How three black women turned a mango recipe into a business empire

How three black women turned a mango recipe into a business empire

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In 1619, a ship landed at what is now Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, bringing the first enslaved Africans to colonial America. Four hundred years later and just down the road from that historic site, three black women have built a business empire around a symbol of heritage, the mango.

Lakesha Brown-Renfro, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tanecia Willis, are the entrepreneurs behind Simply Panache Group, which operates a restaurant, spa, boutique hotel and an event venue. Brown-Renfro, 43, called it “unimaginable” to think that her ancestors once walked in chains down the street where their businesses now stand. 

“We’re living our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” she said. “I think they would beam with pride…They would say ‘wow.’ But more importantly, I know what we would say and that’s ‘Thank you.’”

Lakesha Brown-Renfro, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tanecia Willis started "Simply Panache," turning mangoes into an empire.

Like many other black female entrepreneurs, the trio struggled to find funding and eventually had to finance the business themselves, splitting the costs equally from their savings, Teule-Hekima said. 

The number of businesses owned by African-American women grew 605% between 1997 and 2017, making black women the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, according to a study of women-owned businesses commissioned by American Express. But black female entrepreneurs raised an average of only $36,000 of outside funding, a 2015 study from Digital Undivided found, compared with an average of $1.3 million for all startups, according to an October 2019 analysis by CB Insights.

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