All Articles Tagged "entrepreneur"
After a boom in bakeries, some say the cupcake business might be slowing a bit. But seriously, who doesn’t like a cupcake?
No one is mixing ingredients like New York City businesswoman Ashleigh Fitzwilliam. The full time publicist, who somehow finds time to pursue a Master’s degree in public health, recently launched Intoxicake NYC, a niche brand that infuses adult beverages in childhood treats.
Intoxicake NYC is already expanding outside its original product line of liquor-infused cupcakes and milkshakes to include a larger range of sweet treats, apparel, adult-toy gift boxes, and a line of fragrances. Fitzwilliam credits her West Indian heritage and Britney Spears as the inspirations for the brand. She noticed no one in the market was taking advantage of culinary traditions like the recipes for rum cake and coconut drops her Jamaican mother and Trinidadian father had passed down to her. Cue Spears’ hit “Toxic,” playing in the background of a brainstorm session, and the rest is history.
When you take in Ashleigh’s success, it’s hard to believe Intoxicake NYC was just launched in September on Facebook. “I had an idea and my mother told me ‘You know Ash, you have a great idea, don’t release it yet, get everything in order, and then release it,’” she remembers. “That impulse to know how others would view this market overtook me.” Ashleigh put together a logo on Microsoft Paint, drafted a description, and released it to her network. “I was astonished at the response I got!” She said. “People began placing orders as soon as I put it up there.”
People love to add slashes to their titles, conveying they are double and triple threats. Nowadays it can get a little gratuitous, reflecting ego more than experience. That’s not the case with Eunice Kindred. She’s a true renaissance woman bringing her love for art, music, and dance into her creative expression. She’s an artist, a DJ, a choreographer, and a dance instructor, on top of holding down a full-time position as an art director for a major advertising agency in New York City.
That may sound like a heavy load. But Kindred finds every aspect of her life enriches another. “It’s good to have all these influences because I never know what I can pull from to come up with an idea,” she says. “Being involved with so many different things gives me a richer background to pull from… Managing all of it can be a challenge, but I do what I love.”
Raising And Rebuilding An Artist
Kindred has been a multifaceted creative for as long as she can remember. Blame her father’s boom box blasting in the delivery room. When people outside of her family expressed concern that little Eunice should focus on one thing, her parents always encouraged her to pursue what she loved, whatever it was.
She found appreciation for her paintings early on, selling pieces for over $1000 as a high school student before attending Harvard University’s Visual and Environmental Studies program. After college she pursued graphic design professionally, only recently deciding to dive back into the art world. But New York galleries weren’t so anxious to welcome her into the fold.
“They saw me as a new artist when in reality I’ve been painting for so many years,” she said. “It was kind of like starting from scratch, but it was humbling to have to know all the stuff I had to change to be successful. Finding galleries to accept my work and even the process of pitching [my work] was new to me.”
Entrepreneurship has become one of the most popular career paths in the past five years, becoming a tempting option to consider in our unstable global economy. Mike Seiman, of CPX Interactive conducted a 60-minute webinar discussing some of the best reasons to strike out on your own. If you are thinking about becoming your own boss and creating your own “rat race,” here are nine factors that may help with your decision.
College students have been finding innovative ways to make money since the birth of higher education. From waitressing weekends, to setting up salons in dorm rooms, hustling is just as much a part of the college experience as the classes themselves. Current students like University of Kansas senior, Jacque Amadi, are giving that hustler’s spirit a tech upgrade.
A psychology major and business minor, Jacque doesn’t have a resume that screams fashion. She dabbled in fashion blogging, but never thought to pursue it professionally. Her online boutique, Lioness, started as a celebration of her hobbies and interests, one she hoped would ease the financial woes that come with a college education.
“I would sell clothes on eBay whenever I needed money,” says Jacque. “And I love thrifting, even if I don’t keep what I find. With blogging and taking pictures – I loved doing it, but I was broke. So, I wanted to do all these things that I love in a way that could make me money.”
There’s one extra twist. Lioness is a digital time machine where the dial is always set to 1995. Jacque may be too young to remember the top news stories of the decade, but the images she saw as a child made a big impression on her.
“At first I was selling any vintage clothes I found, but then I decided to focus on the 90s because I felt that time period was the best time period for African Americans in terms of our exposure and our reach on television,” Jacque said.
For WNBA star, Shyra Ely-Gash, before there was basketball, there was fashion. Her earliest memories consist of her childhood self sprawled out on the floor sketching outfits.
Somewhere between then and now, she picked up a basketball. The game took her to the University of Tennessee, one of women’s basketball’s most prestigious collegiate programs, and allowed her to travel the world playing in American and European professional leagues.
Shyra has lived a life little girls dream about, and I’ve had a front row seat to her journey (we’re cousins). Growing up, I remember her having a rambunctious personality. One that still allows her to make fast friends with almost anyone and give off an aura that she could succeed at whatever she attempts.
Now her mind is set on fashion. Three years ago she made her personal shopping duties for friends and family into a second profession, launching her styling company, Styles By M.E. (the M.E. is Ms. Ely.) Initially targeting the women’s basketball community, it has since grown to include a diverse clientele, an online boutique, and originally designed pieces set to launch this year.
I sat down to talk with the self-described “glamazon” about gender stereotypes, and how a setback in one career helped her take the other to the next level.
MN: How did you know entrepreneurship was for you?
Shyra: I know the type of person I am. Being an athlete and having my own schedule, I know I’m not the type to work for someone else. I knew I had to be my own boss. When I realized I couldn’t study fashion design in college, I went into retail and consumer science. It’s still in the field, but it gives me that business background.
MN: Why do you think there is a belief that women can’t be both athletic and feminine?
Shyra: That is probably what I will go to my deathbed trying to disprove. I’m not sure why we feel that way. I didn’t really find myself until I was about 13 or 14 as far as owning my femininity. I remember going to an AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] tournament down south, the players went out, and I didn’t have anything to wear. I was the oddball out. All my teammates had on their girly, dressy clothes. I was thinking because I was tall [and was always around boys, I had to wear boys' clothes]. From that moment I said, I’m not going to be someone else. I’m a chick and I like looking like a girl, so that’s what I’m going to do.
MN: How do those two aspects of you, fashionista and athlete, blend together?
Shyra: I’m a businesswoman. My business is basketball. So on the court I’m going to be dressed in my business attire. Off the court, I’m a businesswoman of a different kind. So, I’ll be dressed in my business attire. Playing a male-dominated sport doesn’t take any of my femininity away.
I’m an athlete. I have muscles. I take care of my body. On the court, within the limitations – I’m not going to have on four-inch nails – my nails are painted, I wear a little makeup, and my hair is done. I’m just not going to not be me because of what I’m doing or where I work.
MN: How does being an athlete influence how you approach the business of fashion?
Shyra: I have a very strong competitive spirit. I compete in everything I do — whether against myself, time, whatever. When I got hurt last year and wasn’t able to play [a torn ACL in May ended her season with the Indiana Fever early], I’m thankful I had another area to channel that energy. I’m always thinking and trying to stay up on the latest. I’ll see someone in an outfit and think, “How can I make that look better? What would I do differently with that?” I love challenges.
MN: Why styling?
Shyra: The best feelings I get aren’t from what people are wearing but how they feel about themselves afterwards. To see the change in their confidence level, that’s huge. That’s the greatest reward. I love when I’m on the phone giving my clients pep talks, telling them, “You can wear this, don’t be afraid.” People don’t realize you can make anything look good if you’ve got the confidence to rock it. That’s the secret!
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Do you have dreams of starting your own company but just can’t get going? Maybe it’s fear that is holding you back. According to Inc, the number one factor that prevents entrepreneurs from starting a new company or meeting goals is fear.
“Throughout the years I’ve had many dreams and aspirations yet at times it’s been scary and sometimes extremely fearful,” says entrepreneur Chantay Bridges. Real estate agent Bridges, who has the website Los Angeles Real Estate Now, went into business for herself after working for others. During the process of striking out on her own, she experienced a variety of fears — from whether customers would want her services to finding employees that reflected her work ethic and integrity. But she says she got the courage to start her business by facing her fears and by “self talk.”
“I encouraged myself not on the things I did see but on what was unseen,” she explains. “I changed my thoughts to be fearless and not fearful.”
There are various kinds of entrepreneurial fears.
- Fear of Failing: This is common for many times in life, but when it comes to pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams it can stop you before you get started. Of course you can fail, but what about thinking about “What if I succeed”? Make sure you are well prepared; this will also help alleviate this fear of failing. “You never learn to swim without getting in the water. There may be sharks in there at times but you do your homework beforehand in case one shows up, get in the water and swim upstream until you make it,” advises Inc.
- Fear of Success: “Success brings the requirement to perform, to fulfill the obligation, and to manage scarce resources in an attempt to satisfy demands. Many companies fail because they simply can’t service the demand, and their customers move on to a competitor,” notes the magazine. If you are growing too fast, be scared. Partner with another entrepreneur in the similar business—ask for help with resources, equipment, personnel, whatever you need to embrace your success. “Never confuse a temporary setback with a permanent condition. Know that fear is putting energy in something that may never be,” offers Bridges.
- Fear of Starting: If you are overwhelmed with all the aspects of starting a business, take it one step at a time—literally. Don’t try to do everything at once or by yourself.
- Fear of Loss: Got the company started but it’s not working? Many entrepreneurs fear change of direction. But don’t be afraid to tweak. “By learning from my mistakes I succeeded,” says Bridges. “You keep getting up and pressing on. If at first you don’t succeed, try until you win.”
What’s your biggest entrepreneurial fear?
Before living “green” was the trendy thing to do, Robin Wilson was working to create living spaces where customers’ wellness and environmental impact were top priorities. Suffering from childhood allergies and asthma while growing up in the eco-friendly town of Austin, TX made healthy living a passion of hers from an early age.
In 2000, she walked away from a successful corporate career to become president of her own interior design firm, Robin Wilson Home, focused on eco-friendly and hypoallergenic products.
Her success as an entrepreneur has exceeded her own dreams. In 2004, her design of the Harlem office of President Bill Clinton was profiled in O magazine. She’s gone on to launch her own textile line, and build a full-fledged lifestyle brand.
I asked Robin about what it takes to have the vision to stay ahead of trends and build a brand that stays true to her mission of wellness.
Madame Noire: Can you describe Robin Wilson Home for those unfamiliar with your brand? What differentiates you from your competitors?
Robin Wilson: Robin Wilson Home is a lifestyle brand with two business areas: interior design and brand licensing. We have worked with some amazing clients across the U.S. to design eco-friendly homes and commercial spaces. Plus, we are the first brand to license our name to eco-friendly kitchen cabinetry sold by over 500 dealers nationwide — and made in the USA by Holiday Kitchens. We also have a line of textiles sold on Bed Bath & Beyond’s website and they will be coming soon to select retail stores.
MN: You had a successful career dealing with environmental issues before you started your firm. Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
RW: I began my career at the Lower Colorado River Authority, a hydroelectric utility in Austin, and then worked at both a San Francisco and Boston-based consulting firms in their energy groups. These firms taught me best practices for corporate governance — but I also recognized that the founders of these firms were passionate visionaries. Since my family has a history of entrepreneurs, it was easy for me to understand the focus and charisma of those individuals. I made a goal on my bucket list to be an entrepreneur by the time I was 30… and was fortunate to see it come true for the past 13 years.
MN: What did the early days of Robin Wilson Home look like? How did you get your business off the ground?
RW: We had the wonderful opportunity to be self-funded due to a windfall received when the firm I was working for went public due to an IPO. I was the only employee and worked as a project manager and designer. The early days were amazing due to freedom from a desk, the chance to be casual everyday, and new projects through word-of-mouth.
MN: Did you know green living would take off the way that it has?
RW: It was never “green” to me… and I actually refer to our practices as eco-friendly (to your living space and the environment) and wellness-oriented. However, when the articles started to refer to us as in the “green” space, I had to accept the moniker as a way to describe our business. But I remain committed to telling people that the bottom line is “wellness” for you and your lifestyle.
MN: What gave you the courage to pursue a specialty that wasn’t mainstream at the time?
Robin: I live by the motto “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” So my focus has never been about what is mainstream but very much about what I believe is good for my friends and family.
Welcome to the “Work It!” column, where we take a look at business innovation of every kind.
You want to be an innovator? Awesome! Where do you start? That’s harder to tackle. Wanting to innovate in your field is admirable, but good ideas can be hard to come by. Artists and businesswomen alike are searching for the secret to creativity.
It may seem like a contradiction, but the key to changing the present can lie in looking at what’s already been done. Take a cue from your favorite hip-hop track; remix the past to innovate for the future.
Maya Lake, designer of the fashion line Boxing Kitten, is a great case study of the business remix.
The fashion industry is one of the most competitive sectors in the market. Studies show 80 percent of retail clothing businesses fail within the first five years. So, how did a no-name designer turn her college senior thesis into a brand adorned by the likes of Solange, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna?
“Melee of Then and Now”
Boxing Kitten’s website describes the collection as “a vibrant melee of Then and Now.” Lake pulls from the past; merging vintage styles with African wax block print fabric to create a look that snaps necks and turns heads. “The initial point of departure for the collection was envisioning what two women — a woman involved in the Civil Rights movement and a woman involved in the black pride movement — would look like combined together,” Lake told Essence.
“I took different style elements of each woman, like the classic and conservative lady-like silhouettes, and the African fabrics that women in the black pride movement wore.” The result is a collection that continues to stand out among competitors who rarely get more ethnic than tribal print.
Lake launched Boxing Kitten with the bare minimum for a fashion line: a website, samples for production, and a cool idea. Word of mouth landed Boxing Kitten around Erykah Badu’s frame in a spread for Giant magazine in 2008. The line soon found it’s way into music video director and Lake fan, Melina Matsoukas’ productions for Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” and Alicia Keys and Beyoncé’s mythical “Put It In a Love Song”.
If you’re drawing your inspiration from the past, what’s to stop someone from drawing inspiration from you? Nothing. That’s the nature of the game. And Lake isn’t worried about it. She told Madame Noire, “I think the only thing I can do is keep moving forward, keep doing what I’m doing, because no one’s going to do it the way I’m doing it.”
Lake echoes the words of poet, critic, and editor T.S. Eliot: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” At this point, nothing in the world is completely original. Every “new” thing is a remix of something that’s been done before.
Before you go stealing everybody’s ideas, keep these rules from artist and author Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist, in mind:
C. Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City, perfecting living the fierce life at The Red Read. She is at your service on Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).
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Behind the Click: Veteran and Tech Entrepreneur Sophia Marnell On the “Power Of a Woman With IT Skill”
This installment of Behind the Click features Sophia Marnell, owner and president of Washington D.C.-based Alexton, a software development, network configuration, and system administration company, all under the IT umbrella. Her clients include NASA, just to name one. Not bad, huh? Sophia also participates in some special philanthropic activities as well — and, she’s a veteran! Read on to get the full scoop.
Favorite website: Amazon
Favorite read: The Way We Were by Arthur Laurents
Recent read: 50 Shades of Gray… “Fell into the hype!”
2013′s ultimate goal: Continue to provide our high quality services to our current clients and grow.
Quote Governing Your Mission or a Quote that Inspires You: To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – e. e. cummings )
Twitter handle: Do not have one!
Madame Noire: I read in your bio that you attended Maine Maritime Academy. Not your average school! How did you decide upon that institution?
Sophia Marnell: Deciding to go to Maine Maritime seemed like a standard next step to get guidance to becoming a mechanical engineer. My father was a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force, career military, and was stationed in Maine. I love the structure, organization, and challenge of attending the school. However, at 17, we are naive on how the world really works, and must learn valuable lessons to build the steps to success. Being the only African-American girl was challenging and it made me adapt to an environment that I was not accustomed to. I realized that hard work and humor was the key to making it through many things.
MN: So it seems you acquired your interest in IT prior to college. How did it come about? I read that you are a veteran — our first as a profile! Did you work somehow in IT while serving?
SM: I was in the Army Intelligence Corp as an intelligence analyst. Being in the Army as an analyst gave me the opportunity to work with high level technology systems and solutions that most people dream about. With knowledge gained from my college courses and an interest in the emerging technology scene, IT became a good fit quite quickly. As a veteran, you have to make hard choices as to where you go next, while remembering all the things you learned. By using my analyzing expertise and technology, it soon became my mission to create and develop IT solutions as a career.
MN: Your earlier positions after school were at places like the the State Department and NASA. Tell me more about what you did.
SM: Government contracting looked to be a promising career. With my background and plenty of agencies looking for good people, the Washington metropolitan area became my home. I worked as a IT consultant developing and creating solutions for identified problems in various aspects of the government spaces such as software, financial, trend analysis, or career development.
Technology was moving quickly, and I worked my full-time job during the day and studied emerging technologies at night while trying to be the best wife and mother I could. I was very lucky to have a strong family support that helped me to get to the next level and understood that at times I was off my game! I tried to keep up with the changes knowing that information technology was going to change the way the government operated. I wanted to be a part of and lead that change.
San Francisco Bay area natives Shauna Harper and Selena Young aren’t related by blood, but they are sisters just the same. They predict each other’s thoughts, are a daily presence in each other’s lives, and share a baby called Define Me Greek.
The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters launched their business in 2011 when they realized the t-shirts they made for their organization’s conference satisfied a common need. Members of Greek lettered fraternities and sororities needed apparel that did more than advertise their letters. They wanted what they wore to stand for something.
On the cusp of their two-year anniversary, Shauna and Selena sat down to talk about how they expanded their business from a t-shirt to a growing enterprise with an active social media community.
Madame Noire (MN): Describe the premise of Define Me Greek for those unfamiliar with the brand.
SELENA: Define Me Greek is an apparel and accessories company that looks to capture the essence of organizations. We create designs that are bold, modern, and give people an opportunity to express who they are and what they do as Greek lettered organizations. Our company gives people the opportunity to see that there is more to us than just the letters that we wear.
MN: How did your business relationship start?
SELENA: Shauna and I were preparing for our international conference. We decided to create a shirt for our region. As we began to brainstorm, she and I were thinking that we wanted something that’s a little more meaningful. That turned into, “Well, if we are looking for something a little more meaningful, what if we could do something like this for all the organizations?” That’s when really we started looking at doing something different than what’s already out there, and having a story behind what people wear.
MN: Tell me about the first days of Define Me Greek. How did you get the company off the ground?
SHAUNA: I don’t want to say it happened overnight, but it was one of those things where we just took an idea from a concept to reality. We were sitting down chitchatting and said, “Let’s have a business meeting.” The next week we scheduled a business meeting, and next thing you know we had to-dos and we were doing them. It just ended up turning into what it is today. Sometimes we don’t even have a chance to look up, and when we do it’s like, “Oh my God! Look at all we’ve done!”
MN: What confirmed for you that this was a viable business?
SELENA: [A year and half after we started] Shauna and I were going to a regional conference in Rhode Island, one of the biggest regions in our organization. This was our first major event. We looked up how much it was going to cost and we — literally by faith — took every single penny we had. We flew all the way to Rhode Island with really nowhere to stay. We just said we’re going to go out there and see what lies ahead.
We took everything we had in two suitcases. We took trains, buses, and cabs. We walked blocks to get this venue. When we got there, it just really solidified who we are and our existence. We were able to make so many connections. Define Me Greek became known around the United States after that event.