It started with an online rant. Gabby Goodwin's mom, Rozalynn, was fed up over all the time and money she was spending on barrettes for her daughter's hair.
"My mom would spend 15 or 20 minutes doing my hair in the mornings, drop me off at school and I would look all pretty and nice," Gabby recalls. "Then she would pick me up and find that half of my bows were gone and that my hair was a complete mess."
In pursuing this "science project" to engineer a more reliable barrette, Rozalynn and Gabby surveyed other frustrated parents and kids to understand the pain points. Gabby field-tested dozens of barrettes to explore what worked, what failed and why.
The initial funding was also entirely self-directed. Rozalynn and her husband dipped into their retirement accounts, crowdsourced investment, applied for grants and pitched the business in countless competitions.
"While we had great credit and good banking relationships, we still were not able to get serious business funding from banks," says Rozalynn.
This is an all-too-common obstacle for Black business owners. Citi points to data which finds that Black-owned businesses "are the most likely to apply for bank financing, but get turned down at twice the rate as white business owners. This financing gap is especially pronounced in the start-up world, where studies show that Black entrepreneurs receive only 3% of venture capital funding."
"We started off with a big bank and they just thought Gabby was cute," says Rozalynn. "They didn't take us seriously."
But then a business pitch competition (one of many where, Rozalynn is quick to point out, Gabby crushed it) led them to Dom Mjartan, president and CEO of Optus Bank, a local Minority Depository Institution (MDI).
MDIs like Optus have deep community roots and a mission to not just finance Black businesses, but also to develop long-term growth opportunities for individuals and the community.
"Our theory of change is based on closing the racial wealth gap through entrepreneurship, homegrown home-ownership and savings and assets," says Mjartan. "We do it by delivering high-impact, relationship-oriented banking services to entrepreneurs."
Optus' mission-driven approach was a point of difference that Rozalynn and Gabby felt immediately. "No one had ever said anything like that to me before — I was like wow, I feel seen, I feel heard," recalls Rozalynn. "He was so upfront about, listen, this is why we are here. We are here to help Black-owned businesses and he said specifically 'Black women-owned businesses like yours.'"
The relationship proved beneficial for both sides. "I'm super proud to have had a small hand in really helping someone maximize the potential that they already had," Mjartan says. "All they needed was someone who took a little bit of extra interest. And, in Gabby's case, look beyond the age. It's an amazing story, and both Rozalynn and Gabby continue to inspire me to move Optus Bank forward every day."
Just as Confidence by Gabby Goodwin found a champion in Optus, the bank also had a financial ally in its corner. In 2020, Citi launched its Action for Racial Equity initiative to help close the racial wealth gap in the United States. Along with other Black-owned banks across the country, Optus is a key part of this strategic approach to increase economic mobility.
Working with Citi has provided Optus with the enhanced operational resources and financing that enables it to focus on offering the critical support required to put emerging business owners on track for success.
"Part of this challenge is that simple access to capital is not the solution," says Mjartan. "Access to human capital and social capital is what takes an entrepreneur from a likelihood of failure to a likelihood of success. So how do we prepare them? We spend time with them."
Time spent preparing and building relationships with Optus paid off for the Goodwins. "We were trying to get a Small Business Association (SBA) loan," says Rozalynn. "And when we had that meeting with Dom, he connected us to the Business Development Center (BDC), which actually administers SBA loans. Everything just started rolling from there."
That milestone enabled the Goodwins to triple their revenue in short order. "We had the cash flow to invest in the operations, and the team and everything that we needed to grow and not remain stagnant," says Rozalynn. "It made all the difference."
Today their business continues to grow, along with the confidence Rozalynn was determined to nurture in her daughter. They've expanded their product line and built out an online community that supports caregivers and kids while celebrating natural hair.
Gabby, with the focus of a seasoned entrepreneur, sums it all up: "With these barrettes, a full line of plant-based hair care products, our girls' salon, a retail store and other solutions, we are able to remove stress from the hair styling process so that moms, dads and girls can bond over hair care."
Watch the video above for the full story of how Citi and Optus Bank are partnering with the next generation of Black entrepreneurs.
The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.