MicroMentor Builds Bridges Toward a More Diverse Community

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MicroMentor bridges geographical and cultural barriers between entrepreneurs and business mentors, serving a highly diverse community of changemakers. In fact, in the United States alone, of the 41,000 entrepreneurs—58% identify as Black, Indigenous, or Person of color (BIPOC). To celebrate Juneteenth becoming a federally recognized national holiday in the United States, we wanted to highlight five Black, women-owned businesses in our community, including Sabrina Jean Baptiste’s self-care focused Blackandexxtraordinary Designs. Sabrina worked with her mentor, Dr. Vanessa S. O’Neal, to launch her business and take her brand to the next level.

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In the midst of a global pandemic, entrepreneur Sabrina Jean Baptiste set out to prove that words can truly heal. Armed with nothing but a pen and a journal, Sabrina, who is a licensed mental health counselor, set out to fight the stigma against mental health and make mental health resources more accessible to the African American and Caribbean communities. Through her venture Blackandexxtraordinary Designs, she aims to promote positive self-care by giving people a healthy outlet for their thoughts and emotions. “COVID-19 has actually helped me start my business,” she says “the need for mental health services are at an all-time high and I took the opportunity to ‘normalize’ managing mental health as we would do for our physical health.”

An avid journaler herself, Sabrina recognized the power of purging onto a page whether through art or the written word. With this in mind, she designs one-of-a-kind journals that come with a free pen so that users can address their mental health issues, organize tasks, or develop a new way to cope with the daily challenges of life. The brand has expanded to include posters, wall decor, hoodies, t-shirts, and tote bags that are all created by Sabrina with the vision of helping individuals recognize their strength, courage, and uniqueness.

Starting a new venture during a pandemic presented its own set of challenges, especially since Sabrina did not have a background in business, marketing, or branding. A simple Google search brought Sabrina to the MicroMentor program and connected her with her mentor, Dr. Vanessa S. O’Neal, who was able to guide her down the right path. Vanessa understood Sabrina’s vision and worked with her to build a solid business foundation including setting up an LLC, trademarking the brand, and revamping the website to increase traffic. Sabrina found that one of the most valuable aspects of Vanessa’s mentorship was her critique and feedback. “It really makes a difference to listen to your mentors,” explains Sabrina. “You may not like what they say but they are mentors for a reason”.

Having a mentor helped Sabrina build confidence—not just as a therapist, but as a businesswoman as well. She believes in her mission and sees Blackandexxtraordinary Designs as her opportunity to help people heal in different inspirational ways.


Four More Awesome Black Women-Owned Businesses from the MicroMentor Community

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The Old Town Soap Company

Founded in 2012 by Navy Veteran Ernestine Brown, The Old Town Soap Company celebrates the healing power of self-care through its wide range of handcrafted personal care products and cosmetics. The brand prides itself on manufacturing high-quality products made from responsibly sourced, natural ingredients. Offering interactive workshops such as “Soap Therapy 101”, the Old Town Soap Company has the vision to make an impact in their community. Not only do these sessions provide a therapeutic outlet for kids, teens, and adults but they also support underfunded schools by offering substitutes for electives like Homemaking and Floral Design Shop. Brown aims to grow her business while continuing to create a major impact in her community and the lives of others. She would also like to use her experiences to assist and support other budding entrepreneurs.

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Social Justice Jewelry

Social Justice Jewelry was founded with the aim of spreading the message of peace and strength in the face of social injustice. As one browses the Social Justice Jewelry website, what immediately stands out is the unique #powerofpeace logo designed by the founder Alaine Hutson in 2012. The logo is a hybrid of African, American, and global symbols – the inner symbol is the eagle’s talon or Okodee Mmowere, an Adinkra West African symbol for power, strength, or bravery. The outer ring is made of olive branches, an international symbol signifying peace.

With her training as a metalsmith, Hutson, who is based in Texas, created the first “Allergy” cuff—a metal bracelet fashioned after a medical alert bracelet that lets people know social injustice is bad for health. The brand has since expanded to include a wide range of artisan handcrafted products including necklaces, earrings, bracelets, ornaments, and gift cards. “Ally” cuffs are also available for allies of environmental, disability, gender, racial, reproductive, and social justice. Besides trying to empower others to take a stand, Social Justice Jewelry is a value-driven company that strives to promote respect, intersectionality, inclusivity, timeliness, empowerment, and expression.

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Ecodunia

When Cera Muchiri graduated from UCLA, she wanted to work towards alleviating poverty by joining an NGO or the UN—but it was not long before she realized that the best way to uplift under-resourced communities was by providing economic opportunities rather than distributing aid. This brought Cera back to her native village in Kenya with the aim of using her education to make a difference and create jobs to break the cycle of generational poverty. Soon after she relocated, Ecodunia was born. Ecodunia is a social enterprise that works with local producers to craft useful, beautiful, and sustainable products while creating dignified work opportunities in under-resourced Kenyan communities. The brand is known for its colorful and quirky bags and wallets made of ethically and sustainably sourced materials. Besides the creation of job opportunities, Ecodunia supports education and female empowerment by using a part of its profits to fund high school education for girls in rural Kenya.

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Essential Essence Inc.

Meet “momtrepreneur” Dedrana McCray. This lifelong candle lover was very concerned when she discovered that most of her favorite brands contained harmful chemicals and unnecessary additives. Dedrana’s daughter suffers from respiratory disease, so she wanted to be sure that any candle she burned was free from toxins. Unable to find what she was looking for, she realized that there was a gap in the candle market and began to research candlemaking. Dee discovered that soy wax burns clean, is all-natural and 100% non-toxic, and diffuses aroma naturally (paraffin candles must be blended with chemicals to release fragrance). She also learned that soy wax does not emit CO2; it is biodegradable, made from a renewable source, and can burn up to 25–50% longer.

In 2018, Dedrana began creating and pouring her all-natural soy candles to save money using natural and eco-friendly ingredients. Finding true love for candle-making as an art, she experimented with creative scents, like “Cheers to Chardonnay” and “Chocolatte”. Essential Essence Inc. is a one-woman business built from the ground up. As a single mom, Dedrana wants to teach her daughter about sustainable entrepreneurship. Essential Essence Inc. is an eco-friendly company and takes great pride in reducing its carbon footprint.