Financing a Company, In a Nutshell
In February 2014, Danielle Grace Warren packed her bags and left her Brooklyn apartment, moving a continent away from her boyfriend, friends and family to work part-time on a corn, fish and chicken farm in Ghana and to be closer to her true passion.
As the founder and president of One Village Planet-Women’s Development Initiative and the Just Shea harvesters’ program, Danielle’s real passion is protecting and supporting the women in Ghana who produce shea butter from the region’s shea nuts.
Although the coveted nut is rarely seen by Westerners, it is widely consumed via products made with the nut. And more than 4 million African women work in the industry, according to the Global Shea Alliance. Of this population, Just Shea helps about 600,000 rural Ghanaian women produce shea butter for cooking, cosmetics and skin care.
And while Danielle now lives and works quite a long distance north of her growing enterprise, she is still much closer than New York. Her job at the farm covers the 32-year-old’s living expenses, and every other week, Danielle treks 12 hours to Just Shea’s base of operations. If this sounds nuts to you, read on! Here, Danielle and Just Shea Vice President Wickham (Wicky) Boyle, a nonprofit management consultant and journalist, discuss the impact of early investment.
(Danielle Grace Warren, founder of Just Shea)
You have been successful in acquiring angel funding for Just Shea, which can be about as difficult for social entrepreneurs as, say, finding a unicorn.
We were fortunate to receive an angel investment of $25,000 from a friend. You know, you’re talking about it socially and people see that two weeks, a month later, you’re still talking about it. People appreciate commitment. You have to talk about it all the time, even to the point of being tired of hearing yourself. Our friend was really passionate and had come from a background in banking. We were really lucky and the world conspired with us on that one.
You also got a grant from the Moxie Foundation for $50,000.
The funding from Moxie in San Diego was also a godsend. The money was used to provide safety gear for the women as we build a cooperative storage silo. Moxie is a family-operated foundation. A family foundation doesn’t have a list of tricks they need to see. It allows for a small passion- and energy-based organization to succeed.
Now that we know talking about it in social circles and applying for smaller, family-operated grants is a good place to start, what about larger grants?
We were in the running for a grant that was almost $500,000. It was 75 pages and just gobsmacking. Had we gotten that grant, and we were encouraged to apply, we would actually be paid salaries. We would have moved the business out of our homes. It would have moved us to another level. Projects are made out of people, and people have to run those projects and they have to eat. It’s very hard to get grants from a foundation unless you have a track record. Operational funds are historically very difficult to procure. You have to prove yourself with programs. An organization can’t grow into a long-lasting and robust organization unless you can get access to operational funds so you can make your job a job that someone else can do.
What are your top five tips to other girltankers who are in need of funding?
Tip #1: Use fellowships for social entrepreneurs. They are competitive. If the product isn’t really innovative, then it is hard to get funding. We have a hybrid organization. If your goal is to sell something, Echoing Green is one way to launch a product.
Tip #2: Start with strategic partnerships. Work with a bigger organization to get that credibility.
Tip #3: Cultivate relationships with donors, which may take years.
Tip #4: Acknowledge positive milestones. Keep track and celebrate your achievements.
Tip #5: Always have an elevator speech in your back pocket. What do you need and what does it cost? Ask for it. Know why you’re asking for it.
NOTE: All net profits from Just Shea are spent on snake bite protection, improved equipment and storage silos for the women shea harvesters.
(photographs by Agogo)