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Facebook is Rolling out $100 million in Cash Grants and Ad Credits

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

As the United States hunkers down to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19, many companies and government agencies are ramping up efforts to reduce the financial impact of the near-nationwide mandate to shelter in place.

Facebook is one of them.

Said Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg on a post on her Facebook page, “In recent weeks, we have seen inspiring examples of individuals and groups helping each other. People across the globe are stepping up, rising to the enormous challenge in front of us. We want to do our part too. Small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities, and many of the people who run these businesses are heavily affected by the crisis – especially as more and more people sensibly stay home. The longer the crisis goes on, the greater the risk to small businesses and to the livelihoods of their owners and employees.”

In response, on March 17, the company announced a $100 million grant program for small businesses negatively affected by COVID-19. Facebook will give away money and/or ad credits to 30,000 businesses worldwide – in the 30 countries in which Facebook operates.

Facebook says the funds granted can be used to get caught up on rent, pay operational expenses, pay labor, or invest in marketing.

Sandberg explained, “We’ve listened to small businesses to understand how we can best help them. We’ve heard loud and clear that financial support could enable them to keep the lights on and pay people who can’t come to work. That’s why today I’m announcing that Facebook is investing $100 million to help 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries where our employees live and work.”

Although details are still being worked out, you can sign up for updates on the Facebook Small Business Grant program site.

Sandberg says, “That’s just the start. We also want to make it easier for businesses everywhere to find help and receive training and support from our teams. We’ve made our Business Hub —a resource for Facebook employees and health experts—readily available for all. We are also creating new virtual training to support businesses operating in this new and unsettling environment.”

February 2020 Amber Grant Awarded to Fortuna

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

Last Wednesday, we announced five February Amber Grant finalists. Now, we’re excited to share the $4,000 recipient and the third qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Tamara Mekler of Fortuna. Tamara dished on her game-changing product, its environmental impact and much more in our interview below.

WN: What problem(s) does Fortuna solve?

TM: Fortuna’s Coconut Coolers keep food fresh, incomes high, and oceans healthy. 

Cold storage is a problem faced at every turn of the fresh supply chain in developing economies. Fisherfolk and fish traders operate on razor thin margins, yet they spend a lot on their coolers. The leading product, the polystyrene “styro” icebox, is one of the most universally despised products: each unit is cheap, but lasts only 5-10 trips before it is tossed and replaced. It adds up to a big cost, and is environmentally devastating, since most of the discarded coolers end up as tiny beads in the ocean. Hard-plastic (polyurethane) coolers are stronger but a lot more expensive. 

Fortuna found a solution in a coconut farm: coconut husk fiber is a cheap and durable material with amazing thermal insulation properties. Husks are the byproduct of a massive coconut industry—more than 10 billion husks are burned as waste every year in the Philippines alone. Fortuna’s patent-pending design turns this agricultural waste product into strong, attractive coolers that cost less than polyurethane and last longer than Styrofoam. 

Moreover, Fortuna’s Coconut Coolers have an amazing social and environmental impact: impoverished coconut farmers stand to boost their incomes by selling their waste husks, traders benefit from reduced supply chain costs, and every Coconut Cooler sold saves landfills, oceans, and the climate from polystyrene waste and carbon emissions.

WN: What challenges have you encountered?

TM: One of our biggest challenges so far has been managing the production of our coolers. While coconut fiber has been used in construction projects in the past, we are the first packaging product insulated with coconut fiber. As a result, we’ve had to do a lot of R&D to figure out how to turn coconut fiber into Fortuna’s Coconut Cooler.

Thankfully, we’ve had fantastic partners along the way. We partner with two small factories to produce our coolers: a coconut fiber factory produces our insulation panels, and a soft goods factory makes our waterproof liner. Together we have gone through months of prototyping and testing our designs, focusing primarily on insulation performance and durability. While working in small batches makes it easier to regularly update the design, it is a time-consuming process that can yield inconsistent results. Now that we are happy with our latest design, we are ready to scale up production, moving from small-batch prototypes to a larger-volume run, and working beside our manufacturing partners to ensure a more efficient, quality-controlled process.  

WN: Once the product is mass-market ready, what are your plans for outreach to potential buyers?

TM: Southeast Asia, where we source the coconut fiber, has extremely productive fisheries and long cold chains. Our first target market is the Filipino seafood industry, where 4.7 million tons of fish are landed across thousands of islands before being transported to market. We will hire a Country Sales Manager to help us reach high-volume traders and replace their polystyrene boxes with Coconut Coolers at the moment when cash is on hand and old boxes are breaking. The Philippines is one of the world’s biggest Facebook user-bases, so we will rely on a social media campaign to increase brand awareness and build a community of customers seeking Fortuna coolers and Fortuna-cooled food. 

As our sales in the Philippines ramp up, we will expand to Indonesia and Thailand, two SEA countries with similar market characteristics as the Philippines. And this is just a small piece of a multibillion-dollar global market dominated by polluting plastic products and unmet customer demands for durable, affordable, and sustainable alternatives. 

WN: Share some advice you’d give an aspiring female entrepreneur.

TM: I co-founded Fortuna fresh out of graduate school, with no Business background. I felt that because I was inexperienced, I must be unqualified. What I’ve realized is that all entrepreneurs are inexperienced by definition. No one is ever technically “qualified” to build a business from the ground up, no matter their background.

The first days of need-finding you’ll wish you studied Sociology, when designing your logo you’ll regret not having 10 years of working experience in Marketing, when making your first sales you’ll want to wait for your MBA, and when building prototypes at the factory you’d benefit from a Master’s in Material Sciences. It would take many lifetimes to get the qualifications to be an entrepreneur. Yet all you really need is to be so passionate about your idea, that you are eager to learn whatever skills you need to implement it, and know when to seek support and advice from experts and partners. In my experience, you get to be passionate about an idea when you’ve done the due diligence in understanding the problem. You know the problem so well, and feel the pain point of your customers so deeply, that you are 100% committed to creating and delivering the solution, no matter what it takes. 

February 2020 Amber Grant Finalists

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

Happy March, everyone. We’re writing to share 5 finalists for the $4,000 February Amber Grant. The recipient will be the 3rd of 12 finalists for the 2020 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

We’re planning to announce the February grant recipient within a week. For now, congratulations to the following women-owned businesses:

Bluemonic

Website

 

Wanish Sugar Bush

Website

Foxed

Website

 

Fortuna Cools, Co.

Website

 

Finca

Website

Lessons Learned from Amber Grant Winners – February 2020

Friday, February 14th, 2020

Since our goal is to help women entrepreneurs start, run, and grow successful businesses, we decided to ask past Amber Grant winners for advice they would want to share with you.

Here are some words of wisdom straight from them:

Develop a business plan

“A great product (or service) is only one ingredient in the recipe for a successful business. Take time to develop your business and financial plan prior to launching. You must have a well thought out and scalable business infrastructure to grow. This said, theory never translates exactly to practice. Once you launch, be sure to evaluate your execution and pivot as needed!”

Rebecca Scott, founder, Sustainable Snacks

 

Don’t get too attached to your ideas

“If I could offer one solid tip to anyone starting or planning to start a business, it would be to always…ALWAYS keep an open mind. You may think this is common sense and obvious, but not everyone actually does it. Sometimes it’s difficult to admit that your idea just isn’t working. I’m not necessarily talking about your main business idea. I’m referring to the everyday smaller ideas and decisions that are more important than you might think. Changes and modifications of your ideas and plans, both big and small, are crucial and necessary when you are building something from the ground. We need to have the ability to recognize the difference between when an idea needs time to simmer, when it needs change or modification and maybe most importantly, when something simply is NOT working. I have learned that sometimes we come up with something that we as individuals think is a million-dollar idea and we get very emotionally attached to that idea and how we think it needs to be executed. Our target customers or clients may not feel the same way. I have seen emotional attachment to specific details be the very thing that causes a good business plan to not work. Always be aware that there are so many ways to accomplish any given thing. Be open to them all. Pay close attention to what works and take notes. Recognize what is not catching on and do more of what is, cutting the waste loose. Be open-minded and flexible. Listen to your customers and your staff if you have one. And if that genius idea that you came up with just isn’t getting off the ground, let it go and replace it with more genius. This is an ongoing process that I utilize every day and its effectiveness has been life-saving.”

Elena Mascherino, founder and chef, Love Again Local

 

Plan your days

“My best entrepreneurial tip is to create daily agendas for yourself to help manage your workload and also provide that time you need to relax and refuel yourself. Entrepreneurship gets lonely and sometimes it’s difficult to motivate ourselves. I’ve learned that planning a daily schedule gives guidance to my actions during the day and helps motivate me to get work done in manageable parts.”

Tina Degano, founder, Sugarless

 

Find a mentor

“Building relationships is the cornerstone of success-with yourself personally and with others professionally. I value relationships so much that it’s one of my company’s (Noomi) core values. Interestingly, when I first began my Noomi journey, it was the unplanned mentorship of an executive chef who believed in me, encouraged me, and challenged me, that really supported me through the launch of my product. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.

I genuinely believe in the power of mentorships too, so find someone who can really push you in a constructive and inspiring way. Someone who echoes your passion and enthusiasm and motivates you to think differently, to be better, and to dream bigger. Network with others, ask questions, start the conversations, and leave the conversations with even more questions than you started with. Soak up as much industry knowledge as you can, and leverage it to help you understand how to establish your business, set SMART goals and successfully grow.

People are always willing to help you along the way, and in many cases, have been in your shoes at one point; meaning, they want to pay it forward and help if they are able to. So put yourself out there, expand your network every day, and build and nurture every relationship. You’ll be surprised who you meet, who they may know, how they can help you, and what you can achieve together as a result.”

Krystina L. Murawski, owner and founder, Noomi

 

Network to forge relationships

“My advice for other female business owners is to get involved in a wide variety of community events and seek out networking opportunities. It’s not always about what will get achieved by attending/ joining conferences, or small business organizations (local or national), but often the people that you meet and connections you build can have the greatest impact on your personal and business growth.”

Kristen Moffatt, founder, Wasatch Nectar

January 2020 Amber Grant Awarded to Cleveland Blacksmithing

Monday, February 10th, 2020

Recently, we announced five January Amber Grant finalists. After much deliberation, we’re excited to share the $4,000 recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Brooke Lehman of Cleveland Blacksmithing. In our interview, Brooke discusses her unique business, shares a near and dear charitable cause, and much more.

WN: Share the origin of Cleveland Blacksmithing and what the business provides

BL: Cleveland Blacksmithing is a community learning blacksmith shop based in Cleveland, Ohio open to all those interested in blacksmithing, fabrication, welding, and metal arts. On a daily basis, we open our blacksmith shop to teaching classes, workshops, private lessons, and group team building events. Our enrollment is roughly 50/50 men and women ranging from kids ages 8 and up to seniors who wish to explore a new skill or simply experience metalworking for the first time. We also have a maker-space membership program providing open studio time to those who wish to continue learning independently.

My husband, Gavin, leads classes and runs daily operations in the shop. I keep the wheels turning on the back end focusing on marketing, programming, bookkeeping, customer service, product development, community engagement, and member services. I am 51% owner due to my professional background in small business branding, marketing, graphic and web design. My husband has been a blacksmith for over 20 years, producing forged architectural and sculptural iron as commissioned projects. However, he is a natural born teacher, and being the entrepreneur I am, I  just couldn’t let him keep the joy he brings to his craft all to himself.

And what a joy it is! It is widely known that the practice of a craft promotes relief from stress and a sense of accomplishment, as well as, increased happiness, reduced anxiety, and enhanced confidence.⁠ I always refer to our shop as “the place where you leave your troubles at the door” because no matter what stressors you had during the day, once you’re there and working in the shop, all that fades away. I know this first hand, because at the end of the day, I often exchange my laptop for a hammer and work in the shop. Owning a business is the most the stressful thing I’ve ever done…. and I have a teenager!… so, as my own form of self-care, I find it helps to get out of my head and work with my hands. I forge iron and weld steel. I know how to properly and safely use all power tools including welders, grinders, sanders, a variety of saws, the oxy-acetylene torches, and our 1951 Little Giant power hammer – which is super cool.

WN: Can you take us through a typical class?

BL: We typically start folks off in a fun and energetic beginner level blacksmithing class which guarantees good times and enthusiastic hands-on instruction that is simple and informative. Participants have the freedom to explore different ways of moving hot metal after learning basic forging skills. Working at an anvil with hammers and tongs, they practice techniques such as scrolling, drawing out, and twisting by making projects to take home such as hooks, fire pokers, bottle openers, pendants, or some just call it art!

I’ve been hanging around the blacksmith shop for going on 10 years. Therefore, I am often Gavin’s teaching assistant. During classes, I assist participants with their questions, make recommendations on how to improve their technique, and in the end, help them complete their projects to take home and enjoy.

WN: How are you spreading the word about Cleveland Blacksmithing?

BL: While we certainly market our business online by having a strong brand, a strategically built website, and keeping our social media platforms active, being a local business, we definitely rely on word-of-mouth and loyalty from our customers. It’s extremely important to us to provide an authentic and joyful experience for each and every person that comes to the shop. Whether you come in to learn something new, whether you’re there for a design meeting about custom ironwork, or you’re there because you stopped in off the street out of curiosity, everyone is welcome and treated as so. And I think that goes a really long way in our case. (See our Facebook and Google reviews!)

Website
Instagram
Facebook

WN: Tell us about the Jessi Combs Foundation and its connection to the business

BL: Whew, this is a heartfelt one. For those that don’t know, Jessi Combs was a badass babe. She was at the helm of women doing what men have traditionally done. From moto-sports to welding and fabrication, Jessi led the way for women to explore the power of making. Last year, we had the pleasure of meeting Jessi and hearing her keynote about women in the trades, and we
were truly inspired by her presence and thoughts. Soon after, she lost her life while attempting to better her four-wheel land speed record. As a result, The Jessi Combs Foundation was formed in her honor, dedicated to educating, inspiring and empowering the next generation of female trailblazers and stereotype-breakers.

In support, we’ve developed a quarterly Women’s Welding Night with a portion of our proceeds being donated to the Jessi Combs Foundation. And, I’m also on the Maker Summer School coordinating committee with a set a goal to raise $10,000 for the Foundation. Maker Summer School is a national conference held in our hometown aimed towards professional and aspiring content creators who want to build their maker skills as well as their business through marketing and branding in an atmosphere designed to foster hands-on learning and growth.

WN: What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?

BL: I think the best advice I could give to an aspiring female entrepreneur, is to solve something meaningful. That something can be little or big, but it must be meaningful to you. I’ve found owning a business is most fulfilling when you’re making an impact and touching lives. And when you’re making an impact, it drives you to stick with it through the hard times. Business is busy and life is messy. You’re going to not know the answers. You’re going to be overwhelmed. You’re going to doubt yourself. You’re going to be out of your comfort zone. You’re going to fail. But….when you care about the work you’re doing in the world, you’ll show up every day and find the answers. You’ll push past the overwhelm. You’ll gain confidence. You’ll learn and you’ll grow something that far exceeds the expectations you started with.

WN: If you have anything else to share, please do — this is your platform!

BL: We LOVE this business and the experience it brings to people because, the truth is, this business isn’t about us. It’s about people. It’s about the teen that needs direction and is interested in learning a lifelong skill. It’s about the retiree that needs to work with his hands and be productive. It’s about the artists that need a place to explore and create. It’s about the families and friends that choose to create memories through shared experiences. It’s about enriching peoples lives while simultaneously preserving tradition. And that, my friends, is pretty darn cool.

January 2020 Amber Grant Finalists

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

We’re writing to share 5 finalists for the $4,000 January Amber Grant. The recipient will be the 2nd of 12 finalists for the 2020 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

We’ll aim to announce the January grant recipient within a week. For now, congratulations to the following:

Water Bear Photography

Website

 

ThriveKids

Website

 

Cleveland Blacksmithing

Website

 

Little Explorers

(No Website)

The Heart Museum 

(No Website)