By Elizabeth Rankin-Fulcher
“Do something that really speaks to who you are.” Kyiesha Kelly, Hip-Hop Closet
Every entrepreneur has a story about why they decided to start a business. Some know from Day One that they want to work for themselves; others come up with ideas while working for someone else and decide to take the entrepreneurial leap. Nevertheless, most business owners will agree on one thing – having your own is worth the struggle and the effort to hold on to it.
See below brief profiles on local Brooklyn-based businesswomen who took the leap. You can find their stories on the Internet.
Penda Aiken is celebrating 29 years as CEO/President of PENDA AIKEN INC., her thriving staffing services company. Inspired by her entrepreneur aunt and grandfather, this savvy, and then-single-parent, began her first business (with partner Barbara Parker) typing college student term papers, all while attending college herself. For 13 years, PAI, Inc. was located in midtown Manhattan, but several years ago was offered an opportunity to purchase a building in downtown Brooklyn where now more than 15 staff members recruit and supervise approximately 150 full-time temporary employees or 500 annually. They all receive full benefits; i.e., health and life insurance, 401(k), vacation and holiday pay, commuter benefits, paid family leave and various other incentives.
Penda attributes her success to researching the industry, having a business plan, guidance from a mentor, networking, using a team of legal/financial professionals finding tax incentives, using social media, being actively involved in the community, staying focused, obtaining government contracts and gaining memberships in professional and industry organizations.
Penda told Our Time Press that she knew she had made it when “…PAI got its first multimillion-dollar contract with a New York City government agency and when my son joined the company.”
Shannon Pridgen, owner, heavenly crumbs, opened her first bakery on Franklin Avenue 14 years ago. Because of a lease increase, the bakery has relocated to Marcus Garvey Boulevard, across from Woodhull Hospital.
While Shannon does not believe she is courageous, she took a leap of faith by leaving her corporate job to become an entrepreneur. The name “Heavenly Crumbs” came about during a conversation with friends who noted that the cakes were so good “even the crumbs were heavenly.” In hindsight, Shannon would have structured her business differently and invested in the purchase of a commercial building.
Shannon’s day is usually 12 hours long; she has one employee without benefits. Advice offered to future entrepreneurs, find a mentor to help you navigate the system. When the going gets tough, Shannon switches gears and pushes through it – her ultimate goal is the success of her business.
Kyiesha & Malik Kelly, siblings and owners of Hip – Hop Closet, began their journey 20 years ago using their personal funds. Kyiesha is married with children; Malik is single. The Kelly siblings are the sole employees, using interns and part-time help, as needed. At the beginning, they operated from their home and all sales were strictly e-commerce and mostly outside the metropolitan area. By the way, all their merchandise is Made in New York. Hip-Hop Closet has now found a home in the Brooklyn Navy Yard with a showroom and event space. The community can shop and enjoy lectures, book discussions/signings and performances by rap and jazz artists in a relaxed and comfortable environment. Hip-Hop Closet relies on social media and their website to advertise their business.
Kyiesha’s advice to newbies: “Do something that really speaks to who you are and about what you are most passionate. Don’t pattern your idea after anyone else, be unique; don’t be afraid to fail, to tweak, it’s all about trial and error. Believe in yourself.”
Jacqueline mcmickens is CEO of jacqueline mcmickens & associates, pllc, a boutique law firm doing legal work since 1999, prior to which Ms. McMickens was a 20-year government employee with the desire to start her own business. The firm specializes in Surrogate’s Court Proceedings, Matrimonial and Family Law, Administrative Law, Trusts & Estates, Real Property Consultations, Legal Services for Faith-Based Organizations and Civil Litigation. The firm does not advertise but hosts a website and uses social media. It is not unusual for Ms. McMickens to have a 15-hour day, five days a week. The firm has 11 employees – four attorneys, four paralegals, a comptroller and two support staff along with summer interns. All employees are entitled to sick leave and receive three bonuses annually; health insurance is not offered.
When asked what motivates her to keep going when the going gets tough, she replied: “Folks have placed their trust and faith in us, so I have to keep going.” She notes that the disadvantage of being a small boutique firm is that you have little chance of being hired by major corporations and, in many cases, even being hired within your own community. In hindsight, she would have purchased a commercial building in which to house her law firm and other like businesses.
Ms. Mack, as she is affectionally called by her staff, noted that her most satisfying moments have been the ability to hire young attorneys and paralegals and recruit her retired husband to serve as the firm’s comptroller. Ms. McMickens sits on the board of the Brooklyn Law School Alumni Association and is a former board member of the Women’s Forum. (To be continued in Part II, Our Time Press, April 4.)
Elizabeth Rankin-Fulcher is co-founder and co-chair of Black Women’s Leadership Caucus, Inc. She sits on the board of ESPER, a Black stamp collecting organization and coordinates special stamp dedications in collaboration with The African Burial Ground.