SCHENECTADY — Bree Warren moved to Schenectady from Brooklyn in 2018.
As a Black woman, she found it difficult to locate hair products that worked for her.
So she started making her own using all-natural ingredients. Over time, the pursuit grew to include soap, and her budding “LocLuv from Bree” brand has since found a welcome audience in friends and co-workers.
“I started making some products and great things are starting to happen,” said Warren, who works as a nurse for Northeast Parent and Child Society.
Now she’s ready to go professional, taking her small-batch products to a broader online audience.
But where to begin?
“It’s been difficult because I’ve never owned a business before,” said Warren, who is 48.
That’s where a new free mentorship program comes in.
Tara Incubator aims to guide emerging minority entrepreneurs who’ve always wanted to start a venture, but have been unable to do so for various reasons, and guide them through the process.
“In this daily tornado of life going on, who has time to start something new?” said Aneesa Waheed, founder of Tara Incubator and co-owner of Tara Kitchen.
While Waheed wanted to get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, which rekindled following the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police this spring, she was tied to her restaurant.
“What can I do that could make a difference?” Waheed said. “And what’s in my wheelhouse? I’m not going to do something that doesn’t feel authentic.”
It’s hard enough to start a business, and the odds can be stacked for those coming from a disadvantaged background with few resources, she said.
So she dipped into her professional network and assembled a crack team of consultants with expertise across the board, from branding and marketing to navigating logistics, business plans and drafting legal contracts.
A key driving force is Waheed’s own personal story, which saw her churn through nearly 10 failed businesses before her restaurant took off.
“I’ve always found there wasn’t a lot of help and support available if you’re literally starting at ground zero,” Waheed said.
Over the past 15 years, she and her husband, Muntasim Shoaib, have spun their modest Moroccan restaurant on Liberty Street to an expanding empire, which now includes three locations, a line of jarred sauces and plans to transform an unused way station on Broadway into a traditional spa.
Tara Incubator will differ from conventional business support organizations because it’s geared towards folks who are seeking to come in at the ground floor and will provide a “real world approach to starting a business when you have nothing,” Waheed said.
“If I had something like this 15 years ago, I could have cut my launch time by 50 percent,” Waheed said.
Waheed believes her success and setbacks, which she accomplished publicly and in real-time -- warts and all -- will give the project credibility and show entrepreneurs that success is possible.
"I am living the American dream and I have accomplished this with support and help from many people," she said. "It’s time to pay it forward."
Additionally, another timely element is that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted minority-owned businesses, which tend to be in industries where demand was hardest hit by the pandemic, CNN reported, including restaurants, coffee shops, barber shops and salons.
Minority-owned businesses also had a harder time dialing into federal relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, while unemployment tends to go up faster for minorities and others at the lower end of the income spectrum, according to the New York Times.
Since its rollout three weeks ago, a half-dozen people have stepped forward.
At the beginning, Waheed and team members will simply talk through their ideas and concepts.
Others, like Warren, are further along.
Consultants have helped her apply for business insurance and linked her up with an accountant.
She’s also receiving guidance on logistics and price points.
“I’ve got excellent advice from folks at the incubator so far,” Warren said. “So far, so good.”
Marvin Price, 43, has had a similar trajectory.
Price began tinkering with carpentry two years ago, making items like wooden boxes, ornaments and lazy Susans for friends and family members after punching out from his job as a service technician for a cable company.
The hobby lit a fuse he ultimately hopes will ignite into a full-fledged business.
Right now, Tara Incubator is helping with small stuff like establishing an online presence and linking him to ecommerce websites.
He’s also zeroing in on a formal name: Marvin Price Designs.
Baby steps. And after establishing that online presence, he aims to slowly start building an inventory instead of crafting items on an on-demand basis.
“Eventually I want to start making bigger projects like benches and tables,” Price said.
Waheed is clear-eyed about the Tara Incubator's challenges, and doesn’t see the effort as a sure bet to rocket folks to instant success.
But it’s a start.
“I just want to openly and transparently share my personal experiences and journey,” Waheed said. “And if that could help one person or two, I would feel incredibly lucky.”
For Warren, the future seems bright.
With Tara Incubator’s encouragement, she’s already eying a name and logo change (Coming up: Auntie Sabrina’s Handmade Beauty) and a new soap concept, one incorporating a “tree of life” symbol inlaid with a simple saying:
Life is good.
“In the future, I would like it to be successful enough to work as a nurse part-time,” Warren said, “and continue to make great products people fall in love with and keep using.”