Jennifer Pierre MSEL’16: Female Founder Stories (Part 5)
Jennifer Pierre, MSEL’16, is the founder of Melanites, a company on a mission to inspire children of color to be thinkers, doers, makers, and performers. I got to know Jennifer through the 2016 Summer Venture Program and am thrilled to see the traction that Melanites has gained since! Learn more about her story below.
Tell me about Melanites.
Melanites is a multimedia company that designs diverse toys, storybooks, and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Our mission is to inspire children of color to dream big, stand tall, and live out their childhood.
What inspired you to start Melanites?
During my senior year at the University of Miami, I volunteered as a mentor at the South Miami Community Center. My “lightbulb” moment was when I asked local kids what they wanted to be when they grew up and realized that they were limiting themselves to what they saw on TV or in pop culture. I wanted to inspire them to dream big.
Who is your role model and why?
My parents. I was born in Haiti and my family moved to the U.S. when I was three. My parents worked hard to give me the opportunities I’ve had. They inspire me to never let obstacles stop me and to know I can do anything I put my mind to.
I’m also inspired by other creators of color across industries like Issa Rae and Ryan Coogler. Their unapologetic storytelling continue to break records while campaigning for people of color.
What motivates you?
The other day, my mentor helped me build a “Wall of Why,” covered with emails from parents and pictures of kids with their Melanites storybooks and action pals. This wall inspires me and is a reminder that my company is impacting lives.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received? What is the worst?
The best advice I’ve received is to not hesitate to tap into my network with calls to action. I have found that connections can be more valuable than currency and my company and impact has grown with this philosophy.
The worst suggestion someone has given me was to change Melanites’ mission from “celebrating brown boyhood” to “celebrating all boyhood.” When you have a mission, don’t take everyone’s suggestions because doing so will remove the story and the “why” from what you’re doing.
What has been your greatest entrepreneurial achievement?
I feel accomplished every time someone outside my network recognizes me for the work I am doing. In 2016, I was featured in Babson Magazine, which was my first time in print. In 2017, I was a guest on the Harry Show, which was my first time on a national platform. I was also recently a speaker at Newco Miami’s conference. Whenever I achieve something new, it’s special to me.
What has been your greatest challenge and what lessons did you take from it?
Trying to wear all the hats as a single founder. In the beginning, I thought I had to do everything: social media, sales, accounting, and more. I thought I was hustling, but sometimes being busy doesn’t mean being productive. You need a team to accomplish your goals. Two brains are stronger than one!
What tips do you have for future female founders?
Find a tribe of like-minded people in your industry. They’ll be your backbone. I participated in the WIN Lab at Babson, and my cohort still keeps in touch. It’s important to have a strong network when you are unsure what to do. I was also part of the 2016 Summer Venture Program, which provided another group that has rallied behind me. It’s also important to have mentors. Throughout the formation of Melanites, I’ve had different mentors at various stages to provide guidance and perspective. I would not have made it here without people in my corner.
To see more of Melanites, follow them @brownboyhood on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter.