Black student-owned businesses overcome setbacks during unprecedented year

Junior Ada Ezeaputa founded Vizion, an online boutique that offers a variety of sunglasses, handmade lip glosses and accessories. Photo by Enza Marcy

Grace McOmber, Contributing Writer

Cooking for friends during her sophomore year became a full-time business for VCU student Jade Craig, but when COVID-19 brought her home to Chesapeake, Virginia, she feared her Richmond customer base would disappear.

“I was afraid they were going to forget about me,” she said. “But luckily, they didn’t.”

Junior Jade Craig started Jade’s Kitchen in 2019, after acknowledging her cooking skills and having access to a kitchen in her sophomore year. Photo by Enza Marcy

In 2019, Craig started Jade’s Kitchen, which serves home-cooked meals to students every week. She said her cooking style is inspired by her parents, who moved frequently due to her father being in the U.S. Navy.

“Everything I make is a mixture from what my family puts together,” Craig said.

Craig, a junior health, physical education and exercise science major, said balancing school and business obligations can be challenging at times. She said school is her “first priority,” so she promotes her business during the weekend to give her all day to cook.

School and entrepreneurship often conflict, Craig said, but the creative control that comes with building a business makes the struggle worthwhile.

“This is something that makes me happy,” Craig said. “I want to start catering and possibly write a cookbook in the future. I would love to do this as my main job.”

Armon Harold, owner of Big Mon’s Le’Monade, said he finds value in experience while running a business. The senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in real estate said the School of Business gave him the “vocab words” for what he’s doing currently.

“Actual life experience is the best teacher,” Harold said. 

Senior Armon Harold and owner of Big Mon’s Le’monade, sells homemade lemonade mixed with fresh fruit and merchandise at a booth in Monroe Park. Photo by Enza Marcy

Harold’s business serves homemade, fruit-infused lemonade in a variety of flavors. Big Mon’s also sells joggers, T-shirts and other merchandise featuring the company’s logo.

Despite being disconnected from his customer base during COVID-19, Harold plans to expand his business and get his lemonade on store shelves. 

“Big Mon’s is a part of me,” Harold said. “I try to give out a fun, loving energy to the world, and I hope everyone experiences that through my lemonade.” 

The lemonade stand is one of many businesses that Harold has run over the years — he sold trinkets in middle school and homemade macaroni and cheese to his high school classmates.

“I started off with a lemonade stand. I got a small loan from my pops,” Harold said. “Had to pay him back with interest. It set me up with a strong foundation and a business mindset.”

Ada Ezeaputa operates Vizion from her home, where she packages online orders. Photo by Enza Marcy

Ada Ezeaputa, a junior studying business management and administration, said she’s dreamed of starting a business since she was a child. She launched Vizion, an online accessories boutique, at the end of her freshman year. The business sells handmade lip gloss, sunglasses and other accessories.

When campus operations paused due to COVID-19 and many students left the Richmond area, Ezeaputa was uncertain how her businesses would continue to operate and grow. 

“It was hard,” Ezeaputa said. “I was worried that I would have to temporarily close until I could go back to school.” 

Ezeaputa has high hopes for the future of Vizion and is aiming to start another business before she graduates.

“Everybody’s journey is different. Some people blow up overnight, and some take two years,” Ezeaputa said. “If you really have an idea, just do it.”

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