The spirit of an entrepreneur cannot be tamed. When a daydream at a desk job beckons, those with passion and perseverance do whatever it takes to answer the call. D.C. is a city full of these dreamers and doers, changing the game by launching new ventures and adapting to new challenges every day. These 10 stand out from the crowd with unique business models, fresh ideas and a whole lotta hustle. We asked each of them to share their elevator pitch, the origin story behind their business and what’s new in 2020.
Topaz M. Terry
Owner + Maker, BicycleTrash
The Elevator Pitch: BicycleTrash is a brand of upcycled products using collected parts from local bicycle repair shops to create new premium-quality durable goods and accessories. Items are handmade using original designs. Current items in production are belts, bags, wallets, bottle openers, key chains, Dopp kits, face masks and bottle carriers.
The Story: BicycleTrash started as a hobby. I worked in schools at the elementary level for 10 years. At about year eight, I realized I needed something tactile and tangible in my life to balance the mental and emotional fatigue of working in a school. I started using the parts from my own bicycle repairs to make bottle openers and bracelets as gifts. That year, friends convinced me to sign up for a holiday market, and the business took off from there. Because of the pandemic, in-person events and sales opportunities have been cancelled. Being part of the local small business community has allowed me to weather the challenges of 2020. My maker friends and previous customers have rallied to help me find new customers. I have also added bicycle-themed fabric face masks to my products, which are a big hit. I’m a native Washingtonian and I love my city very much. I couldn’t imagine building my business anywhere else.
Amaya Smith + Kimberly Smith
Co-Founders, The Brown Beauty Co-op
The Elevator Pitch: The Brown Beauty Co-op is a cooperative partnership between Marjani, the premier indie beauty retailer for “brown girl-approved” skincare and cosmetics, and Product Junkie, a natural hair startup that aims to offer naturalista DIYers an in-store haven. This one-of-a-kind cooperative beauty space is a one-stop beauty and shopping experience and an incubator for emerging beauty brands.
The Story: We both saw there was a huge need in the beauty market for a store likes ours. We both love beauty and beauty products, so we figured, “Why not create a store that caters to women of color – women like us?” We were honestly surprised there wasn’t something already like this. We opened our doors in December 2018 and the support has been overwhelming since then. We’re really excited about the future of The Brown Beauty Co-op and seeing how this business grows. Amaya still works a full-time job and Kimberly manages the day-to-day operations of our storefront. We have had to learn a lot of new skills in order to run a successful brick-and-mortar retail space and we’ve also had to call on our professional skills – PR and law – to help us with running the business.
Learn more and shop online at www.brownbeautyco-op.com. Connect on Instagram @thebrownbeautyco_op and Twitter @thebrownbeauty1. The retail location is open with limited hours for pickup or shopping by appointment at 1365 Connecticut Ave. Suite 100, NW, DC.
Co-Founder, Cotton & Reed Distillery
The Elevator Pitch: Cotton & Reed is D.C.’s first rum distillery. We make unusual rums to convert non-rum drinkers into rum believers.
The Story: My co-founder Reed Walker and I left our old jobs consulting for the space industry to turn our distilled spirits hobby into our jobs. Turns out making rum has very little to do with making PowerPoints about the satellite industry, so we’ve learned a lot in the four years we’ve been open. Experience, learning from the people around you and being able to recognize when you’ve been getting something wrong have been the keys to our continued growth so far. The best testament to this growth is a taste test: trying a sip of batch one next to our latest batch is enough to assure me that we’ve learned and grown a ton over the years. And then 2020 happened. Like many small alcohol producers, much of our revenue comes from our own bar. Most of the rest comes from other bars who sell our rum. So, the screeching halt on hospitality has really hurt our rum numbers. But we pivoted quickly to producing tens of thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer starting in March. Turning that into enough revenue to keep the company afloat has required us to retool our whole company. We don’t normally deliver rum to the Pentagon, you will not be surprised to hear, but sanitizer they do need. And now we’ve reopened the bar for patio service. While it has been good to get back to what we do best, it hasn’t been as easy as just plugging the slush machine back in. Permits, staffing, safety protocols and rolling out a new model of service have all been quite tricky. We’re proud to have made it this far in this challenging environment, but we know we’re not through it yet.
Co-Founder, DC To-GoGo
The Elevator Pitch: DC To-GoGo is an online marketplace built with the mentality of supporting local. We’re providing restaurants with an online ordering platform that doesn’t come with high fees that strip away the profit and we’re giving customers a way to order food with transparency – [and] without the ambiguous service charges.
The Story: Launching DC To-GoGo actually came about fairly naturally. We [Fry and co-founders Josh Saltzman and Chris Powers] own a restaurant as well (Ivy and Coney), so when we were forced to shut down due to the pandemic, it became a method of survival. While our team carries immense passion for the business, what’s allowed us to drive forward has actually been our passion for the community. We’ve always found it important to support our neighbors, but as the hospitality industry sustained so much damage from the shutdown, we wanted to make more of an impact. Personally, the biggest change about professional life in 2020 has been how much better I’m able to incorporate balance. Being forced to restrict our hours of operation at the restaurant while beginning work on DC To-GoGo has created a very different work schedule. The nature of this industry is entwined with being reactive and adjusting to rapidly changing trends already, although it’s quite a bit more drastic these days.
Maame Boakye, Nina Oduro + Nana Ama Afari Dwamena
Food Marketing Entrepreneurs, Dine Diaspora
The Elevator Pitch: Dine Diaspora is an experiential marketing agency that connects people and brands to African food culture. We work with culinary creatives and brands focused on African diaspora cuisine to drive growth in new and existing markets through immersive culinary experiences, marketing and branding, and business growth resources.
The Story: The impetus to work in the food industry came out of a desire to connect people through food. This doesn’t necessarily seem like a career, but entrepreneurs like us only need to identify a problem to turn it into an opportunity. We identified that people not only desired opportunities to connect with others while experiencing diverse foods, but there was also a tremendous need for diversity and inclusion within the food and beverage industry. Hence, Dine Diaspora was born.From there, we tested our idea at our first dining event and received rave reviews from attendees. Basically, we listened to the market and began building the business. Every new idea we come up with relies on how people receive it. We always listen, then create. That is key to not only building a business that you are passionate about, but is also sustainable during times of uncertainty. Our business focused heavily on in-person events, from speaker series to festivals. As a result of Covid-19, we’ve had to go primarily virtual – a journey we are embracing one livestream post at a time. As opposed to in-person events, we’ve been offering events online via social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. While these are currently free, they are an investment into outcomes that will benefit the company in the longterm. Also, our virtual offerings allow us to tap into a more global audience. We have also scaled up our marketing and advertising offerings, which are largely online.
Flower Farmer + Permaculture Designer, EcoBlossoms Farm
The Elevator Pitch: EcoBlossoms Farm offers cut flower bouquets for delivery or pickup in Prince George’s and Montgomery County, Maryland. We also develop beautiful floral and edible landscapes that support our ecosystem.
The Story: My road to growing flowers began over 20 years ago with trying to have a healthy pregnancy. When I was expecting my first son, I learned about organic foods and became interested in producing them. That led me on a journey of self-education. During that time, I found permaculture. I love the idea of creating a perennial oasis that supports human beings, the earth and the creatures that live here. I began growing plants and doing more in-depth study into soil microbiology, ecology and beneficial plants. I first fell in love with peonies after visiting a friend’s garden. Soon after, I registered for a beginning farmer’s course because I was intrigued by some of the speakers. On the final day of the course, the instructor asked all the participants to explain what type of farm they wanted to start. As my turn approached, I realized I needed an answer. I knew I didn’t want to become a vegetable farmer. Everything I loved was perennial. I immediately thought of peonies and how much I loved them. So, by the time it was my turn, I had an answer: I was going to be a peony farmer. For the past seven years, the farm has operated only in the spring for peony season. 2020 is the first year that we are offering bouquets from spring to fall. I’m really excited because the farm is moving to a larger location in Upper Marlboro and I plan to document the farm’s journey on YouTube so my customer base can stay informed of what’s happening on the farm. The new location will be able to accommodate a perennial nursery, classes and flower events.
Learn more and order a bouquet online for delivery or pickup at www.ecoblossomsfarm.com. Connect on Instagram @marylandlocalflowers and find farm updates on YouTube at www.tinyurl.com/ecoblossomsyoutube. Delivery is available in Prince George’s and Montgomery County. Pickup is available at the farm in Upper Marlboro by appointment and at several locations in Maryland and D.C.
Founder + Managing Member, Evolving Lives Body & Mind
The Elevator Pitch: Evolving Lives Body & Mind is a health and wellness company supported by a diverse team that provides virtual yoga and meditation classes for individuals, groups and corporations in addition to wellness coaching. Essentially, our mission is to provide a safe and inclusive space for individuals to practice self-care and healing by participating in physical fitness combined with mental wellness education and tips.
The Story: I originally sought out my own yoga practice in 2015, when I began my studies at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where I studied to obtain my master’s in clinical mental health counseling. [Yoga was] a way to support my mental health during the stressful times of maintaining a full-time job and being in school full-time, in addition to the back pain I experienced after a bad car accident. After experiencing the benefits of a consistent practice of yoga through physical therapy and recommendations, I decided to embark on a yoga teacher training with Core Power Yoga in 2016. A year later, I followed my passion to start my own business after working in various mental health settings where I experienced burnout due to secondary trauma and witnessed a lack of opportunities available to marginalized communities that combined physical and mental health. A training I went to as a way to learn more on how to care for my physical and mental [health] turned into me growing a passion for sharing this information with others. Fast-forward to early 2020, when I was laid off from Core Power Yoga as a studio manager due to Covid-19. This experience left me with many questions, yet I felt empowered to take my business from part-time to full-time. Prioritizing my self-care through physical workouts like yoga and mental workouts like meditation, fasting and drawing healthy boundaries has kept me focused during this time. I’m actually really grateful for the timing of these challenging events, as it has allowed me to dedicate this time to what I am truly passionate about: prioritizing my personal health and empowering others to do the same.
Founder & CEO, Foodhini
The Elevator Pitch: Foodhini is an online and retail restaurant serving authentic multicultural meals from around the globe, handcrafted by emerging immigrant and refugee chefs. We use the power of food to create living-wage job opportunities and economic mobility for communities of diaspora, while enriching our communities through delicious foods and cultures.
The Story: The inspiration behind Foodhini is my mom: Joua Vang. She is a Hmong refugee from the Laos [and] Thailand region, and came to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. She spoke limited English and had minimal education. She struggled to find a decent paying job. At the time, it seemed impossible for her to earn a living wage using the best skill she had: cooking her incredible cultural Hmong food. This story is still so prevalent today for many communities of diaspora: supremely talented in their food yet [facing] barriers to bringing their foods to market. Foodhini is about providing a place for people like my mom to prepare and sell their incredible foods. This mission is what held the business together and gave us the foundation to grow so quickly in the past three years. We started out as an online dinner delivery restaurant and then added our popular catering service. In the past 12 months, we began an exciting new partnership with Whole Foods. Since 2016, we’ve grown our team from two people to 17 wonderful team members. Due to Covid-19, we’ve shifted our focus to keeping our team safe and intact. We had to close down our retail locations and catering service, relying solely on our dinner delivery service to keep our virtual doors open. Our team has worked extremely hard to expand our delivery service area while also launching same-day delivery and our online marketplace to support fellow immigrant-owned businesses. We’ve [also] developed a virtual catering program that can bring companies together while working from home. 2020 may go down as one of the hardest and worst years of all time, but it’s also our year to fight back and work even harder to ensure an equitable and safe country for everyone.
Place an order online for dinner delivery at www.foodhini.com. Connect on Instagram @foodhinidc and Facebook and Twitter @foodhini. Grab-and-go Foodhini meals are available at the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods location daily, but other retail locations are currently closed due to Covid-19.
Founder, Meet the Curator
The Elevator Pitch: Meet The Curator is an apparel and merchandise brand focused on inspiring humans to be the curator of the life they want to live. We provide quality clothing with positive messaging. The phrase “Curate your own life” alludes to the belief that your life experiences and memories are the artifacts that will be in your gallery (your life) and will be what others see about you.
The Story: I followed my passion to launch Meet The Curator by doing a little bit of forecasting. I distinctly remember being in my cubicle at my day job and projecting out 10 years. I asked myself a simple question: “If I were to fast-forward, would I want to be doing what I’m doing right now?” The answer for me was a resounding “F–k no.” From there, it was time to put action behind the dream I had of spreading positive messaging and creating some dope products. I contacted friends with similar and different tastes in fashion, told them about the idea for the brand [and] asked them to share their feedback on some designs I had in the stash. Then it was marketing, marketing, marketing from there: throwing pop-ups, creating photoshoots for content and advertising purposes, and then actually getting out there to sell to my target demo. I went from being a fearful dreamer to a confident action taker. It was the best decision of my life and I am grateful that life conspired in my favor to get me to where I’m at now. Since the pandemic, I’ve had more time to devote to different areas of the business that I had previously neglected. It’s been an unprecedented scenario for everyone (thank you to all essential workers and frontline personnel), but the uncertainty has only made something crystal clear. You truly only control a couple of things. Everything else is out of your control. But you do get to take responsibility for your actions and let the chips fall where they may. You only get to do this thing called life once, [so] why not be the curator calling the shots? Curate your own life.
Owner & Maker, The Neighborgoods
The Elevator Pitch: The Neighborgoods is a one-stop-shop to pick up witty and unique gifts for any and all occasions. We are inspired by the beauty of food and how it brings people together, whether through sharing a bottle of wine, celebrating over a delicious cheese plate or a mutual love of pickles.
The Story: I ran my own graphic design business. Seven years in, I got burnt out and needed a change. I decided to transition my business to work with clients in the food industry, combining my two passions: food and design. I started drawing produce from the farmers market and illustrating family recipes. The seed was planted and in January 2014, I signed up for a semester course to learn how to screen print. I created more designs, added tote bags [and] onesies, and signed up for the class two more times to keep using the studio space. I moved to D.C. the summer of 2015, thus losing my print studio. That forced me to outsource my printing but allowed me to focus on growing the other aspects of the business, like packaging, wholesale and developing new products. The Neighborgoods was my side hustle until 2018, when I decided to make the switch from design and go all in. I have since hired a small team of employees and opened our first retail shop and studio space in May 2019. Our shop is currently closed, markets have been canceled and our wholesale business has dried up due to Covid. But we have been finding ways to keep serving our customers to bring some joy into their lives. We introduced discounted gift sets online, coloring pages (freebies and donation of proceeds to the World Health Organization) and have been making masks from our seconds dish towels. Customers have been loving our new additions and that makes us feel so good.
Shop online at www.theneighborgoods.com and connect on Instagram and Facebook @theneighborgoodswithlove. The retail store at 2130 8th St. NW, DC is currently closed due to Covid-19, but will be open on August 8-9 for in-store and online shopping as part of the DC Dog Days sale. Learn more at www.dcdogdays.com.