Gwen Jimmere is a standout founder in Detroit’s burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem. The visionary chief exec of Naturalicious has everything it takes to turn her patented natural hair care product into a multi-million dollar global brand.
Earlier this year her startup completed the inaugural Backstage Detroit accelerator, part of a wider global program. Jimmere says her experience with Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in underestimated founders, has truly accelerated her brand. She’s certain that what her team achieved in the intensive 3-month cohort would have taken a year or more without the support of Backstage. One such example was moving operations from a thousand square foot facility to a four thousand square foot facility. She also gained support from her inaugural cohort members, hiring two people full-time through their recommendations.
Backstage Detroit gave all seven participating companies a $100,000 investment in exchange for 5% equity. That money went towards buying equipment to level up production, says Jimmere. But the experience also delivered an even greater value in mindset. “When you’re in an accelerator like Backstage, it really forces you to think differently and think bigger,” she says.
Moving to Detroit, Michigan, from Cleveland, Ohio, several years ago, Jimmere has built her company from the ground up in the ‘Motor City’. It’s also where she’s experienced other life-changing experiences, including buying her first home and the birth of her son, Caiden, just before she launched her hair care product in 2013.
Jimmere extends the same fierce love for her son to the city, calling herself “the Detroit defender.” She’s even had a stint working for Ford and says at the time bankruptcy was big news all around the country.
Still, she says the Detroit she loves is much different. She believes the media gives it a bad rep. “When I go to other cities, the media has done a fantastic job of perpetuating this scary place that Detroit is,” she says. “They act like it’s murder capital number one. People think all the buildings are broken down and dilapidated.”
Instead, the city is bustling with activity from many thought leaders and change-makers, she says. The local government is supportive of entrepreneurship, Downtown Detroit has revamped its infrastructure, and the major brands and businesses are here, says Jimmere. And it’s a testament to how the economy is growing in the right direction, she adds.
“I call myself ‘the Detroit defender’ because the media does a great job of telling this bad story about Detroit,” she said. “They’ve done a horrible job of telling the turnaround story. So when I go to places, a lot of times people don’t even know that Detroit is a huge hub for entrepreneurship and that there’s so many opportunities.” She lists them as grant programs, the affordable cost of living, pitch competitions, and low to no-interest loans.
Jimmere has come a long way from starting her company with $32 as a single mom. After losing her job 30 days before her divorce was finalized, she still had an unrelenting belief that there was a bigger plan for her life.
“I saw that time in my life as a step back for a set up for something great,” she says. “I didn’t really know what the greatness was going to be at the time, I just knew that there was no way that God had brought me this far to leave me.”
Six years later, Naturalicious is in over 1,200 retail stores. Consumers can buy products at Ulta, Sally Beauty, and even Whole Foods Market. It’s also available globally. Naturalicious’ entire hair care product line is both natural and gentle while saving consumers up to 80 percent of the average time it takes to wash and style their hair.
Jimmere says she is still grateful family and friends experience her products.“I saw instantly how their whole lives would turn around.,” she said. “Their strut was a little bit different. The way they stood up was a little bit different. They had more confidence.” It brings her pleasure, as well, and satisfaction. And she says she still feels that way when she sees users now say, “Naturalicious has given me confidence in myself. It has changed my life.” She’s continually motivated by the fact that there are still women who wake up in the morning, look at themselves in the mirror, and don’t like what they see.
She concludes, “My whole mission is to create products and give women the education that they need to help them show up as their best selves every single day. I want every woman that I serve to be unapologetically confident in herself and her abilities, and that starts with a foundational element about how you feel about your beauty.”
Main Image: Gwen Jimmere, founder and CEO Naturalicious, Photo Credit: Jacob Lewkow
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