Written by: Catherine Smith
American Beth Massa moved to Amsterdam 11 years ago after experiencing the city for just one day and one night. “I deeply connected to this place immediately.” Today she’s embarking on a new endeavor – sustainable packaging to create a solution to the plastic pollution crisis.
Where are you from?
I grew up in a small town in SW Michigan 90 minutes outside of Chicago and went to college at Indiana University, Bloomington. After college I drove as far west as I could until I hit water and could drive no further. I planted myself in Seattle where I lived for 10 years until I moved to Amsterdam 11 years ago.
How long you’ve been an entrepreneur?
Unofficially since birth. My mom said my first words were “Let me do it.” But officially, I registered Ozarka as a B.V. in fall of 2016 and started working on it as a second job. I started working on it full time in June of 2017.
What’s your work background?
Most recently I worked for Microsoft in the Netherlands office, onboarding scientific researchers to Microsoft’s cloud platform. Some of my customers were researching water management and plastic pollution and for several reasons this issue obsessed me to the point I realized I had a moral imperative to be part of the solution.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur was a means to an end. I wanted to return to the world of service and selection which gives me energy. I also wanted to devote the rest of my career to creating a solution to the plastic pollution crisis, or at least doing my part. And to combine the two in a way to realize my vision meant I had to start my own business. I tried the “intrapreneur” thing for a long time and it never worked out. If I wanted to see results, I had to go out on my own.
Tell me about your business.
Ozarka is an upmarket prepared foods shop and traiteur where all our packaging is sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic and all of it is return for deposit/statiegeld. We aim to grow into a full assortment grocery store.
I get asked to clarify whether Ozarka is in the food business or the packaging business. We’re in the systems business. We’re building everything from an operational perspective – we want Ozarka to achieve something impactful in Europe and deeply meaningful and enjoyable for our customers. To achieve both it has to be repeatable, shareable, and scalable.
Where did your name come from, the Ozark Mountains?
Actually, it’s from the a indy record shop I managed in college. The name represents a time in my life when I felt I could be my best for my customers selling a product I loved and connecting with them over a mutual passion for music. I want to repeat that experience with my new commitment: amazing food packaged sustainably.
How long has it been in operation?
Ozarka is very new. The pilot launches this summer.
What stage is your business?
Currently we’re running a proof of concept trial and seeking investment to get the first store open. I’ve been working with an investment advisor through The Next Women, who’s suggested we need to do some work for our potential investors.
Fortunately, the EkoPlaza announcement about going plastic free got lots of attention, which ultimately made it easier for us to fully communicate what we do and don’t do.
How have you funded your business?
So far all our funding has come from my own pockets. We’re seeking investment and will possibly run a crowdfunding campaign.
How big is your company?
It’s better to ask how little is my company. It is just me right now and my business partner/husband plus the support of some really excellent suppliers and advisors.
What do you consider the biggest success factor of your company (could be size, problem solved, revenue, whatever you think is most appropriate)
My answer will change frequently because we will always grow and improve. We have a long term vision of making a measurable impact on the reduction of single-use plastic usage in the food retail space (which accounts for 80% of all plastic pollution). And I want Ozarka to live on well beyond my capacity to manage it–I want it to be my legacy. But we will achieve and celebrate many successes along the way to get there in the short and mid term.
What’s the best part about running your own company?
Not having to constantly compromise both professionally and personally. I got really tired of having my personality “coached” out of me in order to become compatible with the corporate world. Some of that was necessary and that’s called maturity and growth. But most of it was a step too far and I was losing myself. Now all decisions are my own, as well as all risks and accountability. And because my work is so purpose driven, none of it feels like work–not even being mired in spreadsheets all day. It’s also a lot easier and enjoyable to learn and receive coaching or mentoring because all of it is for the sake of your own vision.
What’s the worst?
So far there is no downside at all. I really mean that.
When did you become involved with The Next Women?
I attended an event for women entrepreneurs a few months ago and was introduced to The Next Women at this time. It was here that I talked to Rixt who suggested look into the organization.
Why did you join?
What benefits did you get from your association with The Next Women?
Why do you think The Next Women is important for female entrepreneurs?
I’m going to answer questions 6-8 all at once because they are all related in a single point of view and story. And I’m going to go on a bit about this because these questions are super important to me.
I’ve always worked in a male-dominated industry where most most of the women were concentrated in PR or HR or traditionally female-heavy departments. So I’ve always been rather allergic to women-only groups–too much feeling feelings or thinking thinkings and all this touchy feely stuff that makes my blood run cold. And for a long time, I was resistant to the efforts to proactively get women involved in industries where women just seem to “naturally” be uninterested. I’ve worked with many, many wonderful people as well as a few difficult people, both men and women. I never really saw the point or benefit in exclusively female-oriented programs.
But in the last few years my eyes have been opened and my views on this have radically changed. It started with my last role at Microsoft where I worked with professors and academic researchers in IT, life sciences, earth sciences, astrophysics, applied and data science, and software engineering. I would walk into a meeting in a software engineering department building and see maybe a dozen young women among hundreds and hundreds of young men. It triggered my conclusion that something is alarmingly wrong here. I witnessed another generation of women missing out on one of the most important and influential professions of the next hundred years at least. The industry is missing out on half the world’s brains, and women are missing out on one of the most lucrative industries. It’s a loss on both sides.
I believe that, again, going to the theme of a step too far, we are asking too much of young women en masse to subscribe to “nerd culture” where women don’t self-identify as such. We’ve made nerd culture acceptable and mainstream, and that’s been wonderful and positive for the geeky guys. But it is still a male-defined culture that too few women identify with. That goes for any conventionally male-dominated institution, whether it is business, sports, science, technology, etc.
In order for women to enter STEM or entrepreneurship, or any sort of previously male-dominated area, we have to create our own culture on our own terms, from the ground up.
This is why I am profoundly supportive of–and supported by–The Next Women. I’ve found my people! The energy is totally different in a women-only support network for entrepreneurs. It’s supportive from so many different angles and facets, tough but nurturing and completely relatable–relatable because we all want different flavors of the same thing. I think we are better at listening to each other. We women need each other now to close the gap created by the conscious and subconscious biases we’re up against in the male-dominated investment world, for example. Together, organized and united, we can begin to even out that playing field, and accelerate investment for the next generation of female entrepreneurs and leaders.
Any words of wisdom for new female entrepreneurs?
I’m a new female entrepreneur myself, but I guess I would say on a holistic level, trust who you are, own who you are, and be proud of who you are. Examine and contemplate the difference between learning/true growth and proving yourself. For too long, I felt like I had so much to prove because I had the imposter syndrome. As a result, I spent 20 years moving farther and farther away from my authentic self. I’m returning now, almost at age 50, to who I truly am, a person that was always there, but buried under a lot of layers.
From a practical experience here is what I’ve learned so far: