Author Archives: infantree

The Metamorphosis of Melanin Essentials

It can take a caterpillar a little over a month to turn into a butterfly. If only all our business ideas transformed that quickly into successful businesses. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, but that’s okay because who wants short-lived business success anyway?

I remember when Melanin Essentials was just a dream. It was year 2014, and I was fresh out of college, living at home with my parents and editing photos on my laptop. My best friend, Olayinka, called me and said,

“Hey, this might sound crazy, but let’s start a business. I think we should start our own organic personal care product line. Now, before you say no, hear me out …you already make your own toothpaste and deodorant, and I make hair products, so we kind’ve already do it, but just for ourselves. We might as well sell it to other people and make money while doing it. Whatcha say?”

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “okay.”

“Seriously?!” she questioned in excitement.

I simply responded, “yeah.”

And just like that we ventured on our journey to become a successful business. Fast forward two years later, we found ourselves eagerly sitting in on the Spark Sessions in the lead up to the Great Social Enterprise Pitch application deadline, brainstorming our business idea with other aspiring entrepreneurs and even established business owners who were seeking to make an influential community change through their businesses. I was front and center munching on my raspberry fig bar, and Olayinka was slowly pacing in the back of the room with her then 6-month-old baby girl strapped in a sling attentively listening and taking mental notes. Nobody knew it (not even us), but those two young, college graduates were soaking in all the information shared in those sessions to become 2016’s first place winners of The Great Social Enterprise Pitch! Say what? Yeah, it still gets me too, but it’s true.

Those sessions (as well as whole program in its entirety) were so key to our success. No, but seriously though. I mean we started as BirdOrganics – organic personal care products for women. Pretty blah. However, the facilitators of the Pitch as well as our fellow competitors kept pushing and poking at our idea saying,

“You’re almost there but not quite.”

Ugh we’d think and head back to the drawing board. Then, one day, the stars magically aligned, and a light bulb went off in our heads. We went to the next Pitch class presentation anxious and ready to kick some derrière, but not as BirdOrganics. We were Melanin Essentials – ethically-produced personal care products for women of color made by single moms. Bam! Our idea had transformed from something “ehh” to something amazing! People were excited that we finally took the leap that we were once afraid to because we didn’t want to come off as “exclusive”. But that’s all thanks to our facilitators, fellow competitors, and wonderful husbands who pushed us along through this process. And it all started with an Info Session – well Spark Session for us, which is the phase after the Info Session, but you get the point. So, if you want in on the magic, you’d better save the date(s) now. You don’t have to attend them all, but we did. 😉

A few dates to keep in mind:

Pitch Information Session: Wednesday, March 15; 6 – 8 PM at ASSETS

Spark Session #1: Thursday, March 23; 6 – 8 PM at ASSET

Spark Session #2: Saturday, April 1; 1-3 PM at ASSET

Spark Session #3: Wednesday, April 5; 6 – 8 PM at Tec Centr

Application Due Date: Monday, April 10; midnight

10 Participants Chosen/Announcement made: Monday, April 24; by 5 PM

It’s A Wrap!

The 2016 Great Social Enterprise Pitch ended with a bang!  After a life-time of dreaming, 4 months of intense training and business model development, 3 weeks of crowdfunding, and countless hours spent perfecting their pitches, the five finalists pitched their social enterprise ideas to a prestigious panel of judges at a sold-out Ware Center in downtown Lancaster.  Not only did the crowd hear from these 5 entrepreneurs, but they were also inspired by Matt Stinchcomb, Executive Director of, to transform the way that they think about business.

Congratulations to Melanin Essentials, who took home the top prize.  

A full list of results is as follows:

First Place
Melanin Essentials — $7,500 Cash Prize and $11,345 in pro-bono services

Second Place
Bootcamp 900 — $5,000 Cash Prize and $6,775 in pro-bono services

Third Place
Five Loaves Food Company — $2,500 Cash Prize and $3,075 in pro-bono services

Fourth Place
Sophie Stargazer Boutique — $1,000 Cash Prize and $1,775 in pro-bono services

Fifth Place
WIN Workplace Solutions — $500 Cash Prize and $425 in pro-bono services

Audience Vote
Bootcamp 900 — Audience donations of $640


Thanks to all the wonderful sponsors, judges, and supporters who attended this event!  Also, a huge congratulations to the other participants who have amazing social enterprise ideas, but weren’t selected as a finalist.  Please support these social entrepreneurs as well!

Be on the lookout for applications to enter next year’s competition! Applications will be due Spring 2017!

Announcing The Great Social Enterprise Pitch Finalists for 2016!

After 4 months of intense business plan development and 3 weeks of crowdfunding, the five finalists have finally been selected. Congratulations to these social enterprises!

1. BootCamp900 – A Fitness and Wellness center focused on improving the health of low income communities while providing high quality employment opportunities.

2. 5 Loaves Food Company – Supplying healthy, local food for early childcare facilities.

3. Melanin Essentials – Ethically-produced personal care and beauty products for women of color.

4. Sophie Stargazer Boutique – Ethically-made fashion and gifts for the stylish woman.

5. WIN Workplace Solutions – Workplace solutions for breastfeeding mothers.

Please join us at the Ware Center Friday September 30, 2016 to watch the final Live Pitch during which the ultimate winner of the 2016 Great Social Enterprise Pitch will be chosen!

How Lingerie Can Change the World

Nancy Keeler was a finalist in the 2014 Great Social Enterprise Pitch.  Keeler continues to be an advocate for social enterprise in Lancaster as well as a dedicated volunteer for ASSETS Lancaster. Here, Keeler reflects on her experience bringing her dream to life through Will & Whimsy, in Lancaster City.

 I’m an entrepreneur at heart – always having the desire to create something from nothing. Growing up I was often encouraged to not just do well for myself, but to do good for others.  I’ve learned now that that is called social enterprise.  That is what Will & Whimsy is.  A business that is built to be both profitable and impactful.

In short, Will & Whimsy promotes healthy lifestyles and leisure for women through handcrafted lingerie, loungewear, and specialty goods. (That’s the profit).  It also supports organizations on the front lines of assisting women out of prostitution. (That’s the impact).  I feel we can accomplish this in three ways.

First, Will & Whimsy is an alternative to what is in the market now.  We are a lingerie company that creates products for women by women with every piece made by hand with the goal of making women look good and feel good. Women are more than what is available in most stores. Will & Whimsy allows you to have more options in what you wear, to support causes that are dear to you, and to help change mindsets around womanhood.

Second, as we grow, Will & Whimsy will provide employment opportunities at living wages for women who might not otherwise have access to them.  Realizing that a shift in cultural mindsets will take time, we got antsy and realized we could have a tangible impact on specific people’s lives by providing them with a good salary.  

And, finally, there are a lot of great organizations on the front lines assisting and supporting women transitioning out of prostitution. Studies consistently show that over 80% of people in prostitution would leave if they could. Will & Whimsy promotes healthy lifestyles and freedom for all women, and each quarter we support an organization doing this work with 10% of our profits.

Often people ask me how they can get involved with Will & Whimsy.  The best ways to support Will & Whimsy is to buy our products for yourself and for your loved ones, tell your friends about us in person and online, and subscribe on our website for all the latest products, deals, and information on organizations we support.  Check Will & Whimsy out at

By Nancy Keeler

Why I’m Excited About Social Enterprise

The first 5 years of my career were spent working for an international non-profit which operated very much from the traditional charity mindset. The organization raised funds from wealthy Americans to run child-focused programs, such as schools and orphanages, in poor countries around the world. The needs we met were stark and the work was rewarding. However, as I gained more experience in this field, I began to realize the limitations of this type of intervention. The programs being implemented were addressing the symptoms of enormous problems, rather than the causes of those problems. Also, there simply was not enough donor money to build and run schools for every uneducated child in the world. Assessing these frustrations led me to ask some serious questions. Is there another way beyond the age-old charity model for addressing issues of poverty and injustice? How can I be a part of promoting solutions which had the ability to scale at such a level that the structures of oppression and poverty would be shaken at their core? Finally, is there a way to grow impact without spending all my time seeking more donor dollars?

The search for the answers to these questions led me to Social Enterprise. Lack of economic opportunity is a primary cause of many social issues, therefore, market-based solutions with a clear focus on specific societal problems work from the inside-out in positively impacting these issues. Additionally, while charity dollars are always limited, consumer dollars have create infinite possibilities for growth and scale.

This is not to say that the charity-model is unnecessary, at ASSETS Lancaster, we use donor dollars to subsidize a majority of our educational and lending programs because they would otherwise be too expensive for our target market to access. However, we do strongly believe in creating space for Social Enterprise as a “3rd way” to operate, outside of traditional for-profit/non-profit structures. Our involvement in social enterprise is meant to catalyze excitement and innovation around business ideas which help address some of the stark social and economic problems present in our community. That makes me very excited indeed.

— by Jonathan Coleman the Director of Programs at ASSETS Lancaster

Why I’m Excited About Social Enterprise

There is a two-fold way of looking at social enterprise that really motivates me. One part is the reality that the systems and structures that exist aren’t up to the tasks at hand around social inequality and environmental degradation. The other, more hopeful part is the vast opportunity to employ creative solutions and new approaches inside business and civil society toward meeting those needs in new ways. I’m thrilled that ASSETS and the Lancaster County Community Foundation are have launched The Great Social Enterprise Pitch because Lancaster is a perfect laboratory for this with its deep and successful business history. I’m excited to see what new ideas gain some traction through this process toward a better future!

— by Jessica King the Executive Director at ASSETS Lancaster

Pitch Partner

Benefits include the opportunity to speak at the Live Pitch, logo in all publications regarding the Pitch, mention in media releases, your banner at the event, your logo on the Pitch website, mention on social media and logo on the cover of the event program.