A NEGRENSE food producer was recognized as among the 15 inspiring micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the country by Go Negosyo of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Jesselle Hayacinth Hablo, owner of Sir Jess/Suarez Enterprise in Bacolod City, received the "inspiring negosyante" award under the food and agriculture sector during the virtual celebration of the 15th year of Go Negosyo on November 27.

The 31-year-old entrepreneur is the only MSME from Negros Occidental to receive the award out of at least 500 applicants nationwide.

Hablo, in a phone interview with SunStar Bacolod, said the recognition is a blessing that she would like to share with all Negrenses, especially her fellow entrepreneurs in the province.

"Through this national award, I realized that God has redirected me to become an entrepreneur to help my family," she said.

She said she was supposed to work as chef abroad after graduation but stayed in the country to help her parents grow their business.

"This [award] will further motivate me to be better, hoping that this will also inspire other entrepreneurs to always to do their best in every product they create," she said.

Hablo graduated Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

She started venturing as entrepreneur at the age of 21 by helping the then-quail egg business of his father, former provincial Commission on Elections supervisor lawyer Jessie Suarez.

Their quail egg production business had eventually evolved as his father begun producing other agricultural products like kalamansi, herbs, vegetables and native chicken on their farm in Barangay Abuanan in Bago City.

From just quail eggs, they were able to diversify into the production of other food products like Healthy and Savory Piaya, kalamansi juice and concentrates, and Quail in the Bottle or their own version of adobong quail flakes, among others.

In 2013, more opportunities had opened for Sir Jess as it started to join trade fairs inside and outside the province.

Among the events they have participated are Negros Trade Fair, Sikat Pinot Trade Fair and International Food Exposition.

These had enabled them to tap potential markets outside Bacolod City.

At present, they are distributing food products to various retails stores including big malls in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

"We have focused on production and distribution. We no longer sell since we decided to close our restaurant," Hablo shared.

A graduate of the Kapatid Mentor Me program of the DTI, Hablo was a recipient of various awards.

She received the Most Innovative Product award from the Association of Negros Producers and Pana-ad Outstanding Entrepreneur in 2017, and the 2018 Regional Gawad Saka award as Outstanding Agripreneur in Western Visayas.

For her latest achievement, Hablo went through a series of panel interviews and examinations conducted by industry experts.

Among the random questions asked from them was how they were able to impact the community through their business.

Hablo said they were able to help local farmers and their families by employing them on the farm especially during this coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

The multi-awarded entrepreneur also shared that during this health crisis, they saw how small market vendors are struggling to sell and earn a living.

"Part of our mission is really giving back to the community so we are making sure that we source our raw materials locally. Those that we cannot get from our own farm, we buy it from the small market vendors in the city," she said.

The prevailing pandemic has not significantly affected their business as their distribution continues.

They were able to partner with a company for the shipment of their products even in other areas of the country amid quarantine restrictions.

Hablo cited the huge demand for "healthy products" especially when Covid cases surged. Their products like kalamansi juice and concentrates have gained a good market position.

"We were also able to link with agencies for us to cater to their food needs during their events and activities," she added.

Hablo encouraged fellow Negrense entrepreneurs to start early.

Once they feel that they want to be an entrepreneur, they should then go for it, Hablo said.

She urged local MSMEs not to hesitate in asking for help from the government like the DTI as it has many programs intended for the development of entrepreneurs.

"We just have to be resourceful and resilient despite the challenges. Even the pandemic, it cannot stop us from succeeding," she said, stressing that "we just have to believe that we can make our own brand known to the market."