The stories behind this year’s four winners of our Black Entrepreneur Pitch Event highlight the resiliency and creativity of small businesses in a time when so many small businesses were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, Libra Riley had already started working on developing a product, The SWOOP™ hanger, which transitions longer garments to shorter lengths with the two-hanger patented system. As a result, she pivoted from a licensing deal that was all but signed to taking control of the manufacturing process. “This was a scary time to launch something,” Libra recalls thinking, “but this might actually have been the very best time. People were home and as much as the pandemic is horrific, people were becoming more and more aware of the need to use their homes as efficiently as possible. Some people are using their walk-in closet as their work-from-home office.” So, she used this time to “solidify” the design, manufacturing and production and begin to set up the “back of the house” operations.
The shortage of Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs) pre-dated the pandemic, but it was the pandemic that stirred public health physician and technology entrepreneur Dr. Charlene Brown to tackle the issue. CNA training requires both classroom and clinical components; the clinical part taking place in nursing homes. However, as nursing homes closed to only essential qualified workers during the pandemic, nursing assistant instructors told Dr. Brown that they struggled to find suitable alternatives, further clogging the pipeline of needed and qualified caregivers. She was astounded to find that though case-based learning and simulation training programs exist for nursing and medical students, options for CNAs were limited. Dr. Brown was affronted with a “sense of injustice” posed by this gap. CNAs are typically low-wage women of color. “Why shouldn’t these front-line workers have the same access to advanced learning tools that the rest of health care professionals have,” she asked. “It fired me up.” The idea for CNA Simulations VR was born and its pilot program is expected to launch this summer.
The Restroom Kit started out as a practical solution for Bill Massey in 1997. In his travels around Washington, DC and elsewhere with his young family, he often encountered public restrooms missing essential supplies. So, Bill created small packets of bathroom necessities to take along with them – toilet paper, hand-fashioned toilet seat covers and wipes. In 2012, Bill and his business partner and wife Sonia turned this simple family solution into a small business, selling on their own website and Amazon. Shortly after the pandemic hit, the Masseys saw a boost in sales after the Restroom Kit was mentioned in the Washington Post article The need to go is a big barrier to going out. Why public bathrooms are a stumbling block for reopening. “The new normal is going to be traveling with your own toiletries,” Sonia Massey told the Washington Post. This article led to inclusion in Forbes.com Holiday Gift Guide 2020: The Best Gifts for Traveling Safely During The Time of COVID-19 and another bump in sales.
Mark Dozier saw an uptick in business for his continuity of operations company Critical Path Solutions, founded in 2012, as organizations tried to understand how to be prepared and protected and then how to recover and resume or adapt operations during the pandemic. One federal agency turned to Mark and Critical Path Solutions after they tracked increases in drug use, and incidences of suicide and domestic violence due to the shutdown of drug clinics and support groups. Critical Path Solutions worked with the agency to identify existing policies and programs that have successfully addressed these issues and then helped it adapt them to provide the needed access to care.
SCORE Washington DC is proud of all of these winners of the Black Entrepreneur Pitch Event and admire the resilience and perseverance they showed. Congratulations to all four of these exceptional businesses.