My successes. 

MinkeeBlue was selected to appear on the USA Network show America’s Big Deal. During this episode, my pitch for the Mariah backpack was selected as the ultimate winner and received a $100,000 order from Macy’s. It was an amazing opportunity for us to share the product with individuals and large retailers!

MinkeeBlue has been featured on the Today Show and is now available on QVC.com. I recently traveled to India to participate in the second annual Designer’s Fair, sponsored by the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry. I was one of nine designers representing the United States at the fair.

What do you do? 

MinkeeBlue creates organizational travel and work bags for women. Our goal is to provide women with a bag that reflects who they are. Women carry what we need for the day in our bags. MinkeeBlue believes in creating a bag that allows women to carry our personalities and habits with us. 

What inspired you to start your business? 

Before starting Minkee Blue I had started a non-profit to help low-income parents who wanted to go to college but couldn't afford childcare. During this time I saw all of the bags that all the young mothers were carrying. They had backpacks, diaper bags, purses, you name it! A lot of women on the train into the city also had a lot of bags they carried with them during their commute. In 2008 we lost our funding during the economic crash. I started thinking and thought if there was a bag that could keep all of my shoes separate from my lunch during the commute. I started shopping for a bag but couldn't find it. That's when I really started to consider making a bag and starting a business around it. 

She started shopping and couldn't find it. Started to think about making this bag but fear set in. She didn't know anything about this or anyone in her network. After months of getting through fear and anxiety, she realized she would regret not starting the business. She told herself she would do it then began speaking it out loud. She was going to start this handbag business. A lot of people were going to say she was crazy. She just said she believed that she could do it and moved forward. She just started researching and ran across SCORE. 

The first bag that she build was by taking a bag from Target and actually cutting it apart and re-building it. 

Wanted PinkeyBlue but it was taken. She liked the sound of it and went through the alphabet until she found it. 

This was based on her own experience with her mother. While she was doing the non-profit, Sherill raised enough money through grants and other donations she helped raise $3 million.

What's special about your business? 

Before MinkeeBlue you couldn't find cute bags on the market that allowed your commute shoes to be separate from everything else that you carry. Additionally, there wasn't a bag that allowed your snacks to be in a separate compartment to not get crushed. Adding a shelf into the bag solves the problem of having everything jumbled together in a single space. The patented folding panel really makes it different from everyone else on the market. 

What have been the high and low points of being a business owner? 

The lows have been trying to get money to do the things that I need to do. I just took my time as I couldn't do anything until money came my way. Even after I got all the money I needed to manufacture the product it still wasn't over. When I got the shipment it was 30% defective! I had to liquidate and lost a lot of money upfront. It was definitely a failure. 

The highs were the moments when I kept pushing. We got featured on QVC, The Today Show, the Katie Couric show, and a number of media outlets to share my story and our product. I'm also the only Black woman to have two patents on a folding shelf and a handbag.

I enjoyed solving this problem and working through the issues. Developing the product was hard but actually, manufacturing was the easiest. 

What have you learned from your experiences as a business owner? 

There are going to be failures along the way. You have to accept that because nothing is going to be perfect. It's going to hurt but you have to look at that failure and see what you can do differently in the future. You made the best decision you could. It wasn't so ideal so now re-think what you can do. There are several ways to get to your solution so don't narrow yourself into one lane. 

What influenced you to seek help from SCORE? 

By the time I got to SCORE I had a prototype and an idea. I got assigned three mentors (white men and she was confused). They turned out to be the best connections. One knew manufacturing, one knew business, and one had connections to sales. It wasn't that they needed to understand handbags, they had to understand business. They knew the problem I was trying to solve from their granddaughters and wives. We never know what people have to offer until we sit down and talk to them. 

 

How SCORE helped. 

I worked with a team of three SCORE mentors, who helped me with manufacturing, sales, and software. Robert Wolk was one of my mentors. Bob saw the potential for MinkeeBlue before I knew how and what I was going to do. I remember receiving several emails from Bob over the course of one day suggesting taglines for MinkeeBlue. It was funny and exciting to get that kind of enthusiasm at the beginning.

 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a small business? 

Understand that there are going to be failures and challenges. After you wipe the tears you have to wake up the next day and see what you need to do to make your business work. It could be getting out of your own way and ask for help from others. You might not be the best person for the job and you need to hire and an employee. Remember to be flexible and adapt to situations. 

What would you tell a fellow business owner about SCORE? 

Take advantage of all the free resources. Ask questions! There are so many people that pour their talents into SCORE and there are thousands of people that believe in the mission of helping other people. 

MinkeeBlue

My Mentors