Green Banana Paper founder Matthew Simpson creates jobs in Kosrae

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Green Banana Paper founder Matthew Simpson addresses a crowd of students and community members at the Guam Community College Pacific Daily News

Green Banana Paper founder Matthew Simpson grew up in the United States, but his businesses are all about supporting the community of Kosrae.

During a talk at the Guam Community College, the 33-year-old discussed his journey in starting Green Banana Paper, his fourth entrepreneurial endeavor on the small FSM island state. The paper-making company is one of the only private sector employers in Kosrae, said Simpson.

The teacher-turned-entrepreneur, who created ties on Guam since the 2016 Festival of Pacific Arts, said he would like to see business models that benefit local communities spread to many other places.

“I’m going to teach how we do what we do, and get out a lot of this information,” he said. Simpson hopes that sharing his story will “help other people do similar projects that will work in their locations.”

Strong ethical foundation

Simpson founded Green Banana Paper in 2016 when he found himself “looking to make a bigger impact than teaching.”

The high school teacher was also seeking a solution to the large number of young Kosraeans who would “leave the island to work minimum wage jobs abroad.” According to Simpson, many of them actually wanted to stay in Kosrae but could not find jobs.

After two years of research, Simpson decided to start a company making paper from the fibers of the banana tree — one of Kosrae’s only abundant resources besides fish, he said.

In the Green Banana Paper workforce today, “most of them are young guys and girls,” explained Simpson. “They basically are kids that don’t want to leave the island, don’t want to join the military, aren’t cut out for college maybe, and don’t want to go work at … a minimum wage job in Hawaii. (They) want to stay on the island.”

“They’re the reason why i’m doing it,” he stated.

Varied business ventures

Simpson, a former WorldTeach field director, moved to Kosrae in 2008. After two years of teaching at Kosrae High School, Simpson invested his savings into a snow cone machine. In 2011, he began to sell snow cones, pickled papaya and cheesecakes, for which he used his mother’s recipe.

In 2012, Simpson was informed that the Kosraean government lacked access to affordable electronics. In response, Simpson purchased a handful of laptops during an online Black Friday sale and marketed them to local government staffers.

The resulting business, Simpson’s Import Company, continues to meet the island’s technology needs as well as finance the operations at Green Banana Paper. After five years, his newest business venture — and “real passion” — has not yet turned a profit, Simpson said.

Harnessing the internet

Green Banana Paper debuted its products in 2016 on the Kickstarter website and at the Festival of Pacific Arts held on Guam. The $50 wallets made of glue and sustainable paper were an online hit, with Simpson and his team crowdfunding $25,000. The money went towards hiring and training employees and buying several sewing machines, recounted Simpson.

In 2017, the company launched a second Kickstarter campaign for their new stitched, slimmer wallets, which sold at $13 to $15 apiece. This time the team raised $10,000.

GCC students and other community members check out Matthew Simpson’s display of wallets from Green Banana Paper. (Photo: Tamar Celis)

According to Simpson, creating a strong online presence is hard work, but it’s a great way to start a business.

“It’s all about (web) traffic,” he stated. “If you have an idea, put together a video, see if people want it, and then they’ll give you the money.”

Simpson is currently working on adding Banana Paper’s newest products to its already existing Amazon line. “Amazon’s tough to keep up with,” he admitted.

Green Banana Paper is currently one of the only Micronesia-based companies on the popular website, said Simpson.