national institutions.
Summing up her experience at the competition, Groeneveldt said her product appeared “to not be China-worthy. It was not a robot or an app.” The majority of gold-medal-winning ventures had their roots in science and technology.
Dwelling on the reception for her offered product, Groeneveldt said: “China is not big on back and knee pains. They don’t have a pose problem like we in the Caribbean, American and Africa do. They stand up straight.”
The competition did do a lot for her future planning. “I have seen now what it takes to be a winner. At this level I am at zero, but I can build up. There is no competition like this in St. Maarten, so this was a big lesson,” she said.
That big lesson was preparation, planning and experts. “When I look at the other competitors, they already had their product out there. They had experts using and talking about it. I am now getting to that stage where I will approach hospitals and other places with my product,” Groeneveldt said.
There is a huge market for her back-pain reliever in St. Maarten, if only people would tackle the problem before it seriously affects them, she noted. However, “prevention is not valued in St. Maarten.” That is a culture she is determined to change.
Groeneveldt, who describes her background as one in architecture, started her research and development on her back brace in 2015. She has now passed the prototype phase and needs financial partners to help her “almost instant” back-pain solution.
Speaking of her product to fellow contestants, Groeneveldt recalled an old man suffering from back pain visiting her office and within five minutes he was able to feel relief from her product. “He was smiling. People said he hardly smiled and there he was smiling,” she shared.
How she came up with this novel solution was relatively simple. “I love to help people and I saw people with lots of back pain and I thought of a solution,” Groeneveldt said.
Align Body Solutions currently has two “models” of the back-pain reliever brace available on the market – the “everyday wear” for US $60 and the “heavy duty” for US $75. The entrepreneur averages that she has sold about 1,000 pieces since she started her prototyping. Each user has given her feedback to improve her product along the way and helped her arrive at the “ready for market” final product.
After seeing China’s focus on building entrepreneurs and support of innovation, Groeneveldt believes that a Chinese partnership to boost and promote entrepreneurship in St. Maarten would be very beneficial to the country.
“It has to be a partnership that gives us a chance to leave St. Maarten and see what else is out there to help us. We need to see entrepreneurship has an economic impact on our country,” Groeneveldt said.
The boost and awareness are just the first steps, according to Groeneveldt. Parallel to these are tackling “entrepreneur discouragement” that often springs from people warning entrepreneurs to stay in the employee track because of the risks of branching out and the lack of support.
“People are quick to think because you are putting your business and trying to be successful you think you are better than them. It’s like ‘who do you think you are?’ It’s that crab in the barrel mentality that needs to stop,” she said.
She will head to University of St. Martin (USM) in January to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in business administration. Although she is yet to start classes, she was the university’s representative at the three-day competition held in Xiamen University.
Groeneveldt expressed thanks to the local Chinese counterparts who were responsible for securing her space in the competition and to USM for allowing her to be its representative.