Category Archives: Entrepreneurs

Jackson State University Alumnus & Former NFL Player Turns HBCUpreneur/Chefpreneur


“Cooking is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.” – Guy Fieri

The road to success rarely takes the path we have drawn up for ourselves. Along the way as we are pursuing our success we start to learn more things about ourselves. We may realize what we thought was our passion really is not and something we have tinkered with actually is the thing that truly brings heat to our kitchen. Enter, Tobias Dorzon, a Jackson State University alumnus, who spent multiple years in both the NFL and CFL, but whose true calling had been more or less a mere hobby.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Tobias Dorzon reveals how he hung up the cleats, picked up the apron, and became a culinary superstar –  actually the latter following in the footsteps of his father. He tells CNBC, “Cooking was something I always loved. But it wasn’t until I ventured off and stopped playing (sports) that I realized I loved it more than football.”

Now, Dorzon is the owner of Victory Chefs, a catering company started in 2014, and Victory Truck, a food truck venture which launched January 2018 and tackles the streets and stomachs of Washington D.C. The food truck and catering company are a launching pad for Dorzon to one day open a full-service restaurant as word travels throughout the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area of he and his teams exquisite cuisine.

HBCU Money reached out to Mr. Dorzon and Victory Chefs, inquiring how his time at Jackson State helped prepare him, “Being the unofficial team chef while I played ball was my first segue into preparing meals for athletes. We were a family on and off the field, and me being able to feed my brothers the home cooking that they were used to from back home was a great feeling!”

This is a prime opportunity to connect the work that agricultural HBCUs also known as the 1890s do with African American farmers and farms and connect them with the end users like Chef Dorzon, all while creating research opportunities for the institutions themselves. It also bodes for an argument, that an HBCU culinary school should be formed to diversify, hone, and explore the interest of many African Americans who may want the HBCU experience, but have a non-academic interest. There is lot to bite off and chew in the possibilities of connecting our ecosystem, but with stories like Chef Dorzon’s, we expect it will be an amazing meal that we can all enjoy.

Visit The Victory Chef team at https://www.thevictorychefs.com/

You can also find them on Instagram: @kingcheftd & @thevictorytruck

 

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Kolors By K Hops Into Rarefied Air By Landing Leaping Bunny Certification


In another milestone for startup cosmetic company Kolors By K, they recently became a recognized company by Cruelty Free International’s Leaping Bunny Program. The program per their website, “is the gold-standard in cruelty-free certification for personal care and household products companies and signifies no animal testing at any stage of product development.” Internationally, there are less than 1,000 companies with such designation. As consumers become more conscious about how the products they consume are made, being an early adopter of Leaping Bunny’s criteria is poised to position Kolors By K as an up and coming leader in the cosmetic industry.

The beauty industry itself seems to just keep going and going like another bunny, growing from $160 billion in sales in 2003 to almost half a trillion in sales today. It is an industry that seems to show no signs of slowing down either, especially with people living longer and the rising middle classes in developing nations, there will be demand on vanity and simply feeling good about oneself that the beauty industry provides. It also does not hurt that this industry is women-centrist as we appear to be entering a golden age of women empowerment. Women who want to conquer the world, look good doing it, and who just happen to be more and more in control of the household incomes the world over. The industry is brimming with opportunity and that is one reason Kolors By K looks poised to leverage this recognition.

We reached out to Kolors By K Founder and CEO Kalauna Carter for comment on her company’s achievement, “To see Kolors By K get the Leaping Bunny Certification really gave us the push to keep going. If you are an entrepreneur and you hand make your products, to have your products Leaping Bunny Certified makes them official, internationally. The certification helps with reaching other potential customers in other countries. To be Leaping Bunny Certified is truly an amazing feeling for my company.” It is clear that Ms. Carter sees this as a moment that could take her company to another level. This just reaffirms the values, strategy, and direction that Kolors By K is setting for its future, which at the moment is shining brighter than ever.

 

 

The HBCUpreneur Corner – Tuskegee University’s Kalauna Carter & Kolors By K


 

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Name: Kalauna Carter

Alma Mater: Tuskegee University

Business Name & Description: KolorsbyK is an environmentally friendly, FDA approved Nail Polish Company whose mission is empowering all women from the outside in, one Kolor at a time. A Kolor for each mood, occasion or simply just because, from Bright and Bold, Heavy Metals or Soft Pastels, we at KolorsbyK have the perfect Kolors for you. Each bottle of nail polish as well as the Kolor is handmade and 5 FREE of: Camphor, Toulene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resins, and Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) all of which are non-environmentally friendly and cancer causing chemicals. ALL products are cruelty free and are NOT TESTED on animals.

What year did you found your company? 2016; I founded the company the summer shortly after graduating.

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? Overall, this has been such a rewarding experience. I have learned so much about the whole concept of how being a business woman works and I am still learning. This entire process thus far has shown me my strengths and weaknesses. I have received so much support. In the beginning, I remember feeling fearful that I would fail or none of my polish would sale, but I remember my parents and my cousin Teresa encouraging me every step of the way.

What made you want to start your own company? The passion behind starting my business was based on the strong connection I have to the environment and its connection to us. I wanted to do something that could be beneficial to all communities and further help us become healthier with the products we select to use on bodies, specifically as women on our nails.

How do you handle complex problems? In situations where complex problems could take place, I try to think with as much logic as I can. First, I think to myself can I fix this and/or if it is out my control. Then, I try to make the best of the complex problem and create a plan on how to avoid it in the future.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? The most influential person for me while I was in college was my big sister Kaleah. Growing up she was the most beautiful and smartest girl I knew and I was lucky enough to call her my sister. She was involved in her church, achieved good grades, and still managed her personal life. I admired her for her ability to balance and maintain and I remember telling myself I would do the same when I got the opportunity to go to college as well.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? The one thing I wish I had been prepared for when starting my company was the bad days, the slow days. Everything is all good when you are doing big numbers, but when things slow down and then the days where you don’t have any sales. Those are days I wish I had been better prepared prior too.

How is vegan nail polish made, and what separates it in particular from traditionally made nail polish? Environmentally friendly nail polish leaves out several chemicals. In regards to KolorsbyK, it is handmade made without the use of animal byproducts making it vegan and without camphor, formaldehyde or formaldehyde resins, Dibutyl Phthalate and Toulene. All of which are prone to cause cancer. Vegan polish is made without the use of animal byproducts.

Technology seems to be disrupting every industry, but most nail services, social media aside, seems largely untouched by technology over the past few decades. Do you see technology disrupting the industry in the near future? If so, in what ways? In regards to technology, I don’t see it disrupting the nail industry in the near future.

In terms of distribution, is Kolors By K focused more on direct to consumer or direct to professionals or mixture of both? Why was that strategy chosen? Being a one woman business, I tend to focus on the direct to consumer sales, but I have had the opportunity to sale a few of my collections to Lavish Nails and Spa in Vancouver, WA and currently have some other opportunities in the works.

According to Nail Magazine, over 75 percent of the approximately 130,000 nail salons as of 2015 in the US were located in states with HBCUs and major African American population centers like California, New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts. The nail industry as a whole is an almost $9 billion a year industry, but African Americans have largely been resigned to consumers. Despite this, very few are owned by African Americans. Why do you believe so few of us have tried our hand at this ownership given its large economic presence in many of our communities? I honestly believe that many of us have not tried our hand at this ownership given its large economic presence in our communities primarily because we don’t have the access to the resources to do so. It will be just that, it will take us HBCUpreneurs to open those doors and create opportunities for those within our own community.

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What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I believe that HBCUs can hold workshops and small business classes to spark the flame in students and instill in them how important their degree (paper) is, but it is just an important to invest in yourself. It’s fine to work for someone else, but think how much more rewarding it would be to work for yourself when you have the opportunity to do so.

How do you deal with rejection? I deal with rejection from this standpoint “What God has for me, is for me and no man can or will get in the way of that. Whatever doesn’t come to me, was not meant for me.”

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? I like to spend my downtime brainstorming new ideas for KolorsbyK, reading and working out.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? My most memorable HBCU memory was being able to speak alongside the Madam First Lady, Mrs. Obama at the 2015 Spring Commencement at Tuskegee University. I had to opportunity to speak with her and she gave me some amazing advice that motivated me to start KolorsbyK.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Pray and GO FOR IT. The only thing in YOUR way is YOU.

Website: kolorsbyk.bigcartel.com
Facebook: kolorsbyk
Instagram: @KolorsbyK

The HBCUpreneur Corner – Howard University’s Najla T. & Good As Green


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Name: Najla T.

Alma Mater: Howard University

Business Name & Description: Good As Green, LLC is a creative vegan food company that provides beneficial superfoods and fresh produce transformed into exotic, gourmet meals. We have provided food for nonprofit organizations and shipped some of our menu items directly to loyal customers, and we host fun brunch and dinner pop-up events.

What year did you found your company? Good As Green, LLC was officially established this year (2016), but I have been providing meals for my clients as a personal trainer since 2014. That’s actually how my company began.

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? I have had a company in the past, that I provided media services such as video editing and marketing presentations. That was when I graduated college, as I graduated from the John H. Johnson School of Communications (Old Howard) with a degree in Communication. When I was experiencing an arduous time finding opportunities, I just created my own and freelanced for a while. It was very exciting when I first began and I was doing what I really enjoyed, but it was DIFFICULT and REALLY ROUGH! I had to move back home, save money, work multiple gigs, and work was inconsistent. Although, this time around, I’m much more fulfilled. I’m happy for the inconsistencies and still involved with media, but now as a health and fitness consultant. I was SO afraid to launch Good As Green, especially because of what happened with my first company, but I have such a wonderful support system and so many people encouraged me to take the leap. I was afraid since I didn’t attend culinary school, but people OTHER than my family enjoyed my food and I’ve helped so many people adopt plant-based lifestyles, so the fear subsided. When I launched a pop-up in DC back in September, everything that could go wrong tried to, but it ended up being a successful first event. I was nervous before, during, and after the event! I knew I made the right decision when so many people attended the pop-up, including one of my non-vegan friends all the way from New Jersey, and genuinely enjoyed the food (we are brutally honest up North LOL). People who don’t even like beets enjoyed my Smoky Beets burgers, so I received many requests to deliver and ship them.

One of the most rewarding moments was when I provided breakfast for Run Hope Work, a non-profit organization that provides mentorship and trade certification for Washington, D.C. youth. They were highly apprehensive and skeptical at first, but they really enjoyed the food I provided! I made Sweet Potato French Toast, Smoky Beet Sausage, Good As Home Fries (we use green bananas instead of potatoes), Apple Pie Oatmeal, Loaded Breakfast Burritos, Smoky Arugula Avocado Toast, Alkaline water, and Homemade Hemp Protein Shakes (that they described as vanilla milkshakes). That week that I provided breakfast was confirmation for me because these guys were eating McDonald’s and carryout. Many said they hadn’t eaten “green stuff” before and they really didn’t know if vegan food would taste good. It made me feel good and is my mission. I provide creative whole foods, not just tofu or seitan. I also list the benefits of most of the ingredients I use.

What made you want to start your own company? I really enjoy helping people! The first time, I was forced into creating my own opportunity, but this time around, it’s much more rewarding. As a personal trainer, the most important component that I found my clients struggling with the most was food. Some clients told me straight up, “I’m too lazy to cook.” I didn’t want to waste my time or my clients’ money by allowing them to sabotage themselves, so I did their meal prep for them and all they had to do was add their own meat if interested. So many of my clients never added the meat and were completely satisfied. I then began providing meals for people simply curious about vegan food. I wanted to replicate the feeling I had when people told me that I assisted them in living healthier and so Good As Green began!

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? It’s really interesting when you attend an HBCU. Most of the time, you really just have to figure things out on your own or make due with what you have. It really prepped me for where I am today. I’ve always been a go-getter, but I’m a lot more resourceful because college helped me learn that.

How do you handle complex problems? I believe meditation is important. It keeps you calm, centered, and assured that there is a solution that you must work to find. I’ve always been good at figuring things out. My mother and grandmother taught me how to research what I didn’t know and try, even if I don’t know exactly how it pan out. Being tuned into the universe helps you KNOW it will all work out.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? I wish I had known a LOT of things, but I don’t want to focus on those things because I have since figured out ways to correct them and I don’t feel like getting the side eye from fellow business owners, LOL.

Data from Innova Market Insights has shown a 60 percent rise in the number of global food and beverage launches using a vegetarian claim between 2011 and 2015 and vegan google searched have climbed over 30 percent from 2014 to 2015. The vegan lifestyle though has always been around for a long time even if it did not have a name, but what do you believe has caused its recent surge among the American population in the past decade into more mainstream? The funny thing is back in 2011, I predicted this would happen. With the rise in disease diagnoses, people are looking for alternative methods to conventional medicine. People want to live longer and better. Many people do not see the direct link between food and disease. I believe that people became more health conscious when the GMO bill was passed. The United States of America is the most meat-centric country. I believe people were beginning to notice the effects of that. People now see the spike in obesity, heart disease, and cancer and they want to change that. In 2013, when I began a project focused on vegetarianism, people couldn’t see my vision because it wasn’t yet normalized the way it is now. I am happy to see the acceptance of the lifestyle and now we have more and better options (instead of suggesting a simple salad).

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Your business model is certainly unique where you are essentially combining a restaurant, event planning, and clubesque all in one. What was the inspiration and euphoric moment that made you decide on this business model? I know what I like when I go out. I hate that I have to eat first before an event because there probably aren’t going to be any vegan option. I hate that I have to eat AFTER an event, if anything is even open, because there aren’t many options. Most of the restaurants that offer vegan cuisine are fast-food. People assume that vegans are just one way: we all wear clothes from Whole Foods and preach about veganism all day. That’s definitely not me or the vegan friends in my circle!  I enjoy experiences. I enjoy vibing with others and meeting new people.  I decided to offer fun events with healthy, delicious food and beneficial beverages. As Howard Alum, everything is an event! I wanted to creative a dope atmosphere with dope people, good music, and food that just happened to be vegan. Since that was done successfully in September and now that I’m getting inquiries for other cities, I know this is a demand.

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Products are always a way to leverage and grow a company’s visibility and revenue. Do you see Good As Green eventually moving in that direction or will you keep the focus on the core business at hand? At this time, I’m not particularly sure about that, but I am receiving a lot of orders for my Smoky Beet Burgers. This area is still new to me and there are lots of challenges, but it seems to keep Good As Green profitable in-between pop-up events. I’m still perfecting this, but people really seem to love it. My main focus, though, is on my pop-up and other events.

HBCU agriculture or HBCU 1890 schools that operate farms seem like a natural fit for your company. In what ways do you think you could find collaborative ground with them? I hadn’t thought of it until this question. I love bartering and collaborative efforts, especially with HBCUs. I will definitely look into it and gladly accept advice about it!

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I am not particularly sure about other HBCUs, and I’m sure they do also, but Howard highly encourages entrepreneurship. Most of our courses required independent projects. As a Broadcast Journalism major, I had to learn ALL the aspects of broadcast production, not just on-air work. I learned about radio production, video production and editing, script writing, and the running of a newsroom. This especially came in handy when I ran my own projects. I would be out on assignment, lugging a camera, microphone, and other equipment, while students from other schools had a crew/team. It definitely came in handy after school! Honestly though, I wish the institution was more supportive of the alumni.

How do you deal with rejection? I reject rejection. I don’t believe in the word “No” when it comes to something I’m passionate about. It’s just not a good fit for you in this particular situation at this particular time. That’s all it means to me.

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? When I have down time, I love going on food adventures because I’m greedy and I don’t consider it “down time,” because I schedule it into my day, but I really enjoy working out. I wish I could travel more. I’m working hard at spending more time with family and friends. That seems very rare when you are running your own business!

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? I really wish that I lived more in my moments at Howard! I had such great times with great people! I loved hanging out in the Caf’, Bisonette practice, and hanging out on the yard. Of course I loved when Homecoming came around. I believe the most memorable moment at Howard was meeting Debbie Allen and standing next to her. She was actually my inspiration for choosing Howard! At the time, I was in many dance and performing arts programs, so I believed I was going to walk in her shadow. I also admired her direction for A Different World, so when she was standing next to me, I secretly lost it! She was sweeter than I imagined and I was grateful to receive some of her wisdom.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? I would definitely encourage budding HBCUpreneurs to never give up. It will be challenging and you will always have to decide on a new direction or reinvention, but stay true to YOUR vision. Once you take that leap, it’s a continual learning process that you won’t understand until you actually do it. All the research in the world won’t be comparable to the actual experience. It is important to engage your supporters. IT IS OKAY TO RECEIVE HELP! That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned. We have a great network within the HBCU community, so let’s support and patronize each other’s businesses! Also, It’s OK to promote yourself. You MUST because if you’re not excited about it, who else will?

To follow Najla and Good As Green, check out the company’s social media and contact information below:

http://www.GoodAsGreen.net

Instagram: @GoodAsGreenEats

Twitter: @GoodAsGreenEats

Facebook: @GoodAsGreenEats

Phone: 347-871-1220

The HBCUpreneur Corner – Huston-Tillotson University’s Jasmine “Bobby” Oliver & VYRL Co. Design


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Name: Jasmine “Bobby” Oliver

Alma Mater: Huston-Tillotson University, Class of 2015

Business Name & Description: VYRL Co. Design began from an honest place of desiring to have an opportunity to explore all that it means to be a creative entrepreneur, but also to showcase recent photography and web/graphic design projects that I have done. VYRLCoDesign.com became a space of passion, honesty, and inspiration where you can see a deeper side of a creative black-woman entrepreneur living, traveling, and pursuing a beautiful and fulfilling life that inspires others to do the same.

What year did you found your company? I first began as VYRL Media in 2010, then sometime in 2015 I started dabbling into design and the name evolved into VYRL Co. Design.

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? The most exciting and most fearful moments itself are when I realize that others are paying attention to my work and start asking me to do more challenging projects. Each and every project has allowed me to come out with a learning experience that I can take onto my next project.

What made you want to start your own company? Financial independence. Let’s be honest, this is probably the biggest reason people get into business from get-go. Which is a good thing! However we define ‘financial independence’ – retirement funds, unlimited cash potential or having the money to buy/do what you want….. entrepreneurship can allow you to achieve it. Another reason, I wanted to start my own company was because I had a hard time finding many places where myself, an African American creator/creative, could go to after graduation. So I figured that I would start small, build my own company and eventually hire other designers like myself.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? Jeff Wilson and Clara Bensen. Jeff, the dean of our college, and Clara Bensen, local Austin writer.

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How do you handle complex problems? Creatives are wired uniquely. As such, I think we have to navigate the world in a slightly different manner than non-creatives. How I handle complex problems is by trying to slow down. This is one I’m still trying to work out. While i think that multitasking can be useful, sometimes it does more harm than good. This causes my creativity to plummet as well as my mood. So as a resolution I try to get a firm grip on my schedule. And I only take on what I can do. Next I prepare for disapproval. I don’t know about you, but for some reason, I’m always looking for validation. I suspect this has something to do with a lack of self-confidence. However, it’s important to recognize that some people ‘just don’t get it’. I am a Cancer sign which means I am a very emotional person. So I also try to keep my emotions in check. I have this habit of always dissecting my thoughts which tends to lead me to second-guessing myself. So, what seems like a good idea today, feels like a disaster later. Plus, I’m overcritical of myself. So I tend to try to remind myself that not every thought needs to be evaluated.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? I wish I had known how much entrepreneurship consumes your life. This has became something that has consumed my thoughts. You start with an idea then a hailstorm of ideas on how you could possibly execute the idea begins… and it never ends. You just keep thinking and doubting and thinking and execute.

Many African American companies and organizations suffer from a poor digital presence. Why do you believe there is not more investment in this by African American entrepreneurs and companies? I’m not particular sure about this. My guess is economics plays a part. It would be interesting to know how many of our businesses get e-commerce business. That certainly could play a role in how serious they take their web presence. If they are not getting much of their business from the web, then they may not think it is worth having much invested in it. However, these days the web is serving as the store front most customers encounter even before they get to your brick and mortar. A strong presence though is not cheap and as I stated, economics may play a major role in the lack of investment in this area. Do I as an entrepreneur invest more in my product or my web presence? It is a decision we are faced with more than other groups unfortunately.

Digital designers certainly get influence from a myriad of different places. What are some of the things that you believe influences your design personality? Things that influence my design personality kind of derives from my first experience as a photographer. I have always noticed that I was drawn to clean spaces and I’ve noticed that in my photography that I was always drawn to photographing in unison with landscape and architectures. I love clean lines.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I would love to see HBCUs encourage students to step out more and challenge them to find their passion, their why, and assist them in starting their own business even while in school. Not only should HBCUs provide the fundamentals, but provide them with hands-on tools and resources to develop action plans.

I’ve also noticed that many HBCU’s do not have many arts programs. I want to see more photography and design programs that are infused with business.I would be super geeked if I had seen a “Visual Identity and Creative Branding” course on my curriculum.

How do you deal with rejection? Bah! Rejection. It’s easy to say ‘don’t take it personally’ but it’s not so easy to do when you put your heart and soul into your work. I am still learning how to deal with rejection quite honestly so I don’t have an amazing answer but what I can tell you is that I try to respond to it by experimenting with new influences and making my work more unique.

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? I try to stay as far away from my desk and computer as possible. I love being outdoors so I may go on a quick trip to Conroe or Austin to visit friends for a day or two, go running with my dog, check out the museums downtown or simply do nothing. There are days well I feel mentally exhausted and I’ll opt to a movie on my iPad in bed and order a pizza and gather some snacks for easy access while in the bed. I’m keeping it simple these days.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? Being apart of the student organization, Green is the New Black at my alma matter (HTU). GITNB is a organization that was created tin 2013 that tackled both environmental issues and race. We had events, raise funds and were advocates of environmental awareness in areas that weren’t particularly apart of the “sustainability conversation”.

The biggest moment was when I was even won first place prices for a $85,000 grant from Fort HBCU Challenge against much bigger named HBCU’s.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs?

Be focused. Very obsessively focused.