Women entrepreneurs in spotlight at Harambee festival


Sheena Backas is a Tallahassee entrepreneur who has been in business since 2008. She makes affordable, natural products using quality ingredients.

“Everything that I use is handmade by myself and my daughter. The ingredients that we use are 100 percent oils and essential oils, and they are also therapeutic. The reason that I use therapeutic grade oils is so that in addition to the topical care that they provide it also provides internal care through your skin absorbing the essential oils,” Backas said.

Backas was one of about two dozen vendors at Cascades Park on Saturday for the annual Harambee festival, a celebration of African American culture.

Most of the vendors, like Backas, were women. There were also food stands and music on a sun-splashed afternoon.

Backas said that the driving force for her is connecting with her customers and seeing the impact her natural products can have. She has inspired others to start their own business, she said.

“Being an entrepreneur is really empowering. It’s empowering to other people too when they see it. A lot of time people think an entrepreneur means you have to have a lot of money to get started, when really the best businesses and the most long lasting businesses that are started by entrepreneurs started with very little, especially natural products,” Backas said.

Many times experiences that we face throughout our lives are what compel us to make a positive change. L’Oreal Major, a broadcast journalism student at FAMU, last year began  her business, The Year of The Melanin, to empower African Americans regardless of the negative imagery that’s projected upon them.

“Seeing negative images of us on television being shot down and the justice system not doing anything, I felt like it was nothing for black people that was of a positive influence. I decided to start a tote bag line, The Year Of The Melanin,” Major said.

Major said the feeling that she receives when individuals are receptive and supportive to the message that she wants to project with her business.

“I feel very overwhelmed but appreciative and that’s where the overwhelming feeling comes in. For me it’s me doing something that I love, so to actually see people receive it with open arms and a lot of positivity it makes me feel like I’m on the right track and doing something great,” she said.

Janelle Edwards, a jewelry designer, created her first pair of earrings in December 2004. She has been a businesswoman since 2006. She enjoys being an entrepreneur because it allows her to take pride in a community of like-minded individuals.

“Being an entrepreneur is like being a part of a family, especially being a vendor, because it’s a group of people that you see on a pretty consistent basis, and it just feels like a lot of support and love. Personally being able to set my hours and do something I love means a lot to me,” Edwards said.

Edwards believes that anyone is capable of running an effective business, it just takes time, dedication and the will power to create goods that will remain up to par for a lifetime.

“Try your best to start small, you don’t want to overextend yourself right off by putting out a lot of money and time because it’s easy to get disappointed that way. Secondly don’t give up. It’s not always going to seem like it’s working but if you want to do it, it’s going to work,” she said.