YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, one of William Blair’s Global Community Partners, impacts tens of thousands of women and families annually through comprehensive human services. One of the YWCA’s programs, the Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center, is an accelerator program founded in 2021 to ensure women of color business owners achieve success and prosperity. The Breedlove Accelerator supports later-stage entrepreneurs who are the majority owners of their businesses, have at least two years of experience running their business, and have annual revenues of $100,000-plus that are undercapitalized. With adequate funding and support, the YWCA believes all entrepreneurs can have a catalytic impact on the communities they serve.
Cohort participants develop finance, marketing, sales forecasting, strategy, and brand-building skills, with an end goal to sell, gain more funding, or grow through acquisition. There have been five cohorts since 2021, with the most recent cohort entrepreneurs owning companies ranging from financial services and real estate to haircare, makeup, and food enterprises.
Where Food Dreams Become a Reality
Recent cohort graduate Javon Nicholas, founder and owner of The Flavour Unit and Egg Rolls Etc., grew up with an interest in food and cooking. With over 22 years of culinary experience, she was self-taught by watching cooking shows and memorizing recipes from her collection of over 500 cookbooks.
While always having her passion as her focus, Nicholas set out to get involved in the culinary industry as quickly as possible. After graduating high school at 16-years-old, Nicholas received an associate degree as a dietetic technician and food services director. At 19-years-old, she became a clinical nutritionist for a Veterans Affairs hospital. At 22-years-old, Nicholas learned about food services operations as a restaurant manager before being the official caterer for the Archdiocese of Chicago and interning for the United States Department of Agriculture in Springfield, Illinois.
It was during these early years in her career that Nicholas’ mother unfortunately passed away. After her friends encouraged her to apply for a scholarship to study abroad, Nicholas found herself in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. After a hostel owner showed Nicholas kindness while she battled homesickness and grief, she realized she wanted to extend that same comfort to others. Nicholas decided she wanted to create something meaningful in the form of comfort food: eggrolls.
“My product line is all about the feeling of comfort,” Nicholas said. “Specialty egg rolls are a trend we’re seeing more and more, and it’s what consumers want. They want heritage, culture, and unique experiences when it comes to taste. We all want to eat something that tastes like it has a story.”
The Flavour Unit Corporation, the parent company of Egg Rolls Etc., hopes to become a semi-shared industry-compliant food manufacturing facility for small established food producers. This facility will offer investment opportunities in real estate, unique franchises, and retail and wholesale distributions.
Nicholas met Cheryl Hudson-Jackson, YWCA’s director of franchise and business enterprise, while promoting her cookbook, “Legacy Kitchen 1219,” and participating in a cooking demonstration. Hudson-Jackson took Nicholas’ information and reached out to encourage her to apply for the next Breedlove cohort.
“I was nervous at first because a lot of the other entrepreneurs were well established,” Nicholas said, “but I found comfort in seeing that we all had something in common, like being the same ethnicity and having similar backgrounds within our entrepreneurial journeys. The Breedlove program gave us time to focus on the bigger picture of our businesses, as well as our mental health and create strong business growth plans to take our businesses to new heights.”
William Blair’s Capital Collective Program
Having that dedicated space for entrepreneurs to expand upon and perfect their skills is exactly what drew William Blair’s Investment Banking Crystal Flick, director, Private Capital Markets, to volunteer with the Breedlove Accelerator. Participating in the last two cohort programs, Flick supports participants by sharing what they need to know as they’re looking to access capital in the market, find investors, create pitchbooks, and understand key metrics investors care about.
Flick participates in the Capital Collective, a William Blair wealth-building initiative to facilitate wealth mobility and access to capital for emerging wealth earners and female entrepreneurs.
To Flick, the program uniquely connects women of color, allowing them to build new networks and create integral support systems. There’s a benefit participants get from having peers going through shared experiences as entrepreneurs.
“We’ve seen how women of color may have a harder time finding those peers than other entrepreneurs because they are fewer and farther between,” Flick said. “Those networks are much harder to develop, but their Breedlove cohort provides those connections. It shows participants they are not alone, and other women like them are finding success.”
Flick also believes volunteering with the Breedlove Accelerator has made her a better banker.
“Because of the partnership between William Blair and the YWCA,” Flick said, “these women have access to us as professionals. It’s exciting for me to provide the expertise I’d normally give to a client. Working with these women has allowed me to stretch my own skillset and diversify my experience as an advisor—they have different challenges and ask different types of questions.”
Where Their Goods and Services Are Coming From
Flick further explained that consumers are much more conscious of where their goods and services come from than ever before.
People want to see hard workers succeed,” Flick said. “They want to understand the business’ backstory. They want to see small business owners be positively impacted.
“Many of these products are the blood, sweat, and tears of an individual. With Javon’s eggrolls, they’re made with real love and passion for the product and success of the business. And people can tell that when they eat them.”
“Consumers are becoming more socially conscious and values-driven in their purchases,” said William Blair Director of Community Engagement Nancy Bonges. “With only 2% of venture capital funding going to women founders, we face an opportunity for greater impact. By investing in entrepreneurs like those in Breedlove, we accelerate prosperity in their local communities where their businesses provide products, services, and employment. This is why William Blair is proud of the Capital Collective, our partnership with our Global Community Partners, and doing good with what we’re good at doing.”
Nicholas explained that by consistently engaging through pop-ups, food markets, culinary workshops, and festivals, she can get direct feedback from consumers on what they’re seeking.
“It’s about consistently engaging with your communities to study consumer trends best,” Nicholas said. “Right now, a lot of customers are passionate about plant-based foods—they want fresh ingredients. Egg Rolls Etc. makes everything in-house, and that’s something we’ve found the consumer wants. It’s all about a variety of flavors, cultural foods, and sustainability as we think about 2024.”
Egg Rolls Etc. is pleased to deliver orders in the Chicago area, as well as sell products in select retailers. To learn more about The Flavour Unit Corporation or Nicholas’ wide variety of products, please visit EggRollsEtc.com for additional information.