What is the “Black-Owned Spotlight Series”? The Women’s Business Development Center is proud to celebrate the great business owners we work closely with. As part of our commitment to advocating for and amplifying diverse voices, we launched the WBDC Black-Owned Spotlight Series, where we periodically will highlight the experiences of our Black business owner community.
Meet Lisa Marsh: Lisa Marsh, CEO and Founder of MsPsGFree Inc. MsPsGFree provides delicious, nutritious, and healthy gluten-free baked goods that are sold in Whole Foods Markets, on Amazon, and on their e-commerce site. They strive to make the gluten-free world a tastier and healthier place. Lisa shared with us a little bit about what inspired her to start her business: “I am an accidental entrepreneur. I began having acid reflux, digestive issues, and other problems, so I consulted a doctor who told me to stop eating foods I considered to be healthy. I began searching for solutions and stumbled upon a classmate who told me about being gluten-free. I put myself on a strict GF diet, read labels, and began understanding what gluten is. Then, I learned to cook and bake what I needed to eat. I began sharing my GF baked goods with others who claimed they were so good even without (whatever this gluten was) they should be in stores. I began the journey of making those words my reality and soon formulated MsPsGFree. The business is named after my mom who was the original back hand to the mouth momma from the south side of Chicago, who raised six rambunctious kids to love each other and love God. My mom, MsP, was my inspiration for all things, telling us kids often that we could do anything we put our minds to. She is absolutely missed!” For more information about MsPsGFree Inc., follow them on Instagram @mspsgfree and visit their website: https://www.mspsgfree.com.
We asked: What has been your experience as a Black business owner and what challenges have you have faced?
Lisa shared: My largest hurdle as a Black-owned business is clearly understanding what I do not know. I was not born into a family that knew anything about entrepreneurship. I could not call on relatives or friends of family members to learn about retail or building a business. I had to learn from the bottom up. I made many mistakes in trying to learn the best way to bring a product to market, calculating costs of goods sold (COGS), and even understanding what consumer packaged goods (CPG) are. I am also learning about balancing financials and having a good return on investment (ROI). There is so much to learn and coming from the south side of Chicago, where we just needed to survive, I was not taught any of the items needed to successfully run a business.
We asked: What is the best way others can support Black-owned businesses?
Lisa shared: Purchase our products. It is well established that many individuals do NOT support Black-owned businesses, this MUST stop in order for the dynamic to change. Black-owned businesses also need revenue, resources, and opportunities to compete for contracts, and be trained on requirements for requests for proposals (RFP).
We asked: What has your experience been like when trying to access capital (loans, investments, etc.)? Did you face any systematic barriers?
Lisa shared: I thought because I built my personal credit score it would be easy to get financing for the business, but found it was a little challenging. I was fortunate to find a bank to support our dreams while we are still building them and learning how to move them forward. We are blessed to have gotten funding in 2018, after founding and growing MsPsGFree since before 2015, then becoming certified and having products in Whole Foods by September of 2016. We do not believe in carrying lots of debt and have not yet ventured out for investors.
We asked: What advice would you share with new business owners? What lessons have you learned since growing your business?
Lisa shared: 1. Find yourself a mentor – someone willing to hold you accountable, to push, pull, and even carry you in times of need or anguish. 2. Find your own WHY. Why do you want to start a business? What are you looking to accomplish, or change, or fix? 3. Find your target market or Avatar that will support your business, help you build community, and assist you in continuing when times get hard.
We asked: Are you a mentor? Tell us about your relationship with your mentee.
Lisa shared: Yes, I just began mentoring two young ladies who have decided to become bakers and are thinking about building a business. They are both between 20-25, are either in college or thinking of college, and both love to create delicious baked goods and share them with others. They inspire me, and my plans are to teach, encourage, inspire, and, most of all, be that sounding board for the questions they have about building a business. I am also a mentee, learning all I can about this business, cash flow, financials, networking, e-mail campaigns, and community building. I am committed to learning all that I can and teaching all that I can. I am blessed to be a blessing.
Thank you, Lisa, for participating in the “Black-Owned Spotlight Series.” We are proud to have you in our WBE network.