Small business entrepreneurs have always had to work doubly hard to survive in an atmosphere that at times seemed stacked against them. Indeed, the past two years, defined by the global pandemic, have created havoc for many enterprises, big and small. But there are those who see opportunity in adversity. Some of these fearless business owners have been lauded and supported by established institutions for their spunk and success-driven products and services.
Bank of America, one of the nation’s top multinational investment and financial services banks, in partnership with StartUP FIU, a Florida International University business and research incubator, and The Underline, a 10-mile linear park below Miami’s Metrorail suitable for cultural, health and wellness, and art projects, launched the first ever two-week Small Business Bootcamp for local Miami entrepreneurs with a minimum revenue of $30,000.
“We know empowering small businesses with the right tools will make a direct impact on our local community and economy,” said Gene Schaefer, president, Bank of America Miami. “The focus of this collaborative effort is to drive positive impact where it is needed most, inspire Miami’s entrepreneurial spirit and accelerate sustainable growth.”
More than 30 technology, marketing, retail, services entrepreneurs were offered courses in navigating supply chain, pricing, team-building, raising capital. At the end of each week, participants pitched their businesses to a panel of judges. Ten stood out and were declared winners based on their unique value proposition, economic feasibility, marketing and growth strategy, entrepreneurial spirit, and overall presentation. They were also presented with $2000 to help boost their businesses.
“We are grateful for the support and partnership of Bank of America and The Underline in our mission to help South Florida’s small businesses thrive at every stage of the entrepreneurial process, from concept and creation to launch, promotion and beyond,” said Emily Gresham, assistant vice president of Research & Economic Development at FIU and co-founder of StartUP FIU.
Backed by Science
One of the winners, Natacha Metayer, founder of JNCY Jewelers, is shattering the perception of the luxury jewelry business. This first generation Haitian-American started her company in 2019 while still working a corporate job. Embracing her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the science behind fine gems, she jumped into her endeavor full-time knowing she would be breaking the mold.
“I'm a black woman. One, there's not a lot of black jewelers, and two there’s not a lot of women jewelers. But I think what truly makes me stand out and what makes JNCY stand out is it's backed by science,” said a confident Metayer.
A Certified Professional Jeweler, Metayer is accredited through the Gemological Institute of America and is pursuing her certification to be a Graduate Gemologist.
She added: “We look at diamonds with a technical eye, we look at the four C's, which is cut, color, clarity, and carat, how the light interacts with it. So when I curate a list of diamonds for a customer, it's backed by science”
In fact, one of the things that was reenforced for Metayer through the StartUp FIU workshop is that businesses must have a foundation, it’s not just about making money. That’s why learning about the creation of diamonds, precious stones, and gems is key to her philosophy. Perhaps one of the most important persons in her journey is her mentor, 74 year-old David Levinson.
“He made me realize that science is key because everybody else can sell diamonds. They can tell you the story. They can give you the illusion, but at the end of the day, every customer wants a diamond no matter how big or small it is, that's going to shine bright and it's gonna look good, but it must be based on science.”
Starting her business during the height of COVID-19, the gemologist was not afraid of the challenge, and in fact was inspired by her parents’ strength and tenacity and the journey they undertook when they left Haiti for America. She noted that it was difficult in the beginning, “but I’ve learned from every mistake and I just keep rolling,” the jeweler said.
An emotional Metayer talked about how her father crossed the waters in a boat to get to Miami. Her mother, who came via air, worked hard to build a future for their children by buying and selling items. Today, the family is settled and proud of their entrepreneurial children.
“they truly inspire me because I know that they made a sacrifice to come here.”
Now a growing business, Metayer is proud of her accomplishments and her direction. Her social media marketing strategy really paid off. In particular, she focused on black community pages and targeted African American professionals such as engineers, doctors, lawyers showcasing fine jewelry in luxury settings. Metayer developed a large following. She now has plans to open a Miami showroom but still maintaining a heavy online presence.
Truly a believer in the importance of family bonds and legacy, Metayer’s company represents not just her talents, but also that of her three brothers. JNCY is an acronym for Jonas, Natacha, Carlo, and Yrvence. One sibling is interested in watches, another is focused on Computer Aided Design, while the other has interest in casting, or actually making the jewelry.
“In two years I want to see that they are involved in it fully and are in the best position to grow in each of their respective parts of the industry," said Metayer.
Like the gemologist, another Bootcamp winner, Haitian-American Rose Jean of T-Shirt Mayhem Corp strongly believes in family and building a lasting legacy.
“I have a vision. I want to be the first one in my family to own a big corporation, to carry that on to our family heritage and leave a legacy, said Jean.
Jean started her T-shirt business in 2015 and after a few years, was doing well enough to secure a government contract, albeit, through the certifications she already had. The start of the pandemic however, created havoc basically depleting her revenues. The manufacturer held on and through small funding opportunities managed to stay afloat. Today, she is grateful for the lessons learned through the StartUP FIU Bootcamp she and her fellow business owners went through.
“They made me realize what my weaknesses were, that I need to restructure my branding and market my business properly. It made me realize you need to bring out what makes you who you are. And they made me come out of my comfort zone. It was an eye opener for me, Jean remarked.”
At the end of the Bootcamp, the winners got the opportunity to showcase their products and services at the innovative 10-mile open air linear hub, The Underline. Imagine showcasing your fine jewelry, T-shirts/uniforms, health and fitness services in a space extremely visible throughout Miami’s business and entertainment district.
“We are so honored to partner with Bank of America and FIU to bring small businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities to The Underline,” said Meg Daly CEO/Founder The Underline. “The open-air economy is proving to be one of the best ways to provide equitable access and experiences to all, including Miami's emerging businesses.”