Luis Diego Soto Clausen was just out of high school when his family hit serious financial troubles. He thought he could earn money if he improved on a traditional holiday treat—Turrones nougats.

“I remember tasting, tasting, and tasting and my brothers told me that it would not work, it wasn’t going to work, but I was sure that it would.”

Luis Diego got it right, began selling door-to-door, and built his candy’s popularity by making it a year-round treat. Now more than 30 years later he is the founder of Turrones de Costa Rica, a family-owned nougat and sweets producer based in San José, Costa Rica, that sells under the brand name Turrones Doré.

“A project that started in the kitchen of my house, today has 18 employees and has its own facilities,” Luis Diego said.

Turrones Doré has expanded across Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

“I dream of being able to continue with this company and that the regulations do not suffocate me—do not stop me from moving forward.”

Sticky problems

Costa Rica had barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs: excessive paperwork and regulations that do little to help lower a 20 percent poverty rate affecting 1.1 million of its people. Access to credit was a big problem for Luis Diego, stopping him from producing more nougat and more jobs.

The nougat mixture is poured into a wooden shaper at the Turrones de Costa Rica factory, where it is then smoothed out (DignityUnbound.org Photo / Rodrigo Abd).

Changes came to Costa Rica’s regulatory climate, including simple reforms to increase access to credit for businesses, through the advocacy of the local nonprofit, IDEAS Labs. The San José-based organization led a widespread effort to remove hurdles by working with the government to bring about policies that gave entrepreneurs across Costa Rica new opportunities.

“It is only when we look at how the creative and productive potential of individual entrepreneurs like Luis Diego is unleashed, thanks to the access to credit, that we can appreciate how dreams are transformed into realities, the unemployed find new job opportunities, and those living in poverty are able to escape from that condition and aspire to increasing levels of prosperity,” said Luis Loría, president of IDEAS Labs.

It took years of will and hard work, but Luis Diego was able to finance the construction of a new Turrones de Costa Rica production facility. He added workers from the small town who now have jobs they can rely on.

Employees smooth out a batch of nougat (DignityUnbound.org Photo / Rodrigo Abd).

“I have workers who have been with me for 31 years, from when the company was founded. Our secret is that we are fair, we are supportive, we are as loyal to our employees as they are loyal to the company,” Luis Diego said.

Spreading success

San Isidro is a small town in the Heredia province a few miles outside of San José, and is home to Turrones de Costa Rica’s factory. The sweet smell inside is like stepping into the center of a fresh Milky Way bar.

Workers weigh ingredients and spend up to four hours making the creamy mixture of egg whites, honey, and caramelized sugar sprinkled with assorted nuts. The warm, sticky mass is poured into trays and flattened by a heavy wood rolling pin. Once it cools it is cut into small pieces.

Turrones nougats were traditionally once just a Christmas treat in Costa Rica and many other parts of the world, but Luis Diego saw a business opportunity in expanding the appetite for it all year. Turrones Doré is available in 450 stores internationally.

“The feeling the first time I achieved a nougat recipe that really impressed me was an immense joy because I knew it was going to be successful,” Luis Diego said. “I had a feeling that it was going to be a successful product.”

Turrones de Costa Rica Founder Luis Diego Soto Clausen finds his product at a grocery store, in San Jose, Costa Rica (DignityUnbound.org Photo / Rodrigo Abd).

Other entrepreneurs in Costa Rica also see opportunities to turn their ideas into successes because business credit is now more widely available. That change came from the work of IDEAS Labs, which focuses on providing local solutions to end systemic poverty throughout Costa Rica.

“We could celebrate that our work contributed to significantly ‘move the needle’ in terms of access to credit in Costa Rica,” Loría said. “But that would not capture adequately the life-changing impact of the reforms.”

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