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Celebrating Black Business Month by Honoring Those Who Just Launched Their Impactful Ventures at Michigan Ross

By Hannah Shapiro

Many students develop ideas for, start, or accelerate their own businesses while attending the Ross School of Business.

In celebration of Black Business Month, Michigan Ross talked with three current and recently graduated students from the Full-Time MBA and BBA programs about the new ventures they launched in business school. Below, hear from the three incredible Black business owners about their journeys at Ross and how you can support them for Black Business Month and beyond.

Justin Woods

Program/expected graduation year: MBA/MSW ’21

Hometown/where you're currently located: Colorado Springs, Colorado (currently in Ann Arbor, Michigan) 

Current job/title: Founder, EQuity 

What is EQuity and why is it unique? 

EQuity is a learning and development venture that works to advance racial justice by developing emotional intelligence. 

As someone who spent their entire professional career working to address race-based disparities, I’ve had to learn to navigate a lot of uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations. I believe the rigorously evaluated framework of social-emotional learning can help us all develop the emotional intelligence necessary to have more effective dialogue on race and identity. I built EQuity to be a vehicle for creating a more emotionally intelligent and just world. 

How do you think your experience at Michigan Ross has helped you as an entrepreneur and as a business leader? 

Business+Impact’s +Impact Studio has been instrumental in connecting me to fellow entrepreneurs, supportive coaches, and early funding to allow EQuity to distill its value proposition and go to market. In many ways, the studio’s investment allowed us to successfully participate in ZLI’s Michigan Business Challenge, where we were a 2021 finalist in the Seigle Impact Track.  

Specifically, ​​components of design thinking that I studied in BA670: +Impact Studio have been critical tools as we’ve navigated the entrepreneurial journey. Our commitment to prototyping and getting end-user feedback has been instrumental whenever we’ve run into dead ends and needed to get more information to successfully pivot.

How has the Michigan Ross/U-M community supported you thus far on your journey to start your business? 

EQuity has been the recipient of a lot of love from Michigan Ross and the larger U-M community. We see many familiar faces from Ross on our webinars and training programs; our workshops have been featured in the Rackham Professional Development Certificate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and we’ve been able to pilot our core curriculum with students from the School of Social Work. In short, U-M has been a safe, supportive environment to share our dream with the world.

How can consumers and the Ross community continue to support EQuity? 

In August 2021, we will launch our newest course, EQuity Fundamentals. EQuity Fundamentals is a digitally immersive course that explores the key concepts of emotional intelligence and applies them to advancing racial justice. You can contact our team to bring the course to your team or organization. 

Additionally, after committing the seed money for our scholarship money, we are looking for sponsors to continue our annual $5,000 Scholarship Essay Competition. Read winning articles from this year on our Medium publication, Race+Emotions

Hear more about how Woods advanced EQuity in the +Impact Studio

Hunter Phelps  

Program/expected graduation year: BBA '21 

Hometown/where you're currently located: Detroit, Michigan (currently in Chicago, Illinois)

Current job/title: Founder, Terry Lu Naturals

What is Terry Lu Naturals and why is it unique?

Terry Lu Naturals is a natural hair and skin care line for women and men that creates dual-use, vegan, and cruelty-free products. Terry Lu Naturals is unique because our products have multiple uses (hair and skin), and we do not use harmful ingredients; therefore, our products are safe to use on anyone.

How do you think your experience at Michigan Ross has helped you as an entrepreneur and as a business leader?

Michigan Ross was such an amazing and rewarding program. I love how diverse the curriculum was tailored to cover every aspect of business, instead of just focusing on one facet. Ross was also very challenging, which allowed me to stretch my limits, utilize my problem-solving skills, and think more analytically. Throughout my semesters at Ross, I mastered how to maintain grit, perseverance, teamwork, and networking skills, which I carry with me throughout my entrepreneurial journey as a business leader.

Although I enjoyed all of my courses at Ross, as an entrepreneur, the one that was most impactful was my Business Law and Ethics class. Professor Lori Rogala equipped me with the knowledge I needed to handle all of my legal obligations as a business owner. I successfully retained all of the knowledge from this course to maintain my LLC, annually register my business, manage my website, understand tax laws, and various other aspects needed to legally operate a business.

How has the Michigan Ross/U-M community supported you thus far on your journey to start your business?

Effective marketing is key to any successful business. Michigan Ross did an outstanding job of spreading the word and promoting both Terry Lu Naturals and me. I have been highlighted numerous times on their website, via news articles, pitch competitions, through interviews, etc. Furthermore, Michigan Ross found various funding opportunities for me to pursue via grants, scholarships, special programs, etc.

How can consumers and the Ross community continue to support Terry Lu Naturals?

There are several ways to support Terry Lu Naturals, but here is a list of my top five:

1.     Follow us on social media @terrylunaturals

2.     Purchase a product via terrylunaturals.com

3.     Tell a family member or friend about us

4.     Write a positive review

5.     Engage with our social media posts 

Currently, I own two other businesses: Hunter’s Palette and Sweet Caine Creations. As an artist, I create and sell custom paintings via Hunter’s Palette (Instagram: @hunterspalette). I am creative and develop room designs for special occasions using balloons, rose petals, etc. via Sweet Caine Creations (Instagram: @sweetcainecreations).  I am very passionate about both of these businesses, which allow me to utilize my artistic skills.

Kene Onuorah   

Kene Onuorah (right), MBA '21 

Program/expected graduation year: MBA '21 

Hometown/where you're currently located: Raleigh, North Carolina (currently in Tulsa, Oklahoma) 

Current job/title: Co-Founder, Comme Homme

What is Comme Homme and why is it unique? 

Comme Homme is a tech-enabled, direct-to-consumer men’s personal care and lifestyle brand serving the over 50 million men in America that are bald or dealing with hair loss. The mission is simple: to help men everywhere embrace their natural evolution.

We leverage augmented reality technology and an immersive online community to create an onramp for men to visualize their evolution to being bald and find a community of others who have. In addition we provide the scalp care products necessary to help bald men maintain a healthy scalp.

Plain and simple: We’re helping turn bald to bold.

How do you think your experience at Michigan Ross has helped you as an entrepreneur and as a business leader? 

I learned a ton during my time at Michigan Ross and I gained much more confidence as an entrepreneur. I learned about the process of raising capital for a business. Everything from angel investors and venture capital — something I was not as knowledgeable about prior to business school. I also learned a lot about business pitching through lots of live experiences via the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and my summer internship at Detroit Venture Partners.

ZLI programming was my first taste of structured programming, and it proved to be extremely valuable. ZLI is a great resource for learning about customer discovery, business model canvas, business planning, and more. In addition, the funds from  Dare to Dream, Michigan Business Challenge, and Zell Entrepreneurs served as our first pre-seed check, which allowed us to make significant progress with Comme Homme.

How has the Michigan Ross/U-M community supported you thus far on your journey to start your business? 

The ZLI faculty and staff were invaluable to us. Their willingness to support us whenever we needed help, whether for pitch practice, reviewing our financial projections, or just discussing our approach to various problems, was extremely helpful. Comme Homme would not be where it is today had it not been for ZLI. In addition, our classmates' support during the two years was tremendous. They showed up for us in many ways over the two years and we are extremely grateful. 

How can consumers and the Ross community continue to support your Comme Homme? 

We’d love all the support we can get from the Ross and larger U-M community! Definitely, checkout our website, commehomme.co, and join the mailing list. Also check us out on instagram to engage with our content and community. Last, but certainly not least, SHARE our website and brand with every bald man or guy dealing with hair loss. Trust me, you’d be doing them a huge favor!

Advice for aspiring business owners: ​​making the most of their time at Michigan Ross to launch their businesses

Just go for it. Business school is short. You have less than two years to try to get something ‘off the ground’. Don’t waste time and second guess yourself. Have belief and just go for it. Spend tons of time in the ZLI office and attend all the programming. You’ll learn a ton and also realize that you have plenty of support on campus. At that point, all you really need is ingenuity, resourcefulness, perseverance, and guts. All things that you can find within yourself.

Kene Onuorah, MBA '21 

I always tell students about the importance of networking. If you want to run a successful business, you have to let others know about it, so that they can help you. Strangers are more willing to help you than you know.

Hunter Phelps, BBA '21

I would offer two things: be intentional, and get started. I knew that I was interested in emotional intelligence and racial justice coming into grad school. I started working on our website before school and then took advantage of every opportunity I could during school. I initiated independent studies that would allow me to work on the business as part of my studies, and took advantage of programs for entrepreneurs at Michigan Ross, Michigan Law, and the School of Information. I would not have been able to take advantage of any of these resources if I waited until I felt life was just perfect to start my life as an entrepreneur.

Justin Woods, MBA/MSW ’21

LEARN MORE ABOUT  ZELL LURIE INSTITUTE FOR ENTREPRENEURIAL STUDIES

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE MICHIGAN ROSS MBA Program

 

Featured Faculty

Lori Rogala
  • Lecturer of Business Law