Our community of brands and Highlighters makes Highlight what we are today. Every month, we give back to our community by offering pro bono work for value-aligned brands we believe in.
In February, in honor of Black History Month, Highlight was honored to celebrate a selection of amazing black-owned brands driving innovation and positive change. We wanted to do our part by providing these founders with the data to enable continued success. We hope in Highlighting these amazing brands and founders, we can continue to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in product research.
Now, let's get into a deep dive with a few of those great brands! With backgrounds ranging from culinary arts and food sciences to law enforcement, these founders are changing the game. Whether you are interested in trying West African cuisine, gluten free treats, or a drink made from avocado seeds - they are definitely worth checking out!
Meet the founder Lisa Marsh!
It comes from wanting to see people eat better, more natural foods that nourish the body and bring about positive change. Foods that allow us to take care of our health, move more, and give us the ability to see our grand children’s children.
My truth is how segregated the retail space has become. I do not meet many large brand name entrepreneurs, who look like me, that still own and maintain their own brands. I am not blaming anyone for this, it was just very surprising and then how challenging it has been to scale and move the needle on the business. I always thought those individuals who have products on shelves had it made and were all millionaires or at least thousand-airs. There are still months that we can barely make payroll, pay our bills, and still have a little leftover to say we generated some positive revenue. In business, positive revenue is everything so I see why others give up and just stop!
1. I believe that God has a plan for my life which directly involves MsPsGFree, and that He gave me this vision and will be with me all the way through, no matter where that leads. I have fully committed to this dream placed in my heart by God, knowing that he is my provider, and that I can do all things through him who sustains me.
2. That growing this company will allow our family to overcome many generational curses that we have carried generation after generation, I have been called to break the curse.
3. People need delicious, nutritious and healthy gluten free snack foods that have less sugar, tastes great, and helps to lift us, to make us feel better, to have us move more, enjoy life, and provide us with longevity. We are making the gluten-free world a tastier and healthier place, and inviting others along for the ride.
4. I LOVE what I do, it is challenging sometimes, especially when I look at the balance sheet and continue to see negative numbers, or something burns, or we run out of ingredients and can’t order any since the distributor is also out….but when I see the look on children’s eyes when they taste our products, when they have looked for great tasting gluten-free to no avail and finally stumble upon our company, or when I get a call that asks where people can find our products because they NEED it.
Meet the founders Zuri Masud & Sheetal Bahirat!
Sheetal: It started at Drexel University. We were doing our masters there, both of us related to food. And both of us were interested in sustainability. The idea came when we made a big bowl of guacamole and then it was just like, oh, we have so much waste left. What does everyone do with this waste? Then it just kind of started out more just like curiosity, and questions. Realizing that we throw away 95% of the antioxidants in an avocado. The antioxidants are very similar to those that you find in tea, so we were like, okay, so maybe we can make something out of it. Then we went on to taste testing the product and taking it to events and getting people to give us feedback. By the time we graduated, Zuri was like watching me do a lot of this stuff from afar. And she was came to me and said, Listen, I'm really interested in sustainability, I love what you're doing, and I'd love to join forces with you. So then she joined me, and then it became an official company.
Zuri: I didn't necessarily enter the space like knowing that I wanted to. But I think that research and development is something that's always been super interesting to me. Upcycling specifically offers a really unique experience and opportunity for that because you're dealing with that people look at as trash. So it really gives you the opportunity to come up with creative and useful ways to try and use them.
Zuri: I mean it's it's not even so much about finding our space in the sustainable world, it is finding our space in the business world. Doing what we're doing and being women, I think there's just a lot of back and forward movement. This was a very new experience for both of us so there were things that we kind of learned on the go. Specifically with our products, making an upcycled drink was a new space but also using avocado seeds. We're using a product that really no one else is using so we had to create our own supply chain and there are still sometimes struggles with trying to source avocado seeds from from restaurants and other places. Sometimes they think that we're asking about getting the whole avocado or just anything but the seed pretty much. Everything is a learning experience even like going into production figuring out how we were going to formulate our products, figuring out a space that would allow us in a manufacturing facility to stick all these seeds into a into a large pot. This is all information that everyone is learning for the first time because we're working with an ingredient that hasn't been used before.
Sheetal: I think one of the things that I feel like both Zuri I did face a lot, and we still continue to face is that we've have a lot of advisors or people that, you know, they say that they want to help, but the way that they speak to us, it makes us feel like they're trying to give us the message that we can't do it without them. In the beginning, we actually had this thought like okay, maybe we can't do it without them. Then we started to realize that a lot of those relationships didn't actually come to fruition and we made it anyway. So I would just say, don't let anybody ever doubt your ability and what you can do. Just because somebody has contacts or has a network doesn't mean that you can't build one yourself. I think that as women, people are much more excited to help you especially other women, they are on your side and they want you to succeed. That's something that we've noticed a lot is that they're more eager to help you and to give you directions and give you introductions, which is great. It might take you longer to get there, but you'll get there on your own and don't ever let anybody make you feel like you can't do it on your own.
Meet the founders Pierre Thiam & Philip Teverow!
My partner Pierre Thiam is one of the world’s leading African chefs and cookbook authors. He found it hard to share his culture when the key ingredients were not available. He recognized that if he could bring his region’s nutritious and delicious ingredients to a wider audience, subsistence farmers back home in the West African Sahel might find a way to earn a livelihood from sustainable agriculture. When I heard Pierre talk about the ancient grain fonio (drought tolerant, gluten-free, fairly densely nutritious, and cooks up beautifully like couscous in five minutes), I knew the business proposition was valid, I could help him achieve it (I imported quinoa to the US in the 1980’s), and this was finally a way to put my skills to good use. We became partners in 2017.
I come from a family of enthusiastic cooks. Almost every job I’ve ever had, beginning under-age and off-the-books, was in food. After graduating college and trying my hand as an anthropologist, I came back home knowing that academia was not for me, but the food business was.
The biggest surprise has been the degree to which we’ve needed to get involved in the supply chain. We’re building processing capacity in Mali and performing crop trials in conflict zones.