Jun 01, 2023

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Article by Roni Kane, a VSFS intern with the U.S. Department of State, currently studying International Studies and Film, TV and Media at the University of Michigan.

[Portugal, August 2023] Two sisters in Portugal are helping make plastic waste a little less harmful to the environment by bringing a touch of ingenuity into their family business.

Sandra Ruivo, a 2022 alumni of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), and her sister Cátia Ruivo grew up in the Portuguese city of Leiria, a historic gothic municipality just an hour north of Lisbon. Their father owned a “mold manufacturing” company, or a business that produces and sells molds for creating plastic products — anything from automobiles parts to food packaging.

After graduating from the Universidade de Aveiro in 2007, Sandra Ruivo lived in Italy for a year before moving back home and started working for her father. Meanwhile, her sister completed an MBA in entrepreneurship and innovation in Austria and also joined the family business. The sisters spent a decade learning the ins and outs of mold-making and started to build their own network of contacts and clients in the industry. But when her father decided to sell his shares of the companies, Sandra Ruivo said she and her sister were left wondering what to do next.

“We thought, ‘what do we do now?’” Ruivo said. “There was all this background and experience we had in mold-making so we decided to open our own company.”

That’s how Speedturtle and its sister company, Turtle Petals, were born. Both Sandra and Cátia Ruivo currently run both companies. The pair founded Speedturtle in 2012 and Turtle Petals nine years later in 2021. While Speedturtle specializes in producing custom molds for clients worldwide — just like Ruivo’s father did — Turtle Petals’ main goal is figuring out ways to make those products more environmentally friendly.

“We invest in the sustainability side of mold-making,” Ruivo said. “Home compostable products can be used, and then when they are disposed of, they will disintegrate naturally in the environment without harming the planet and creating pollution or releasing toxins.”

Ruivo said participating in the AWE program helped her figure out how to break into new international markets and to best promote her product. She said the working through the marketing modules on the DreamBuilder online learning platform — which was designed by Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation using a cutting-edge U.S. business curriculum — helped her make sure both of her businesses were on the path to success.

Ruivo said when she and her sister started Speedturtle, her brother was a part of the company too. When he left the company, she was a part of a woman-led company for the first time — previously either her father or her brother had always been leading the business with her. She said she noticed a difference between how stakeholders regarded her and her sister as the CEOs of an engineering company compared to how they had interacted with her male relatives in that same role.

“Most of the people in this industry are male, and so are the stakeholders,” Ruivo said. “So some of them didn’t think the company could actually succeed with women leadership. But this made us improve our skills and be better each day — it is in adversity that we grow.”

Just recently in July 2023, Ruivo was even recognized in the American magazine Plastics News as one of the 50 “Women Breaking the Mold” this year. Plastics News has been highlighting women in the industry with unique stories to tell with its special report since 2015.

“AWE helped me envision a new brand strategy — to focus on sustainability,” Ruivo said. “We are doing very well now. We have control over what products we sell and which customers we choose to work with.”

The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs is a women’s empowerment program that operates under the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. Department of State, and helps women like Ruivo build their business acumen and have the knowledge, networks and access to launch and grow their own businesses. Thanks to a partnership with Arizona State University and the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, AWE currently offers programs in nearly 100 countries and has empowered roughly 25,000 women worldwide. Since its launch in Portugal in 2020, AWE has helped more than 80 Portuguese women entrepreneurs like Ruivo turn their business dreams into reality — and contribute to carbon-free living at the same time.