2022 MORTAR at Bounce Life’s a Pitch Winners Reflect on Their Journeys

Ebony Allen, founder of Lavishly Defyned Beauty Supply, knew at a young age that she wanted to work in the beauty industry.

“My mom took me to the hair salon when I was a young girl and I fell in love with the experience. I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

Lavishly Defyned Beauty Supply is located in the Merriman Valley where Allen offers customers a variety of hair products. In addition, she operates Elite Stylez Beauty Bar where she provides hair services on a part-time basis, while also working as a realtor.

Allen, Lori Parnell and Jamila Edwards, who are all featured here, are graduates of the MORTAR at Bounce small business accelerator. They are also winners of the $3,000 prize in MORTAR’s Life’s a Pitch competition. While open to all entrepreneurs, MORTAR at Bounce is focused on serving minority and female entrepreneurs.

“The resources at Bounce are awesome,” Allen said. “Along with mentorship, I’ve received help accessing financial resources, such as grants and loans, marketing support, and other programs to help small businesses.”

Although speaking in front of people to pitch her business was new territory for her, Allen kept practicing, which she said made her less fearful.

“I was nervous, but I kept my eyes on the prize, to help me get through it. It’s also prompted me to want to do more and keep getting better,” she said.

Allen has used the funds to help increase her inventory, which remains one of her biggest challenges.

“Financing supersedes everything. I’ve been a bootstrapper, which has worked for me,” she said. “It’s rewarding to walk into the store and see the business is still thriving and moving in a direction of growth. I’m thankful for the community that is keeping the heartbeat going.”

Allen advises other aspiring entrepreneurs that while it does take a certain amount of capital to start, don’t wait for the perfect time.

“You do need the right amount of time to devote to your business,” she said.

Along with the other jobs she is juggling, Allen is pursuing a business degree.

“I don’t just want to learn as I go. As I gain more knowledge with a business degree, I can also help other entrepreneurs,” she said.

Eventually, Allen would like to move away from being a hair stylist so she can focus on both real estate and expanding Lavishly Defyned Beauty Supply.

“I want to go further and expand to more locations, but I won’t do it without full capital,” she said. “I need to start with what it takes.”

Lori Parnell, Black Culture Candles

Like Allen, Lori Parnell has always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

“Instead of a lemonade stand as a child, I sold lemonade by wagon throughout the neighborhood to the fathers who were mowing their lawns,” she said.

Later, as a middle school student, she participated in Junior Achievement.

Today she is the founder and candle maker of Black Culture Candles.

“Scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers and I want to take people on a scent journey with my candles,” she said.

Parnell’s candles are primarily sold online through her website at blackculturecandles.com and wholesale to small shops.

“I spent the last year validating my business. This year it’s about how to be strategic in marketing,” said Parnell who holds a marketing degree.

“In the MORTAR program, it was the first time I was assigned a mentor. Now I have three,” she said.

Her mentors include entrepreneurs in residence, Adrian Chestnut, who helps her with sales, and Dr. Constance Peek-Longmire, “who helps keep me grounded and on task,” she said. In addition, she has a mentor from SCORE who helps her make use of available resources for small business owners.

“At Bounce, I’ve cultivated many friendships including Shanisha (Collins) from the Maid Experience. We talk every day and hold each other accountable,” Parnell said. “The camaraderie, support and encouragement from other entrepreneurs have been invaluable. You can’t do it alone and need mentors and a network.”

Parnell is currently participating in Bounce’s Next Level Business Incubator, which is helping her scale her operations. The winnings from the Life’s a Pitch competition enabled Parnell to buy much-needed supplies so she could meet customer demand for a mid-sized, 8-ounce candle. She continues to refine her products and is adding a diffuser and a sample set with three 2.5 ounce candles, as she looks for ways to boost sales.

“Candle sales are typically slow in the summer months and then pick up again in the fall,” she said.

Parnell advises other entrepreneurs to find their passions.

“You have to believe in your product or service. If you don’t, no one else will. And you have to be able to communicate that value to your target market,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is about believing that you have what it takes. It’s 80% mindset and 20% strategy, products and marketing. Two years ago, I never would have dreamt that I’d have a candle company. It’s so rewarding to breathe life into something.”

Jamila Edwards, Life’s Flower Coffee House and Marketplace

Creating a more sustainable future is the goal of Life’s Flower Coffee House and Marketplace, which combines founder Jamila Edward’s love of food, agriculture and coffee.

A wife and mother, Edwards recognized that a typical busy household like hers generates a lot of waste from grocery and food delivery. She wanted to build a business that would help other families reduce or eliminate such waste and create a healthier lifestyle for all.

As a graduate of MORTAR at Bounce, Edwards found the process of laying the groundwork for her business to be invaluable.

“Week by week, class facilitators take you through all aspects of entrepreneurship to help you define your concept, identify your customers, create financial projections, develop your marketing strategy and build your brand. They really set you up for success and help you understand what it takes,” she said.

Although she plans to have a brick and mortar coffee house and marketplace, she is currently focusing on the marketplace aspect of the business and is launching an e-commerce site at lifeflowersmarket.com at the end of May.

Here she will sell zero-waste household swaps such as compostable dish brushes, fabric paper towel replacements and compostable lip balm from My Eco Shop, a local business that specializes in sustainable, refillable and natural personal care and household products.

“In June, we will launch weekly local delivery and extend our offerings to locally grown herbal tea, locally roasted coffee, locally baked bread and locally grown Let’s Grow Akron produce boxes and products,” Edwards. “Our plan is to operate like this for the summer growing season while raising the funds for a large food truck so we can start the coffee and food portion of our business. The food truck will have an extra refrigerator to hold more produce from other farm partners to set up at local farmers’ markets, as well as a zero-waste refill station with our partner, My Eco Shop.”

As she launches the local delivery service, Edwards will also be holding a focus group to get feedback on the reusable food packaging she will use.

Her mentors at Bounce have been instrumental in her entrepreneurial journey, as she’s had to pivot to e-commerce until she can get a food truck. The winnings from Life’s a Pitch will also help her meet that goal.

“I’ve learned that you have to do the work and prioritize. I have childcare two days a week, so I can be in the office and focus on the business,” she said. “While it’s challenging to balance working part-time, working for myself and being a wife and mother, it’s rewarding to see the changes happening at home. There’s less trash and I know we are making a difference.”

To learn more about MORTAR at Bounce, please visit https://bouncehub.org/mortar/. 

To learn more about Next Level, please visit https://bouncehub.org/next-level-incubator/. 

About the author:

Jill Wodtley, APR, is a freelance writer and Fine Point Public Relations and Advertising owner. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, she develops and implements marketing communications, public relations and advertising initiatives for a variety of clients, ranging from health care and social service agencies to industrial/manufacturing firms.