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Made in America: How Two Black-owned Businesses Made it Through 2020

iwi fresh and MOKIPOPS used the web to reach customers and make up for lost sales.

GoDaddy

By Stacy Cline, Senior Director, Corporate Social Responsibility at GoDaddy

In March, Yolanda Owens was set to open a wellness center in an economically struggling Atlanta neighborhood like the one she'd grown up in. It was going to be the latest dream-come-true for Owens, who 17 years ago left a successful engineering career to start iwi fresh, a farm to skin spa in the city's downtown.

The new wellness center would provide meditation classes, a juice bar and other health-related services to residents. It would also provide proof to young women of color that they too could start a business.

"I'm very passionate about helping young Black girls," she says, her eyes welling up as she tries to maintain a smile. "I want them to see that being an entrepreneur is a beautiful thing that lets you be exactly who you want to be."

Many small businesses are affected by hardships and downturns. These challenges can be devastating to a small business just starting, or even growing. As Owens was preparing to launch her second store, Covid-19 hit, forcing her to put off expansion and focus on keeping iwi fresh alive. But like millions of other entrepreneurs, she found a way to overcome. And on Oct. 31, dressed up as a plant, she hosted a costume party to celebrate the opening of iwi Farm Oasis.

Owens' story is featured in the second season of "Made in America," a GoDaddy original documentary series highlighting the issues that exist for underserved entrepreneurs in America while highlighting stories of minority-owned microbusinesses overcoming barriers and making their own way. Just like Owens, our goal is to show that you don't need to live in New York or San Francisco or have millions of dollars in venture-funding to build a successful business.

Yolanda Owens, Owner of iwi fresh.
Image credit: GoDaddy

The series stemmed from our work in our Empower program, which we started in 2017 to equip entrepreneurs in underserved communities with the training, tools and resources they need to accelerate their ventures. Data shows that Black business owners are far more likely to be refused loans by banks, and racial minorities lag other groups in access to decent broadband. Despite her two decades as an engineering manager, Owens couldn't get a loan to create iwi fresh so she had to dip into her 401(k). "I was my only investor," she says.

In this season of "Made in America," GoDaddy entrepreneur-in-residence Scott Shigeoka, a long-time advocate for inclusive entrepreneurship, takes us to Atlanta to chronicle the ups and downs of iwi fresh and MOKIPOPS, which sells vegan popsicles with flavors such as basil lemonade and grape ginger.

MOKIPOPS is a family business in the truest sense of the phrase. It started when Amber Khan-Robinson, looking for ways to keep her three young kids from staring at screens all day, agreed to help them "start a business" by making 85 hibiscus lime popsicles to sell at a festival. They sold out in 45 minutes, and soon the family was selling hundreds per weekend at block parties and other events.

Today, both parents work full-time on the business. Their youngest daughter is in charge of creating new flavors, their son tracks sales and deposits cash in a nearby bank, and their teenage daughter handles social media. So far, they've sold over 120,000 popsicles, and they're working hard to grow the business by pursuing distribution deals with national grocery chains.

The Robinson Family behind MOKIPOPS.
Image credit: GoDaddy

Black-owned businesses are more likely than others to only sell to their local neighborhood. Fortunately for iwi fresh and MOKIPOPS, workshops they attended in late 2019 through Empower by GoDaddy, in partnership with Georgia Micro Enterprise Network, gave them training on how to improve their websites, digital marketing and ecommerce efforts.

"We had just completed that course when the pandemic hit," Khan-Robinson says. Two weeks after Atlanta's businesses were shut down, MOKIPOPS received its first online orders—just seconds after Khan-Robinson published a blog post announcing the site's ecommerce capability. "I had to call them to explain that we had no way of shipping the popsicles to them," she says.

Yolanda had a similar experience. Until the shut-down, she was focused on sales and services iwi fresh's original location, where she provides spa services and she sells "farm to skin" beauty products made from natural ingredients, modelled on the home remedies her grandmother made. "I was running around putting out too many fires to think much about how I could use our website to create more revenue," she says.

Since then, she's created an online way to arrange curb-side pick-up of "quarantine self-care kits," has cranked up her digital marketing efforts and plans to add e-commerce.

The historic events of 2020 forced our production crew to be creative as well. We were just finishing filming episode one when Atlanta ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Our crew worked with Owens and the Robinsons to finish the series remotely.

We want to thank everyone involved in creating this series, and these everyday entrepreneurs who overcame the extraordinary challenges thrown at them in 2020. We hope their stories will inspire others to follow their lead.

"Whatever happens, you can get through it," Owens says. "And at the end of the day, you become better. And you become more empowered to help others."

Watch the full season of "Made in America" here.

GoDaddy

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