By Taylor Scantling
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Baltimore area mothers interested in creating and running their own businesses have the opportunity to get tons of advice, resources and other assistance from a 3-year-old Moms as Entrepreneurs Academy.
The academy was founded in April 2016 by Tammira Lucas, who describes herself as a “mompreneur,” author, speaker and philanthropist, and her partner, Jasmine Simms. The women work to erase the stigma that mothers are unwilling to risk or take on the pressures of running a business because they are too occupied with their children. The focus is on “business, balance and babies,” said Lucas, recognized as one of Baltimore’s “Top 40 under 40” who quickly emerged as a trailblazer among professionals and voice for moms.
Among the owners’ preparations for academy work was training at top luxury spa and hotel brands, such as the Four Seasons. They acquired skills in hospitality, time and cost management and guest relations.
In eight weeks, Lucas and Simms share their entrepreneurial training, financial knowledge and community connections. Each week, participants learn crucial steps they need to launch their businesses, using workbooks, interactive lessons and special activities that encourage them to learn and grow. The program is split into two groups, with each meeting on separate days on the campus of Morgan State University.
Nicole Mighty, one of the participants in a recently completed cohort, began her own company called Spiked Orchids. Mighty completed her bachelor’s degree at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and then earned her master’s degree in architectural engineering at Morgan State.
Mighty said she decided to join the program after she’d gone back to school for a fashion degree and realized that her passion for designing was what inspired her in her engineering degree. Everything gelled because Mighty said she likes to see how her work comes together from the very beginning of the design process.
“I actually was at work when I created my first prototype,” said Mighty. “I had all these hand-me-down clothes from when my daughter was a child, and I didn’t want them to go to waste. So I took a pair of her old jeans and was in the process of upcycling them into a clutch when one of my co-workers bought it off of me before I finished it.”
Her business involves upcycling clothing into hats, bags, jackets and other various accessories. Her business, Spiked Orchids, is primarily inspired by two things of significant meaning to her. Spiked, for the blood of Christ and Orchid for its meaning of being a delicate flower.
“Together, it showcases that what may appear as soft and vulnerable can be as strong as someone with a strong faith,” said Mighty.
Gail Harris, another participant from a different class of the MAE Academy, said she began her own company called Cozy Wicks. She received her bachelor’s in Business Administration and master’s in Management at Morgan State.
Harris discovered MAE, pronounced “MA,” on Instagram, and said she decided to give it a shot. She said she wanted help to structure and build her business. Harris also said she was excited that the program was for mothers who have or want to start their own businesses.
Cozy Wicks Co.’s focus is to create richly scented soy candles that promote self-care, and make you think and feel all things cozy and relaxing. They come in various sizes, from 4-ounce travel tins to 18- ounce glass holders. All are reusable, said Harris.
The inspiration came from her dissatisfaction with most store-bought candles. After research, she started learning how to create her own. She chose soy for her wax because she wanted her mother, who has a respiratory disease, to be able to enjoy the scents without being a hazard to her health.
“I did extensive research and joined several candle-making Facebook groups to ask a ton of questions,” said Harris. “I tested my products constantly, whether it was brands of soy wax, wicks, oil blends.”
From there, things improved for Harris who took some samples to her co-workers to try.
“They fell in love with them, as well as my prices and that’s when Cozy Wicks was born,” said Harris.
Harris participated in the Academy program while working a full-time job that required her to commute 30 minutes from Woodlawn, Maryland to Baltimore’s Morgan State to attend each class. Although she missed a few because she is her mother’s caregiver, Harris acknowledged that communication and following the curriculum made it all worthwhile. In the end, she said it felt like a giant team effort, with her receiving help from her instructors as well as classmates to ensure she never fell behind.
At the end of the Academy program, the first cohort of 11 mothers were given the opportunity to compete in an open house market that allowed them to pitch ideas to business owners, guests and judges. At the end of the night, four women won prizes for their business developments.
Both Harris and Mighty were declared winners of the competition, and each took home $500 prizes to help them take their businesses to the next level.
“I think Tammira called my name about three times before the vendors beside me told me that I had won! I was completely floored. I remember being nervous when the judges came to my table,” said Harris.
“But then I realized the questions they asked were the very same things we learned and discussed in class and my responses flowed naturally, and I was just honest in sharing my journey and plans for Cozy Wicks with the judges. I never thought in a million years that I would win.”
The co-owners’ advice for women who strive to create their own businesses is to follow their passion and gut; Remain humble, determined and focused. Another cohort of 12 moms is already in the pipeline, they said.
“If you do the research for your industry,” said Lucas, “and put in the work, you’ll build a strong foundation and you’ll see big differences between you and competitors. Use networking as the key to attaining resources for your industry and you’ll succeed!”