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Three POC Entrepreneurs Discuss Blasting Past Their Startup Fears

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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Cynthia Daniels, Kayla Rodriguez Graff, and Porter Braswell

Starting a business isn’t for the faint of heart. Stories about companies that are runaway successes can be thrilling to read, but the fact is, even the most essential concept can struggle to find its footing. There’s money to raise, money to save, regulations that might need compliance, staffing, marketing, and more. Self-doubt can creep into the hardiest entrepreneur’s mind.

Learning how to move past that doubt and other hardships is necessary for any entrepreneur (or working person, for that matter!). Ahead, three founders share how they got over their own biggest fears to keep moving toward success.

Porter Braswell, CEO, Jopwell

My Biggest Fear: “Not getting the ‘approval’ from my parents. It was a terrifying thing to go against their wishes. They wanted me to stay at Goldman Sachs instead of starting my own business. That was the most difficult thing to overcome.”

How I Moved Forward: “It took me a year to build the confidence to leave my job. As a result of that thoughtful planning and consideration, I was 100% ready to take the leap. By the time I left, I had money saved, a clear vision, and an amazing cofounder in Ryan. Once we started the company, we were laser-focused on working on things that were in our control and as a result, we found early success.”

Cynthia Daniels, Founder of Memphis Black Restaurant Week

My Biggest Fear: “I never considered becoming an entrepreneur until I moved to Memphis. I noticed a gap in the community when it came to awareness around minority-owned eateries. The relationships I made with business owners empowered me to launch Memphis Black Restaurant Week. But with that, came a lot of fear — fear around whether my business would be sustainable and viable. Would my business solve a problem? I also feared that starting a business in a new city might not work because I didn't have a team in the beginning.”

How I Moved Forward: “Ultimately, I was able to overcome that fear by holding onto the WHY behind starting out and remaining steadfast in my experience, which gave me confidence to forge ahead. With an events and marketing background, I trusted that my experience and passion were enough. I knew I was solving a problem by generating awareness of local minority-owned eateries, giving a boost of more than $85,000 in sales to restaurants and creating jobs during its inaugural year.”

“It’s completely normal to have fears as an aspiring entrepreneur. The key is using that fear to harness a dogged commitment to your purpose. I’ve seen the impact a lack of marketing capital has had on black-owned restaurants and leaned into a solution that would generate awareness while celebrating our rich food and beverage traditions.”

Kayla Rodriguez Graff, Cofounder & CEO of SweetBio

My Biggest Fear: “Starting a company really brings up fear in all facets of your life. Before I launched SweetBio, I was living in San Francisco — I had moved there because it was the startup capital of the world. While I had always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, I never quite had the right idea until my brother approached me with a technology he had developed at the University of Memphis that used honey in wound healing. I would never have imagined that I would start a medical device company after having worked at Target’s corporate headquarters for six years, so I was nervous but excited about the potential. Shortly after, I had the opportunity to move to Memphis, TN to launch the company — but there was so much I was afraid of. I had just relocated with my boyfriend to San Francisco. Should I really move out of the country’s startup hub when everyone else was doing the opposite? Would it be detrimental to my career if I failed and had to start over? I was also scared to start a family as an entrepreneur. I had never seen a Hispanic woman who had successfully started a company and also had a family. I was afraid that my dream of being a founder would delay all my other dreams.”

How I Moved Forward: “I knew I could either let these fears overtake me and cause inaction or I could process them — so I processed them. I thought about what my family before me had done. My grandmothers came from Puerto Rico without much in their pockets and with a passion to build better lives for their families. They truly risked it all for me to live my dreams. If I let fear hold me back, I would be doing my family a disservice. I saw my family sacrifice so much and see it as my responsibility as the next generation to honor that sacrifice and do so much more.”

“I moved to Memphis to start SweetBio in 2015, and due to immense support, we raised $3 million, 95% of which came from investors in Memphis! In 2016, I married my best friend and in 2017, we had our son, Maddox. Being a mom and an entrepreneur became a cornerstone and a stamp for me. Taking that leap to pursue my dreams and overcome my fears showed me that my community wouldn’t let me fail. There are incredible entrepreneurial and medical ecosystems here in Memphis, which has been huge for us as an innovative medical device company. We also see it as our responsibility to pay it forward for our city. While it may be terrifying to face your fears — to lunge into the unknown and try something new — it is equally as rewarding and fulfilling. I hope that our story can be an inspiration for the next generation.”

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