2021 Business to Watch – Agni NY

Agni NY was created out of an inspiration to share her personal and professional experiences with others. Both experiences have taught her the importance of managing stress and how stress can have a negative impact on health if not controlled. Founder Thureiyya believes stress reduction can be beneficial with the body’s healing process and coping with personal challenges. She makes an effort to choose products with minimal ingredients, hand crafted, and/or made by local female artisans. Her products are designed for the person interested in living a holistic lifestyle. Holistic living is the balance of the mind, body, and spirit for wholeness. Agni NY is currently raising funds for development of her business on the ifundwomen platform. The store is a precursor to her long-term goal to invest into rebuilding communities. She believes it is important to provide educational tools to communities with poor resources for sustainable economic growth.

Thureiyya Rodriguez, DHA, MSN, WOCN is the founder/owner of Agni NY. Based in New York, Thureiyya has been a Registered Nurse for 18 years with a specialty in wound, ostomy, and continence care. Thureiyya recently graduated with a Doctorate Healthcare Administration and has worked in leadership for more than 3 years. She has had Crohn’s Disease for 36 years and a permanent ileostomy for 22 years.

Why is your business a business to watch in 2021?

It’s out of the box for wellness products. I put a spin on wellness by incorporating my nursing and personal experience into the brand.

What inspired your to start your business?

I started this journey because of my experiences with chronic illness and my professional experience as I nurse. The use of aromatherapy helped me to overcome my anxiety and restlessness during painful episodes of the Crohn’s Disease. I grew up being hospitalized for several months at a time throughout my childhood and adult life. The use of candles and massage helped me during these times. I want to share and give back to others. I have cared for patients with severe wounds, pain, and on hospice. Despite their challenges, there was always a moment to smile. I remember I cared for a patient with edematous legs. Each shift, I would sit and get the lotion to massage his legs. At the end, he would smile and be more relaxed. These are the moments I live for in my career and now.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

I opened my business in June of 2020. I feel it was at the right time because people are going through the stress of the pandemic and confinement of lockdown.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

I learned to be innovative and utilize the different resources on the web for marketing your business. Never think you are too old for social media.

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

At the end I want my customers to feel relaxed and happy with themselves. I want them to feel like they can take on life’s challenges and overcome them without feeling overwhelmed. That no matter what, they can take a step back and evaluate a situation, and make changes for their happiness. To feel good after using the products or have more awareness after reading my blogs. To just feel life has beauty in chaos.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

The onset of the pandemic has heighten the need for people to take a moment out for themselves and relax. The stress from the changes in our democracy and the events with COVID-19 are a need for alternative approaches to relaxation, which my products provide.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

I was challenged with knowing how to start and ensuring I had enough revenue. I watched a show on tv and the gentleman mentioned resources at the SBA. I researched Small Business Association and learned about SCORES. They provide free mentorship from the idea phase and after you are established. I am pleased with the help I have received and continue to have regular meetings with my mentor. For my financial challenges, I watched “The Budgetnista”. The information she provides helps anyone interested in getting their finances in order and interested in opening their own business. Both resources have been helpful and provided more than expected.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

I realized entrepreneurship was right for me around my 20s. When I entered the workforce, I constantly saw visions of myself being a leader and not an employee.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

I choose entrepreneurship because it not only allows freedom to develop my ideas without a limit. I can make my career, business, and lifestyle into anything I choose. There are no barriers or limits to my ideas.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

The desire to meet my goals and knowing I can do it.

What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)

I love to see others succeed. There is nothing more than to see people overcome their obstacles and achieve something great in their life.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your business? What are the goals that you hold personally?

I want to build communities that underserved. I aim to provide tools and resources to communities with limited resources for sustainable growth.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.

My grandmothers and mother influenced me. Each of them were leaders in their career. My mother’s mom was the 1st black head nurse in an all white hospital. She was known for work ethics, leadership, and quality of care. My dad’s mother was a school teach. Both women were born and raised in the south. Their children were given the luxury of going to boarding schools and college. My mother was a registered nurse who eventually owned her own business. They shaped my values about life and my mission. Each of them taught me the importance of sharing knowledge and building up others.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.

My life-changing experience occurred when I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Nursing. After graduation, I felt the desire for more. I knew I wanted to be a business owner that shared information with others. I would go to work and in my mind say, this cannot be my life for the next 30 years. I choose to go back to school once more for a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration. I made this decision with the notion I will own my own company and put all my experiences into this company.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

Amazing changes are coming. I am building my product line with signature products that are custom curated with the skin in mind. As the proceeds grow, I have plans to put a portion of the revenue into my community. Working with the community center to provide education to my neighborhood.

Is there anything else you would like to share with me?

I am currently running a campaign on Ifundwomen to raise money for the business. When you contribute to my campaign a portion of the funds will go back to ifundwomen for their financial grant programs to business women in need. When you purchase from Agni NY you are not just purchasing a product, you are purchasing a journey. The products are created by female artisans and in the end Agni NY is on mission to support community development for sustainability.

Website | Instagram | iFund Women Fundraising Link

2021 Business to Watch – Angela Williams Global

Angela is passionate about helping women of faith break free from limiting beliefs so they can flow in their zone of genius. She has a M.S. Degree in Psychology and a C.P.C. certification in coaching and CBT Techniques. Angela has helped countless women over the past 18 years to master their mountains. With her desire to help women all over the globe she created a signature course entitled “Master Your Mountains”. It’s a 6-week transformation course that focuses on the root cause of self-sabotage. Using faith-based principles, Angela has helped women of faith make the connection and conquer their limiting beliefs. When she’s not working, you can find her relaxing, reading a good book, or simply enjoying her friends and family.

Why is your business a business to watch in 2021?

I’m making huge strides in the area of helping Christian women turn their pain into passion by helping them to heal from past traumatic experiences so they can dominate for the Kingdom of God.

What inspired your to start your business?

I was a suicidal and depressed teenager and I discovered that trauma is the method of operation the enemy uses to keep us hidden from our purpose. I hid behind the hurt because I was waiting for the person who hurt me to also heal me, but soon discovered that healing was truly an inside job. Now I want to help others not only see the light but be the light for someone else.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

2020 has allowed me the opportunity to really step into my role as an expert and own my story in a way that really positions me to connect with my ideal audience. I’m pressing past my fears because there are so many that need to hear my story.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

That showing up visually and consistently is key.

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

A complete transformation from inside out. I want to see women empowered to heal and go forth so they too can set the captives free.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

Absolutely. My course Master Your Mountains is very unique. I show the women exactly how the enemy is using hurt to hinder them. I then walk them through a 5-point path to purpose framework so they can flow in their genius zone.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

Financial hurdles and hiring the right people was a great challenge. I sacrificed my weekends for 2 years straight by working 12-14 hour shifts to earn extra money to fund my dreams. I prayed for divine connections and God started sending me the right people.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

At age 15 when my mother made me sell candy to earn money because she was over giving me money for things.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

Because I realized a long time ago that my personality is just way too big for the corporate space. I caught the entrepreneur bug early on and I loved the feeling of accomplishing a goal.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

I know my why. My why is the anchor that keeps me going when I feel like giving up.

What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)

I’m most excited about seeing the lives I get to touch transform. In my personal life, I’m most excited to see how God use me for his Kingdom. He never ceases to amaze me.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your business? What are the goals that you hold personally?

My goal is to see how far I can go as an entrepreneur. I also want to see my household blessed as a result of my intense labor that I’ve placed in my business ventures. I’m blessed to be a blessing, however I want to see the compensation and recompense for all that I’ve lost in this process.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.

Yes, my father. He was my everything. He passed away this March (2020). He was biggest cheerleader and support. Secondly, my two business coaches Ese Eniwumide and Alease Michelle. Lastly, my prayer warriors and small circle of friends.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.

Yes, I was verbally abused growing up and I didn’t have a voice/courage to face my abuser, therefore I became deeply depressed and suicidal. Out of ignorance I asked God to help me end my life, but he helped me to live. Through my transformation I gained so much revelation and I want to share that with others who may be suffering the way I suffered.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

Right now my goal is to focus on my course launch and then work on my other ventures (revamping my candle line and tshirt store). In addition, write more books.

Is there anything else you would like to share with me?

Yes. I currently have a spiritual mental health journal out right now on Amazon entitled HUSH: Silencing the Voices in Your Mind. It’s a great tool to help individuals sort out their emotions.

Website | Instagram| Linktr.ee

2021 Business to Watch – Black Girls Wine Society

Shayla Varnado is a fashion stylist turned serial entrepreneur passionate about inspiring women to live the life of their dreams. Her energy, blatant transparency, and quick wit draw in audiences of all ages. As the founder of Black Girls Wine and weekly talk show Wine Down LIVE, Shayla believes her purpose is to create a space where Black excellence is celebrated. Both shows feature Black culture & excellence from the perspective of successful wine connoisseurs from around the globe. In 2019, Shayla launched the Black Girls Wine Society, the first wine sorority. Since its inception, the BGW Society successfully established over 30 chapters with over 300 members. There are currently hundreds of women on the waitlist as well. Shayla also launched a virtual chapter during COVID-19 for women without chapters in their state or the chapter is currently full to still receive the BGW Society experience.

Why is your business a business to watch in 2021?

Since the pandemic started I’ve managed to pivot, add another tier of membership, and triple our members by adding more value to our memberships and focusing on the Black women who are invested in their wine journey with us.

What inspired your to start your business?

The lack of diversity and attention paid to Black consumers in the wine industry.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

2020 forced me to rethink how we offer wine experiences to our members. It ended up being for the better because offering virtual membership allowed us to serve more women around the world.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

I learned the power in the PIVOT. I could’ve just left membership the way it was but offering something new at the height of the pandemic was scary. It paid off though!

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

I want our members to come into this space to feel valued, celebrated, and important. This is a space we’ve created just for Black women. There aren’t many spaces where Black women can go and the focus is solely them. We give back and so much that I want this space to be about creating room for Black women to simply enjoy themselves.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

A membership with the Black Girls Wine Society exceeds the needs of the market because it’s not being offered to any women and especially not black women. It’s luxury and leisure specifically designed with our culture in mind.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

The biggest hurdle I faced was leaving corporate and finding the courage to make time so that I could launch BGWS.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

10 years ago when I started my first consulting business I knew I wanted to work for myself.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

I like to think entrepreneurship chose me! Between my creativity and drive to build wealth I knew that there was something bigger for me.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

The desire to take care of my parents. They’ve been so phenomenal and supportive over the years. I owe them everything!

What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)

I’m most excited about setting an example for girls behind me to know that whatever they dream is possible. I’m most passionate about creating spaces for Black women where they can show up, be themselves, and always feel welcome.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your business? What are the goals that you hold personally?

I want thousands of women around the world to find the sisterhood of Black Girls Wine Society home for them. I want the space created in BGWS to be somewhere Black women feel free from the judgement of the world. It’s a personal goal of mine to support as many women entrepreneurs as possible. My passion for business strategy allows me to see marketing and building an online business with a clarity that has allowed me to support clients in building 5-6 figure brands.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life?

Tell me about them.The mentor who inspired my life the most took me under her wing when I was very young. She taught me resilience. She stressed to me that no matter what I face as long as I get back up, my journey isn’t over. That’s what motivates me to keep going. She influenced who I was simply by living as I watched take courageous leaps in her career and in business. There was never anything she couldn’t do when her mind was made up and that became ingrained in me. She’s definitely someone I would have to thank for inspiring my entrepreneur journey.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.

I think getting divorced at 24 and fleeing an abusive marriage taught me to chase fearless after my dreams and let no one interfere with the goals I have in mind. I’ve always been a big dreamer and had I stayed with my ex-husband I don’t think I would’ve had room to become the entrepreneur, the leader, and the woman I am today.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

Next the Society will be expanding. We’re going international as soon as we can!

Is there anything else you would like to share with me?

I’m working on a journal for my wine friends around the world to document their growth and discovery on their journey through wine!

Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

2021 Business to Watch – BCA Culture

BCA Culture is an online membership software program guiding entrepreneurs to build true business credit, without using an owner’s personal credit, and get funded. Darbi may seem like an overnight success but over the past 10 years, she has had many years of experience in the financial services industry and mentors who truly shortened her learning curve. Darbi has a passion to transform lives through entrepreneurship empowerment. She also supports various charities, non profit organizations and for profit companies to help the visionaries behind these organizations transform their lives.

Darbi, an unforgettable name for a unique woman, is a trailblazing entrepreneur born to Darell Alexander and Nazarene Dorsey in Tennessee and raised in Georgia with her younger brother, Michael Bell II. As a millennial, she is wise beyond her years and is faith and family centered with the gift of entrepreneurship. Darbi’s faith, consistency and willingness to empower others with knowledge has organically worked in her favor all her life. She graduated with the highest honors from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville obtaining her Bachelor’s in Finance and International Business. However, her real life education came from her uber successful mentors. Over the years, Darbi has been influential in the network marketing, tax, technology, and music industry, earning multiple figures despite some losses along the way. Her latest venture is a perfect combination of her formal education and mentorship over the years — BCA Culture. The first ever automated turnkey software that guides entrepreneurs seeking to build business credit and obtain high-limit funding. Since its inception of the Business Credit Agency (BCA Culture) in June 2019, Darbi’s company has seen much success. The Business Credit Agency in the last quarter of 2019 guided over 75 entrepreneurs to obtain over $4.5 Million in business credit and funding opportunities. In January 2020, Darbi changed the business model to pivot into software and automation – BCA Culture. Business has since skyrocketed during COVID-19 due to more businesses than ever wanting to be positioned for funding and business credit. Since connecting with her software developer and co-founder, Adam Ajetunmobi, business has skyrocketed and they have helped close to 1,000 entrepreneurs and $MM+ in business credit, grants, and funding have been approved and funded. BCA Culture is partnered with Mastercard & other Fortune 500 companies to offer funding for small enterprises to established corporations.


Why is your business a business to watch in 2021?

We are on the cutting edge of technology and in position to transform the funding industry for small businesses through our FinTech software platform. We have already positioned thousands of business owners for funding through our live education events and now we are amplifying that through technology.

What inspired your to start your business?

Lack of funding and business credit opportunities available for small business owners and the underrepresented sector of new startup companies.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

2020 – came in as a lesson and a blessing at the same time. We had to digitally pivot to serve more clients. All 2019, me and my team were preparing small business owners with the fundamentals to be ready for funding, however, when 2020 came – everything we had been teaching entrepreneurs became realized.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

I learned the power of teamwork and communication is the lifeline of your business. BCA Culture has been able to adapt and pivot our business model to serve more entrepreneurs because of our business model.

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

We literally want to continue providing access to business capital, funding, and credit for business owners. We want a business owner’s trajectory to change from closing to now staying open, from growing to scaling, from idea to generational wealth. Owning a business is an asset. We want to keep providing small business startups with the access to information and a system that will increase funding.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

Absolutely. A lot of entrepreneurs, especially start up companies, fail due to lack of capital. We want to solve that specific problem. We want to increase their success rate, lower their failure rates.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

All of 2020 was a shift for me – personally. My dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer, a few hours before we launched our software. I remember texting Adam, our CTO right before we were getting on a team conference call and notifying him that I had a family emergency, but will still be on the call. I remember feeling optimistic about our software, but yet anxious for my dad and our family at the same time. In that moment, I literally saw the importance of health and wellness and the power of staying connected with family and friends, even in the midst of a pandemic.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

When I graduated from college, I knew that I was going to be an entrepreneur. I literally saw how I was making more money and helping more people than I could ever do on a job. That feeling of excitement is when I knew I would be a successful entrepreneur.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

I chose entrepreneurship because it is one of the best ways to make generational impact. A business is a way to transfer wealth, assets, and information to my children and their children.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

My family and my son.

What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)

I am excited about meeting new people. I have always been a social butterfly and I love connecting with people. I am also excited about this time during the pandemic, where I have had the opportunity to slow down and get refocused, re-centered and intentional about what I like and love. I am excited to watch my son grow up. I am excited to travel more (when the world opens back up). I am excited to FaceTime. I am excited to walk around my neighborhood and breathe. I am just thankful.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your business? What are the goals that you hold personally?

I really want to see our business serve over 1,000,000 entrepreneurs over the next 5 years using BCA Culture software and technology. Getting small business startups Billions in business capital and funding, grants, and contracts.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.

Yes, my mom, Nazarene, greatly influenced my thoughts about being an entrepreneur. She really raised me and my brother, Michael to strive for entrepreneurship. She literally worked the night shift as a RN and always would encourage us to work diligent for our own business because we cannot pass down a job. She also introduced me to personal development and was my first investor for my first business venture. She not only talked, but she had action to back up her words of wisdom. She also does not sugar coat anything. I know that I can rely on her to be honest and tell it like it is.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.

When I found out on September 11, 2018 that I was pregnant with my son, I knew that my life would never be the same. I started working from a different place. He is my measure of time. I can see the progress in my own life through watching him progress. He has been a true inspiration to me.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

What’s Next for BCA Culture is that we will be more than a trend but a unicorn technology firm making impact and giving back to many underrepresented communities and cultures. The business is an extension and will amplify our philanthropic efforts.

Website| Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter

2021 Business to Watch – SmilesShield

SmilesShield™ is a modern customized face shield company that allows your smile to shine with made-to-order customization with the categories of name customization, bedazzle, luxury, pageant beauties, pre-made, children, and sports collections. In the short 5 months being in business we’ve had over $50k in sales, over 20, 000 views on our website and strategic partnerships with Miss Teen DC USA, Sydney Jackson; Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member, Shamea Morton; Instagram Influencer, Toi Hardy and various celebrities wearing their custom SmilesShield: Porsha Williams, Kandi Burruss, Reverend Al Sharpton, Sunny from The View, Misa Hylton, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Tiffney Cambridge, Roland Martin, Tory Johnson from The View’s Deals & Steals, Kamie Crawford from MTV’s Catfish & Singer Shanice. We’ve been featured by Black Enterprise, BlackLove & featured on a segment of the Roland Martin #unfiltered show.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles is the Global Engagement/Internal Resource Group Program  Manager. She has an extensive and strategic background in Diversity and Employee  Resource Group management with over 10+ years of experience. 

In her previous role as Manager for Diversity and Inclusion at MTV Networks in New York,  she led the diversity strategy for internal Engagement and Employee Affinity Groups  domestically and globally including offices in: London, Miami, Los Angeles, Nashville, New  York and Washington D.C. She was named Employee of the Month (out of 15,000 +  employees) in 2013 for being the Most Inclusive employee. In her past role as Program  Manager for University Relations/Diversity at Cox Communications in Atlanta, she managed  full life-cycle recruitment for two programs: Summer Interns and Technology Co-ops year round impacting over 200+ students annually. She was instrumental in establishing diversity  partnerships to increase diversity recruiting efforts with top HBCU’s: Spelman College,  Morehouse College and Howard University. 

What inspired your to start your business?

The pandemic has brought pain and unexpected change to many. It has also brought out ideas, creativity, and new entrepreneurs. The SmilesShield’s goal is to create something special that put smiles back on people’s faces by allowing them to express their personality and authenticity, while still being safe.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

We relied on our forecast analysis that determined that the pandemic would be around for at least a couple of years, making this a viable business investment along with focusing on utilizing social media and an e-commerce approach to spread the word and test out the product. We knew from our early customers and diverse demographics that our competitive advantage was the millions of people from all ages, demographics, backgrounds that were in the market for face coverings. 2020 has made virtual, e-commerce and social media the main drivers for any business to thrive.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

Embracing e-commerce and social media approaches to stay relevant and go directly to customers. The risk is you can fail fast and in public, but the opportunity is you can hack non-traditional ways of going to the market bypassing a lot of time and money spent on research.

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

The main goal of SmilesShield™ is to create something special that put smiles back on people’s faces by allowing people to express their personality and authenticity, while still being safe during these challenging times. Our customers share feedback on how seeing their own customized SmilesShield makes them feel special and how happy they are when they go out and get compliments. We call it the “Smiles Effect”.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

Yes, currently with this pandemic everyone is encouraged to wear face coverings and our product serves as a stylish alternative to staying safe.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

Few people believed my husband and I had a viable product and we received a lot of skepticism from family and friends that wanted us to focus on our 9-to-5 jobs amid a pandemic and job uncertainty for many. Our competitive nature served as a driving force to prove doubters wrong, so we surround ourselves with talented individuals who immediately believed in our vision and saw the future in creating a best-in-class face shield product. As a result, many of the doubters and naysayers became believers and supporters after seeing the creative and innovative approach to our product lines and receiving immediate feedback and interest every time they wore a custom SmilesShield.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

I grew up surrounded by successful entrepreneurs in my family from my Grandpa owning multiple businesses (mortgage company, jewelry store & liquor store); my uncle owning crabs shacks; my aunt owning a mortgage company & my parents owning their own employment agency.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

I grew up being groomed for success that involved hustle! Ownership was instilled in me since birth & it was mandatory readings from my parents that I expose myself & get comfortable with greatness. I always knew I was going to be an entrepreneur and started my first company when I was 16 years old and then my own international magazine at Spelman College, called Afro-lution after studying abroad in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. Since working in Corporate America, I’ve created an “entrepreneur” fund for over 10+ years with a percentage from all of my bonuses so that I have available resources to create and start businesses. I recognized early that having cash and resources would serve as a competitive advantage in order to move fast.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

My driving motivation is always about legacy building. I want to set an example for my daughter and future generations to see what ownership looks like. Actions are more powerful than words and I work tirelessly to create opportunities centered around expansion and growth. What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)I’m a visionary so I’m always passionate about building and creating. I have a non-profit with my husband called, Global Smiles Health and we are partnering with amazing organizations and providing financial support. We are launching a “Spreading Smiles” initiative in 2021. I’ve also launched, B.T. Consulting where I facilitate and host personal development workshops with the launch of my signature program, “Own Your Greatness” with the 4B’s approach.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your business?

For SmilesShield™ I want to continue to stay innovative, expand the reach and join the million dollar club with this business.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.

I’m blessed to have many mentors and sponsors from various industries and regions. I have mentors from my alma mater, Spelman College; South Africa from my study abroad experience, Family since everyone owns a business and my husband who is a strategic genius and visionary.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

SmilesShield™ is launching 2 new lines. One with Shamea Morton, Housewives of Atlanta cast member with the first Faceshield and mask combo.

Website | Instagram

2021 Business to Watch – Shade & Sass Entertainment

Shade & Sass is a black, female owned company that was launched in January of this year. S&S works with all kinds of small businesses and creatives, from musicians to authors, photographers, models, MUAs, and all other content creators! They even just signed a podcast!

Why is your business a business to watch in 2021?

We’re a female, black-owned versatile agency working with all kinds of small businesses and creatives! We launched two months before the COVID lockdown, succeeded in a pandemic, and we know things will only get better for us in 2021.

What inspired your to start your business?

Our passion for the arts and media. Our friendship/bond. & A cool business name that really motivated us to create something amazing.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

We actually launched in January of 2020, got really nervous about COVID, but ended up signing new clients and doing great work for them. The pandemic gave us time to think, plan, and strategize.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

You have to work hard AND smart. Running your own business is no walk in the park. You will have your good days & bad days. Put in the effort, and the results will come.

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

We want our clients to feel safe & like family. We want them satisfied, and we want them to flourish with their creative endeavors.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

Yes! There are so many people out there that need exposure and help building their brands. They need someone to guide them and lead them in the right direction. We’re here for that.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

We were nervous about building our roster, but when we started to network and really put the time in to market ourselves, everything fell into place. We’ve built a great roster of clients that will only continue to grow in 2021.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

We had realized from the time we began working at restaurants and interning for other companies that we wanted to be our own bosses.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

Being our own bosses & creating something our own was very important and special to us.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

Our boujee lifestyles and the fact that we don’t have to answer to anyone other than our clients. Helping other creatives makes us feel good and we plan on doing it for a long time.

What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)

We love to travel! We can’t wait to travel the rest of the world, and we’re excited to work with more like-minded, goal oriented people in the future.

What are the goals that you hold personally?

Our goal is to become a big name in entertainment and to create a safe-space for creatives and small businesses to trust with their brands. We’d really like to create unforgettable campaigns and bonds with and for our current and prospective clients.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.

Shania: Kerry Washington – an intelligent, black, versatile woman Viola Davis – who came from nothing & is a successful boss bitch Tika Sumpter – the first black girl on gossip girl who actually had a main role and was a communications major living in NYC… she had to drop out because she was poor, became a waitress and in her darkest time landed a role on a soap opera and her career took off

Cierra/Perks: Gabrielle Union – a beautiful, confident black woman who Cierra’s looked up to since Bring it On and her own cheerleading days Shep Gordon – values family, food, and artists & their craft… Cierra’s ultimate inspiration as an artist manager.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.

Yes. Applying to over 3,000 jobs post graduation and being denied by all of them! As well as being overlooked and underestimated by family and peers! These things have motivated us to excel.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

Coming in 2021: – New clients – New projects from our current clients – Our own Shade & Sass podcast & more blog content from us

We’re Co-Founders & Best Friends!

Shania – A public relations guru & aspiring reality TV star, Shania has played many roles on television, which includes HBOMax’s Legendary, MTV, & Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Studied Broadcast Journalism at William Paterson University and worked for many big companies, playing a crucial role in PR and entertainment. Her top campaigns include Pattern by Traces Ellis Ross and florence by mills. She’s a PR pro and triumphs when it comes to placements in the media.

Cierra/Perks – A singer, songwriter, and artist manager all in one. Studied Public Relations & Music Management at William Paterson University, where she received her nickname & identity as an artist. Cierra grew up singing in school choirs & talent shows and going to her brother’s band’s gigs/shows. She also does freelance modeling and acting — she’s been seen on a billboard at Art Basel 2019 for Dirty Politics, played a role in a MTV show, hosted concerts throughout the city of Philadelphia, and recently featured in her first released song, What’s Da Vision? with Shade & Sass artist, Close Cash. Cierra has been street teaming for indie labels & managing since 2016.

Website | Instagram | Instagram 2

Black Love & Partnership with Dr. CaSay Vaughn and DJ Jay Claxton

I had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with DJ Jay Claxton and his fiance Dr. Casay Vaughn as they spoke on business, love, and partnership. The saying goes, if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life, and DJ Jay and Dr. Casay are the epitome of that. Taking the business and entertainment world by storm, collaborating his fun and social personality with her producing and business skills, they make an exceptional duo. 

It is effortless to have a partnership when each person enjoys the role that they play for one another. DJ Jay voiced that he would rather kiss babies, shake hands and entertain on the scene while Dr. Casay prefers the behind the scenes work with managing and producing. 

Their relationship started off as business and working together. DJ Jay felt he needed help to get his brand to the next level, then heaven-sent Dr. Casay to the rescue. DJ Jay recalled the memory when he approached Dr. Casay about taking his business to the next level. Dr. Casay was all fire and personality, talkin’ bout some “Are you ready for me to be all up and personal and up in your grill so I can help you?” DJ Jay dutifully agreed, thus beginning their story with one another. 

“It wasn’t hard because he already had the talent” Dr. Casay gushed when I asked about the methods to DJ Jay’s continued success. “There wasn’t anything that needed to be done besides the producing work, he had the ideas.” 

Both DJ Jay and Dr. Cashay agreed that making the transition from business to love and partnership was seamless. They were friends first, and it was easy to understand and communicate with one another. I asked if there was a need to set up boundaries or separate between work and play, but they both said no. There was no need to set any concrete boundaries because they already formed the bond, they communicated well with one another. Whether at work or home, they are the perfect pair for each other. It’s fate how this match was made in heaven.  

The two decided to take their love and business and showcase to the world that love does conquer all. With their strong foundation in love and friendship, they are able to maneuver the entertainment world. The couple wears many hats as they are involved in giving back to the community and providing food for thought to those who are watching. They stated using their platform and being fortunate to give back, help, motivate, and encourage others is what it’s all about. 

They are truly an inspiration to the younger generations like myself, to keep grinding. “Dont let the facade of social media make you feel like you are not where you need to be” DJ Jay mentored. He let me know that oftentimes we as a society let the imagery of social media get us down on our luck and make us feel inadequate but we are enough! Just keep grinding and feeding into your craft.

Now even though they seem to have it all together, DJ Jay mentioned that there are challenges when it comes to the entertainment world. It took a lot of work to get to where they are today. DJ Jay stated he battles with MS, and has overcome obstacles of life such as failed relationships, financial woes, life highs, and lows. He said those experiences humbled him, and he learned a lot of lessons, but ultimately they all brought him to where he is today. 

What is for you will always be for you and never leave you, and destiny brought these two love birds together for sure. Dr. Casay gushed and mused over DJ Jay’s talents as an artist and being in his DJ element. In the presence of the two, you can sense the genuine love and only applaud them for their time and outlook on life. 

Before signing off, I asked them for some advice for couple-preneurs tackling the business world together in which Dr. Casay stated some key tips: Having a strong foundation, taking time for each other, and supporting one another endlessly. Never stop communicating and working with one another through it all; for love does conquer all.

Be sure to check out DJ Jay Claxton and Dr. Casay Vaughn’s Love & Business on Lock podcast where the two talk about love and relationships with other couple-preneurs. Also, stay tuned for their upcoming clothing line FRNCHS- yup, that’s “Franchise” but without the vowels. DJ Jay has some great stuff coming your way, and just know he wouldn’t get anything done without his right-hand woman Dr. Casay helping every step of the way. 

We celebrate black love and union this February.

2021 Business to Watch – DoubleSS Apparel

DoubleSS Apparel is where fashion meets social responsibility, inclusion and mental health awareness. Our pieces speaks to the real emotions that are supporters feel every single day. We have partnered with a Champion™ Brand vendor which ensures that are pieces are of great quality. We say what everyone is thinking and our consumers are pushing to Live In Their Truth.

What inspired your to start your business?

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was 14 and I spent the beginning of 2020 battling Breast Cancer in the middle of a pandemic. Due to COVID-19 I was alone because my family wasn’t allowed to visit. This brought me to a deep state of depression and when I made it out Cancer free I was determined to live my life on purpose and with purpose. That purpose is to elevate the Black and LGBTQ community.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

2020 showed me there is no better time than now to elevate my way of thinking. I rebranded everything about me and that created DoubleSS Apparel. It was definitely for the better. I now have a clear vision and a means to accomplish my goals.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

You are you brand, there is never the perfect that to start, and you just live in your truth.

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

I want my clients to simply LIVE !

About the Founder

Canecia “Nee Baby” Boyd born the youngest of five siblings in Nuemberg,Germany is a Stand-Up Comedian, Brand Influencer, Fashion Icon and Mental Health Advocate.

Website | Instagram

2021 Business to Watch – ManCave Atlanta

Darnika “Nika” Platt is a lifelong entrepreneur and Atlanta tastemaker. As a 35-year-old businesswoman, she manages her life as a business owner, wife, mother, pet owner, and socialite. Nika considers herself to be a small-town girl with big city goals. She was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She left for Atlanta, Georgia in 2004 to expand her life in a new market. While in Atlanta, Nika was not only able to successfully expand her life as an entrepreneur but she also met her husband of six years with whom she shares two children.

During her regularly scheduled visits to the nail salon and day spas, Nika began to converse with some of the men who also frequented the same establishments. These conversations made her realize that men don’t have access to the same facilities that women have, including a one-stop-shop for self-care. 

Combining her love for pampering herself with her deep interest in self-care for the mind, body, and soul, she began visualizing the concept of a mancave, which is synonymous with a male-driven space where guys can relax. 

In 2017, Nika began the process of building out her vision for what is now known as ManCave Atlanta. ManCave Atlanta was inspired by the television show “Cheers,” where everyone knows your name, and is an upscale men’s spa and event facility located in the Lindbergh neighborhood of Atlanta’s luxurious Buckhead District. 

The physical build-out was completed within a year. Among other features, the facility houses multiple suites, including:  manicure and pedicure, massage and facial and a private barbershop.

Nika’s vision is now a reality, one that has amazed every person who has entered the space.

Why is your business a business to watch in 2021?

An upscale men’s spa in Atlanta, the unique twist about ManCave Atlanta is that it was created by a woman.

What inspired your to start your business?

Men didn’t have an adequate equivalent to women to have their self-care needs. I decided to create this space combining the concept of a mancave with the television show “Cheers” where everyone knows your name.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

It officially opened and people love it.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

Since 2020 was the year of COVID-19, my biggest lesson was patience. A lot of businesses were affected and I had to choose the right time to officially open.

What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?

I want them to love the space and see if as a place for them to come relax and network.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

Yes, it’s a place that meets the needs of men and the decor reflects sophisticated men.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

The biggest hurdle was making sure that the build out was done exactly right.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I came from a family of entrepreneurs so it’s always been apart of my life.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

I didn’t choose entrepreneurship, it’s always been apart of my life since I come from a family of business owners.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

My family. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs to now having my own I now see how they instilled a lot in me and I want to do the same with my kids.

What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)

I’m mostly excited about self care, physically, mentally and spiritually. I enjoy pampering myself and others.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your business?

I simply want to provide spa services to the men of Atlanta and provide them with a space they will love.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.

My parents and grandparents are entrepreneurs so I learned a lot from them.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

We’re working on bringing more events and activities to ManCave Atlanta, and bring together partnerships that will be beneficial to our clients.

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Overcoming Personal Obstacles That Led To Owning Mix Me Apparel

Strength is in your ability to overcome obstacles that lead to your resilient future.  Megan Kirkwood is the definition of that.  At the age of 29 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Megan survived chemotherapy, radiation and also a double mastectomy.  “Beating cancer truly gave me a new lease on life and a new outlook on my future. Chemotherapy led to total hair loss,” says the now cancer survivor.   “Having both breasts removed left me with multiple scars that caused insecurities. I eventually learned to overcome through loving myself and lots of self-care,” Megan continues.

Despite those odds, Megan also survived a divorce.  Many dream of finding their forever in their partners but for some, divorce is an option.  “No one gets married to get divorced. I was married for 5 years before I filed for divorce,” she explains.  “Finding who I was after my marriage was over became essential to living an optimal life for myself and my son,” she states.  In addition to surviving cancer and a divorce, she also embarked on the new journey of single parenthood.  In an effort to continue pushing forward Megan turned her interests and past insecurities into her own boutique apparel line.

So in September 2020 she took a leap of faith into the land of entrepreneurship.  Today, Mix Me Apparel is standing strong as a womenswear brand for modern, on trend and exclusive clothing items.  “I have always had an eye for trendy women’s fashion; and I love to see women looking and feeling their best,” Megan exclaims.  Megan Kirkwood has truly turned her past obstacles into a love for herself, fashion and her family.  Turbulence is only temporary and Megan is in for the long haul.  Her love for fashion and her kind nature make her a Pretty Woman who will always Hustle.  Regardless of your hustle, be fashionable in Mix Me Apparel.  Shop for new items here.

Writer, C. Scott, is a mother of one; author, social worker, early literacy interventionist and entrepreneur. Follow her on Instagram as @curls_coils and @mysweettealife.