During the “shark tank” style accelerator event, held during 3M Open events in Blaine, Minn., 3 Twin Cities-based businesses pitched their stories before a live audience and responded to questions from the dynamic judges: entrepreneur and community leader Houston White, Wendy Nelson of the Carlson Family Foundation, and Mike Sweeney, former chairman of Steinway & Sons and StarTribune Media. Previously selected as finalists from nearly 50 applicants, the entrepreneurs were each looking ahead to the next stage of business growth.
- Code White provides accessible teeth whitening services and offers franchising opportunities as a step to financial wellness – plus a giveback to the Black community in supporting dental health. Co-owners David Hicks and Cartier Banks, who started with “$500 and a dream,” said the reason their business exists – their “why” – is to give people a new level of confidence when they feel good about their “personal business card”: their smile.
- Silk Road Wellness offers a broad range of natural, homemade and halal-certified skincare wellness products. Silk Road is also the first natural skincare and wellness brand in the country inspired by Islamic traditions and halal principles. Owner Annie Qaiser said she is breaking down barriers and stereotypes by being a Muslim woman business owner – she named her business Silk Road for the historical trade route that connected many cultures.
- E.bazz Beauty Supply makes local hair and beauty supplies and services accessible for people of color. Billing itself as a place “where beauty and community meet,” the company has an underlying mission of bringing jobs, resources and business education through its expansion. Owner Essence Shabazz spoke of wanting her business to bridge those who came before – like her mother, who inspired her – and those who come after, whom she can herself inspire.
After lengthy, secret discussions – “They’re still fighting,” joked emcee (and well-known Minnesota sportscaster) Marney Gellner at one point – the judges announced their decision. They first awarded $20,000 to David Hicks and Cartier Banks of Code White … then $30,000 to Essence Shabazz of E.bazz Beauty Supply … and finally $40,000 to Annie Qaiser to take the next step in expanding her business, Silk Road Wellness! With $10,000 left over, the judges also announced an additional $5,000 each to Code White and E.bazz! These unrestricted grants to fuel the entrepreneurs in expanding and scaling their retail locations, products and sales are funded by Bell Bank and 3M Open Fund and facilitated by Neighborhood Development Center.
Katie Mattis Sarver, Bell Bank community development officer, affirmed that giving and helping others is really about “my connection with you and what we can learn together. It’s about how we can lift others and how we can do more.”
“Many of you in this room have entrusted us by talking to us, and we’ve heard a lot of things,” she related. “We’ve heard do more. We’ve heard be authentic. We’ve heard don’t change what’s working – but make sure you’re making change.”
What we know, Katie added, is everyone deserves financial opportunities – including, and importantly, those who have the courage, grit and creativity to own, run and grow a small business. And that’s why so many came together for the Get Down to Business event.
Added Renay Dossman, president of Neighborhood Development Center: “If you talk to our entrepreneurs … all of these stories are amazing, and all of the stories you didn’t get a chance to hear are equally amazing.”
Bell Bank and our community partners are excited to build on the energy and connections of Get Down to Business. Congratulations to Annie, Essence, David and Cartier! We can’t wait see what your businesses – and so many local entrepreneurs – do next!