Three young entrepreneurs talk about their small business journey

What it’s like to run a business and balance being a kid with the challenges brought on by the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black-owned businesses, adding the stress of the virus to years of systematic racism and economic disparities. According to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses have been shuttered by COVID-19, compared with just 17 percent of white-owned businesses.

NRF Small Business Spotlights

Check out more NRF Small Business Spotlights here.

The NRF Foundation and Qurate Retail Group recently expanded their Small Business Spotlight initiative to help promote Black-owned businesses across the country.

The Small Business Spotlight originally launched in May 2020. Throughout this summer and fall, QVC and HSN will feature 20 Black-owned businesses on air, online, on social and on their streaming services. What’s more, this round of the Small Business Spotlight drew so many outstanding submissions that an additional 20 businesses were selected to be featured on QVC and HSN’s websites and podcast.

We were particularly inspired by the resilience of a few young entrepreneurs involved in the program, and asked them what it’s like to run their business and balance being a kid with the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Image
Mikaila Ulmer headshot
Mikaila Ulmer, Founder of Me & the Bees Lemonade
  • Mikaila Ulmer, founder of Me & the Bees Lemonade in Austin, Texas (age 15)
  • Christianna Alexander, founder of Sweet Christi’s soaps and bath products in Jacksonville, Fla. (age 14)
  • Gabby Goodwin, founder of Confidence hair bows and products in Columbia, S.C. (age 13)

Who are some of your business heroes/role models?

Ulmer: I admire Madam C.J. Walker for her grit, perseverance and passion. I have had a lot of mentors and advisors who have been amazing. First and foremost, my parents. They taught me at an early age to be curious and do research about the bees. Instead of shutting my ideas down, they asked me how I could get it done, like setting up a savings account or making business cards.

Others that have helped me include Mr. Daymond John, who invested in my company on Shark Tank; Ms. Nina Smith, a friend, angel investor and advisor; and Ms. Melissa Facchina, general partner and co-founder at Siddhi Capital.

Alexander: This year I had the opportunity to meet Nicole Brown, founder of Izzy & Liv, and Crystal Swains-Bates, author and publisher. They gave me advice, encouragement and a ton of inspiration. I can’t put into words how important it was being able to talk to successful women who look like me.

Image
Gabby Goodwin
Gabby Goodwin, Founder of Confidence hair bows ​​​and products

What’s the hardest part of running a business?

Ulmer: Balance and time management. I have to balance running a company, going to school, extracurricular activities and making sure I have time to hang out with my friends. It’s not always perfect and prioritization is key. Even though school always comes first, sometimes I have to miss a test to make time for a presentation.

Goodwin: The hardest part of running a business is balancing schoolwork and business work. When I come home during the school year, there is a lot of homework to be done, but I also have to fill orders and film videos. It can be a lot to handle sometimes, but I’ve learned throughout the years how to manage it.

What’s been the most surprising part of running a business?

Alexander: I was so surprised to find out that I had to actually “sell” my product. People don’t buy what they don’t understand, so I had to learn how to solve their problems and represent my brand. My first few times selling were so scary because I wanted to stay quietly behind the table and not talk to customers.

Goodwin: The most surprising thing about running my business is the way my confidence and courage has grown. When I first started, I was very quiet and shy. Throughout my journey, I’ve been able to come out of that shell and become the person I am today.

What’s it like working with your parents?

Image
Christianna Alexander
Christianna Alexander, Founder of Sweet Christi’s soaps ​​​​and bath products

Ulmer: I’m very lucky to have my parents’ expertise and brainpower to tap into. My mom had her own marketing company before we got so busy with Me & the Bees, so she’s taught me about marketing, promotions and communications. My dad has a career in finance, so he’s taught me about operations, balance sheets and overall financial literacy. It’s definitely harder with us all working from home these days, but it has been a great way to keep us all together working as a collaborative team.

Alexander: Working with my parents is interesting at times. They are there to guide me, but I get the final say in my business, so sometimes it feels awkward. My mom has very strong opinions and it wasn’t easy to stand my ground in the beginning. Thankfully, she gave me room to try things that she didn’t necessarily agree with, and when I succeeded, I received confidence to really take my business to the next level.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?

Ulmer: When COVID-19 hit, we’d been preparing for my favorite time of the year, “lemonade season,” with increased production based on confirmed orders at the time. However, several large orders were cancelled, resulting in an inventory surplus and a 40 percent loss of projected sales.

We quickly pivoted to ensure the safety of our employees through remote working with tools like Microsoft Teams. We worked on recovering revenue and got creative with alternative points of distribution, including specialty grocers and takeaway restaurants, offering pallet discounts for quick pick up of Me & the Bees. Since the pandemic, we have launched in 100 Kroger stores in Houston and added additional flavors in more than 330 H-E-B stores across Texas.

Goodwin: The pandemic has impacted our business in good and bad ways. Unfortunately, a lot of my speaking engagements (which were a big part of our revenue) were cancelled, and it’s been difficult getting packaging for our hair styling products. On the other hand, online sales have skyrocketed and we have had the best sales months we’ve ever had in our six years of business.

Learn more about all the companies selected for the Small Business Spotlight.

Related content

How one Harlem shop owner is making it through the pandemic
 
A local store with a national following reimagines the customer experience.
Read more
Through the retail lens: Commitment to community and employees
 
Small business owner Lonnie McQuirter on his convenience store’s local impact.
Read more
How retailers can handle the oncoming rush of returns
 
They’re considering safety, logistical and financial issues.
Read more