When bizMIX alumna Nina Yozell-Epstein founded Squash Blossom in 2015, she was, in her words, “ripe” for the business.
Squash Blossom is a local food subscription service for Santa Fe residents and a wholesale provider to approximately 30 local restaurants. The business works with 25 local farms and grew out of Yozell-Epstein’s background in the nonprofit sector, working for organizations such as the former Santa Fe Alliance and Farm for Table. At the heart of her work is the belief in the importance of local food, and the key role it plays in creating sustainable communities.
Squash Blossom will enter its fifth summer season soon, Yozell-Epstein says, and “has really bloomed and developed” since its inception.
Squash Blossom’s pay-as-you-go individual subscriptions offer bags of vegetables, depending on what is available seasonally, and can also be supplemented with other locally prepared products such as eggs, cheese, jams and locally roasted coffees. Bags are available for pickup at select locations in town, including Cheesemongers, Homewise and Meow Wolf, to name a few.
“It’s cool because MIX, and bizMIX, which is how we got involved, is so great building at connections,” Yozell-Epstein notes, “and at Squash Blossom, we really love connecting with other small local businesses that share our values. So, it’s great to have our pickup at Cheesemongers, which was a bizMIX winner…and we connected with Homewise through bizMIX and that’s a place we deliver. It’s always one degree of separation in Santa Fe, and the more we can connect together and collaborate, it’s an added benefit to all businesses and it’s helping build a strong community.”
Squash Blossom’s model, mission and success has been recognized by its growing customer base, but also by the city and state. In 2016, it received the City of Santa Fe’s Mayoral Award for Sustainability and Food Security. In 2018, it was named the Small Business Administration’s New Mexico Home-Based Business of the Year, and the same year it was named the City of Santa Fe’s Small Business of the Year.
With bizMIX 2019 set to start, we asked Yozell-Epstein—who has since volunteered as a mentor for bizMIX—to share her experience as a bizMIX 2015 finalist, and to offer advice to future entrepreneurs.
Her Experience in bizMIX: “It was super valuable. I love bizMIX. I love being a mentor there now. The most valuable part was being around other entrepreneurs and people who were taking this really big risk, because it’s totally scary. You’re putting it all on the line, and when you have a small business that is a passion-driven, mission-based business, it’s really a lot about who you are; it’s very vulnerable. …You’re taking a risk financially and in all these ways, but you’re also taking the risk of, ‘does the world want what I have to give?’ Being around other people who were willing to take that dive, who have other heart-based businesses, was really inspiring and it kept me encouraged to do that. And you encounter people who don’t believe it’s going to work, and you encounter a lot of doubt, from yourself or the external community, and you have to remember why you started, and keep pulling it back home and keep persevering. If one thing doesn’t work, you have to find out what the next thing is you’re going to try. To be around other people going through the same learning curve and struggle and perseverance, and being around that community of these big thinkers and problem-solvers and amazing mentor and peers, it was everything to me.”
Her biggest challenge in bizMIX: “The pitch…articulating what I was doing. There weren’t other models of my business in Santa Fe, so when I was talking to the community about what it was and why it’s important, I wasn’t calling on language they already knew. My friends that were starting the brewery, they won every pitch contest. Everyone knew what a local brewery was; they could articulate it and people were like, ‘cool!’ I was giving out samples of Hakurei turnips, which no one had ever seen, and I was like, ‘farmers!’ So, it’s always been a challenge to articulate in a really brief and compelling way what it is we’re doing and why. MIX is all about the pitch, so I really got to practice and practice and practice, and now, five years later, I’m getting a little better at it.”
Advice for prospective bizMIX applicants: Yozell-Epstein had a business plan and launch date when she entered bizMIX, and views the process as most useful for people who are committed. “Ask yourself the questions of, ‘Am I ready to have this be my new career? Am I ready to dive in the deep end?’ You don’t have to have a business plan, you don’t have to have a launch date, you don’t have to know everything. You have to be ready to go for it, and then bizMIX will start telling you everything you need to know. Personally, I wouldn’t do it if you’re a hobbyist, but if you’re really ready for a change and to take a big risk, it will give you the tools you need to get there.”
Advice for bizMIX finalists: “I really fed off the deadlines. Sometimes with your business, you’re like, ‘I should do that,’ but if there’s no one holding you accountable like a troop of bizMIXers and mentors, then you might take six months to do something you could do in two weeks. So sticking with those deadlines and holding yourself to the schedule is really a gift; it’s an opportunity to get something done that you could have put off.”