Unoma Okorafor is offering organic alternatives to help fuel the body and the brain.
Unoma Okorafor started her journey to building her brand Herbal Goodness in 2011 when she was pregnant with her third child. Okorafor was looking for the fruit that she had grown up with, specifically papaya which, according to Okorafor (and Parenting first.com), can help with the development of the baby (it contains folic acid which is crucial to the mental development of the baby. The issue however, is that she noticed that the papaya she tasted was odd. She began researching what made papaya in the United States so different. She discovered that 97 percent of the papaya in the U.S. was genetically modified (over 90 percent according to Food Insight) and that in fact, it was the very first fruit to be genetically modified. This led to her diving into learning about organic foods.
“I started learning about non GMO organic food, how to be sustainable, you know, what does good food really mean? The more I researched and the more I learned, the more I really became passionate about sharing these amazing superfoods, the organic superfoods that I grew up with, with the world and with people in the US,“ she said.
From there her company, Herbal Goodness, began to grow. When she started however, she didn’t have a nailed down business plan for what was to come. One night she stayed up and created her first product, papaya leaf tea. She then set up a very rudimentary site and went to bed at 5 am. When she woke up that day at 10 am, five orders had already been placed. According to her, what has really helped their business grow was listening to their customers.
“Each product we’ve added has been a customer coming to tell us, hey, I love your product, papaya leaf tea, but I’d like it in an extract form, unlike in an appeal form, or how about your soursop Graviola. So we’re growing very organically, we still are growing,” she said.
Within 24 months Herbal Goodness was located in 100 retail stores, and it took almost three years for the business to become profitable. For her, the business journey was not a difficult one, because she was doing something that she loves. She did have issues however, finding the right people to work with.
“Ensuring that our products are the highest quality we travel far and wide across the globe to try and find the highest quality and to import it and make sure we go through all the quality steps. So some of that has been challenging you know, making sure that we keep our supply chain steady,” she said.
Another difficulty for her business was funding for growth. According to Okorafor, black owned businesses are only able to access one/two percent of funding, meaning that it doesn’t come very easily in the market. What has helped them stand out amongst the market has been their values and the quality of their products. Each batch of their products is organic and certified by a third party. For packaging they use biodegradable, recyclable packaging, also working with farmers to ensure that their products are fair trade.
“Every one of our farmers, we know them by name, we invest in their communities because we really believe that we need to keep our organic farm as healthy and in business because it’s good for the earth and it’s good for us,” she said.
Okorafor also has a background in technology (Computer Engineering) which helped in the growth of their business. Particularly, because, according to Okorafor, a background in technology is not very common, it’s given them a leg up.
“One of the things we’ve found is that in this industry there’s not a lot of use of technology so my background in technology has actually been a huge advantage for our company,” she said.
Okorafor was first introduced to the Women’s Business Center via their newsletter. Particularly, one announcing that they would be hosting a pitch competition for women of color. She entered that competition and it ultimately offered her company exposure. She was very excited to discover that there was a Women’s Business Center located in the Dallas area that offered resources, mentoring and even spaces to work with other women business owners. This then led to her reaching out to them to find out other ways that she could get involved. She booked and scheduled time with them and was subsequently assigned her own business coach and mentor, people who have successfully ran their own businesses/companies.
“There’s nothing like having a coach hold your hand and help you through, you know some of the journey of entrepreneurship because it can be lonely. It can be challenging. And so the Women Business Center has really provided me with one-on-one mentoring and coaching that has been invaluable for our business,” she said.
The Women’s Business Center is supported by the Lift Fund, which is designed to help small women owned businesses. One of the biggest things that she believes you can get from the Women’s Business Center is the sense of community.
“I think that one of the biggest things that you would get from being involved in the women business center is the community being around other women who are like minded, who are doing well in their own businesses and who want to share their journey. That is invaluable, having a community around you to just encourage you and showing you what is possible. I think there’s amazing ways that the Women’s Business Center can help,” she said.
Okorafor stated that some of the difficulties women can go through as business owners is the accusation that they are bossy or aggressive even when they make business decisions. Male counterparts will make the same decision but will be labeled as decisive. She has also walked into boardroom meetings with male employees and had people mistake the employee for her. However, she does believe that a change is taking place.
“I’m excited, I think that the wave is changing. I think people are starting to become aware of this. Women are taking their place at the table and becoming part of the conversation and that is very refreshing to see. And I think that you know organizations like the Women’s Business Center, play a critical role in helping to galvanize that,” she said.