Shawn Theodore

ESSENCE is proud to celebrate extraordinary Black women who are breaking glass ceilings as flourishing entrepreneurs with compelling backstories. Join us as we highlight a few of the 50 women featured in our November 2017 issue and chat with them to find out more about how they got to where they are now and what advice they have for other young women looking to follow in their footsteps.

This week we focus on EssieSpice founder, Essie Bartels.

Q: What kind of company do you own? 
A sauce and spice blend company.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone dreaming of having their own business? 
Talent will get you through the door. Passion and perseverance will keep you in the room and help you excel. Personally my faith has been an immovable pillar, which has grounded and guarded me throughout this difficult journey. Faith without works is dead; so I strive to be the hardest worker while enjoying the ride.

Q: As an entrepreneur, what is the smartest decision you’ve ever made for yourself?
I worked in corporate for nine years. In the seventh year, I began working on EssieSpice part time. Nothing happened for two years. I tried incessantly to get into major stores; none of them paid me any mind. Then when I lost my job late 2015 and decided to work on EssieSpice exclusively for six months, the stores came calling and the media noticed the hard work. For my business, having tunnel vision is the best decision I’ve ever made. 

Q: When it came to launching your business what kind of support system did you have in place and can you describe in what ways you were helped?
My sister and mom have an import and export company that help me bring dry spices directly from Ghana. Aside from my personal savings and 401K, my parents have also helped financially support me. My sister has been my right-hand woman and backbone for productions, deliveries, markets and the day-to-day running of the business. My brother takes care of all ordering and projects in Ghana. I have also had an incredible army of friends who’ve stepped up and been there for me through the ups and downs. From supporting me at markets and taking care of customers to peeling onions and cutting peppers, I honestly have a great support system to help with Operations. My mentors have also been instrumental in helping me make strategic decisions as to the future of my company, and my intern Antoinette has been a gem. You can't do it alone. You need a team; you need a village.

Q: Black women are America’s fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. However, we remain the most underserved, receiving less than 1 percent of all venture funding for our businesses. In what ways can our community better support one another? 
I think the fact that we're even being recognized is a great step because there are even more women who may want to venture out into tech, art, food or media but don't see themselves in the mainstream representation of these roles. I know it's really hard for some of us small businesses and start-ups to mentor other businesses and brands because for most of us, we are a one-woman team so we end up doing a lot with very little time left for anything else. However, if we can work with a few deserving entrepreneurs who just need a step in the right direction, they can avoid some of the pitfalls we had to face. I'm currently mentoring a marmalade company owned by a Dominican family and the owner was so grateful because I saved them so much time and money in avoiding a lot of red tape in manufacturing practices and costs.