For doing whatever it takes to keep her products in stock.
Ashley Harris knew there was something wrong with her baby. She and her son both got eczema, a condition she’d never had, a few weeks after he was born. Despite her pediatrician’s insistence it was normal, she had a feeling, and got a range of expansive diagnostic tests. One revealed she and her son had a severe imbalance in their gut microbiomes that led to eczema. Her experience led her to found LoveBug Probiotics in 2014 to deliver prenatal and early childhood probiotics for parents and educate them about the importance of gut health. When a baby is born vaginally, the mother passes on her gut microbiome--the foundation of the immune system and other aspects of health. When Harris had her baby, she was on a powerful line of antibiotics to fight the group B strep, a common condition in pregnant women. It killed the strep--along with the healthy bacteria in her gut, and thus in her son’s. The doctors told her to take a probiotic and give one to her son, “and I had a new baby,” she says. He slept and ate better (and Harris finally got some sleep too). During Covid-19, with the drive to support the immune system and health in general (especially, as Harris says, when people have less money to see doctors or lose their health care), demand for DTC health probiotics like hers has soared. To get it done, Harris has done it all—from hand-packing products in her warehouses to making last-minute changes to products. “Our biggest challenge has been staying in stock,” says Harris.--Gabrielle Bienasz
Ciara Imani May
For redesigning braiding hair with only natural plant-based ingredients.
Braids itch. That’s what drove consumers to buy out Rebundle’s banana fiber-based braiding hair in less than a month in January 2021. Founder and CEO Ciara Imani May had struggled with itchiness while wearing her own braids and looked for a more sustainable—and less painful—solution. After a year and a half in development and about $136,000 in funding, the St. Louis-based company made a cleaner product available to customers. Rebundle’s braids are biodegradable and plant-based and have fewer than 10 ingredients, which are listed in the product’s description. By contrast, May says she had to get a lab analysis to figure out what was in regular, plastic-based braids. It doesn’t help that the leading ingredient in popular braiding hair brands is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), “potentially toxic” when in plastic used in children’s baby bottles or teething rings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “PVC does not belong on our heads,” May says. Overall, she says, her company has started something new in an old industry, and she’s proud to be part of the natural hair movement--where Black women use products that are less toxic for their hair. “There would be no demand without us,” May says. “Why don't we have any ownership, and why is there not an experience created around us in our products?” Good questions, which May is tackling with Rebundle.--Gabrielle Bienasz
For finding a way to keep the cameras rolling.
Nutopia makes really big documentaries. Jane Root helms the London-based production company and previously led massive television operations, at Discover Channel and BBC2. Founded in 2008, Nutopia is responsible for enormous productions like America: The Story of Us, a 12-part series on the founding of the U.S., published in collaboration with the History Channel. During the pandemic, the company has built a fully operational Covid-19 lab ground and drop-shipped toilets with helicopters to keep filming in Iceland. To produce a documentary with National Geographic about the wonders of earth (Welcome to Earth), her team brought Will Smith to an active volcano. They also took Chris Hemsworth swimming with sharks in Australia for a piece on how humans and sharks can live in harmony (Shark Beach With Chris Hemsworth). While Root had to coordinate Zoom calls across the globe to get all of this done, she also used the platform to pitch documentary projects at a steady clip to people the company had never worked with before, from HBO Max to Warner Discovery. It was a nice change from flying to Los Angeles constantly, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. “Sometimes people have to get up in the middle of the night for a meeting. Sometimes it's me. You just have to do it,” she says.--Gabrielle Bienasz
For diversifying the toy bin.
Before Avani Modi Sarkar had her daughter, she hardly thought about children's toys at all. Avani and her co-founder brother Viral, both first-time parents, couldn't find any toys on the market that connected to their specific cultural experience. So they started Modi Toys, a children's brand of plush toys and books rooted in the Hindu faith. Since launching in 2018, they've sold nearly 40,000 products across 49 states and 27 countries, including to celebrities Mindy Kaling and Jay Sean.
To demonstrate a real need for these types of toys, Sarkar immersed herself in dozens of Facebook mommy groups worldwide to get mothers' opinions of all backgrounds. The feedback convinced her she was on to something. When she was laid off from her corporate job in September 2020, she decided to give Modi all her focus. "I had my ear to the ground and understood what was driving our customers during the pandemic: As homeschooling became the norm, families began seeking ways to diversify their toy bins and bookshelves. Our toys and books helped make their playrooms more culturally diverse and representative of their family's faith and background."
Her gamble paid off when her first launch, which the founders expected to take six months to sell, sold in three weeks. Several launches later, and Modi Toys has garnered attention as well as awards for Sarkar. The Tory Burch Foundation Fellow and FedEx Small Business Grant winner also hosts virtual discussions to counsel fellow South Asian small businesses.--Teneshia Carr
For making lash extensions easier on the eyes.
Ann McFerran, CEO and founder of Glamnetic, did not plan to become an entrepreneur. Born in Bangkok, Thailand, McFerran immigrated to America at 7 years old with her single mother, and went on to graduate with a degree in psychobiology from UCLA. While growing up, she looked toward makeup as a creative outlet, which made her feel beautiful and confident. McFerran noticed how lashes especially transformed her face, but she was not a fan of the typical glue application, which can be messy and irritating to the eyes. After a year of research into better and safer solutions, in 2019 she founded Glamnetic, which makes and sells fake lashes that adhere to a customer's existing lashes using six magnets. "Lashes have been around for around 100 hundred years with not much innovation, and I wanted to make something different," McFerran says. "Glue is really costly. People are allergic to latex. I knew there was a clear gap, and I became passionate about trying to figure out how to solve it." Her passion has paid off with $50 million in sales in 2020 alone and Glamnetic products stocked in more than 1,000 Ulta locations.--Teneshia Carr