Adventist Postgrad Creates Entrepreneur Network

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Published:
May 25, 2018

Joanne Louis, who is studying toward a Master's at Georgetown, and who already has a background in finance, is building an online network of Adventist entrepreneurs to support and promote each other's businesses. Her Instagram page has 3,000 followers, and she plans to launch a series of online courses soon.

Question: You have started an organization called Adventist Entrepreneurs to promote Adventist-owned businesses. You have said that you were inspired to start Adventist Entrepreneurs when you were looking for a hairstylist, and wanted to support a local Adventist salon, but didn’t know where to go. Did you find a hairstylist?

Answer: I did. It was someone in my church who I knew had a business, but I didn’t know where to find him or how to contact him.

You have a new website: www.adventistentrepreneurs.com. Are you listing Adventist entrepreneurs? Do you have a directory? What do businesses have to do to be listed?

We are currently building a listing of businesses which will be available soon. Right now, we are encouraging businesses to submit their details via our online form.

Entrepreneurs also take advantage of our main page and social hub on Instagram — where people go to get inspired, support Adventist businesses, network, and promote their brands and businesses on a large social platform. On the Adventist Entrepreneurs Instagram page, I feature multiple businesses at multiple times per day. Each post includes a description of the business, location, contact information, and the church they attend.

Instagram is one of the fastest growing online platforms for business, so I leverage the popularity by creating a space where followers can interact with each other and talk about business-related matters.The Adventist Entrepreneurs page has grown to almost 3,000 engaged followers.

I studied entrepreneurship in school, so many of my friends have started businesses. I can always go to my friends from school when I need business advice, but other people may not have that type of support. I wanted to create an ongoing, supportive, and interactive community.

I also wanted to get to know my fellow church members better. We spend one day a week in church together, but then we go back to our “real” lives from Monday to Friday. We should offer and support each other more.

What kinds of businesses do you feature?

Free of charge, we post the "traditional” businesses such as ministries, law firm owners, and dental practices; but we also promote and celebrate the young hair stylists, makeup artists, fitness coaches, and fashion designers that are in our community.

What feedback on the site have you received so far? Do you have any stories of connections that have been made?

Followers are always sharing their love and support for Adventist Entrepreneurs which is motivating and also assures me that the platform is fulfilling a need.

One person in Montreal said that she has now been able to connect with Adventists in her neighborhood and city she never knew owned businesses.

We have many examples of people supporting other businesses and making connections. We featured a couple who make sorrel, a traditional Caribbean drink, and now many people are planning to buy from them. We’ve also interacted with people in a lot of different countries; followers in South Africa have asked me to come and do a conference with their young people.

When you say “we,” who do you mean? Do you have a team?

I guess I mean myself and the Lord! It is really just me running Adventist Entrepreneurs, but it’s so much larger than me! I want people to focus on the network, not on me. Some people have offered to post and help out, so thankfully I will have some assistance coming soon.

Tell us about what you are doing right now, besides Adventist Entrepreneurs.

I am studying full time, earning a Master's in corporate communications from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I also have my own consulting business that provides business writing services to entrepreneurs and professionals.

I believe you plan to offer online courses through Adventist Entrepreneurs. How will that work?

The online courses will give entrepreneurs the tools to grow their businesses in a practical way. I really want people in the community to see results. It will be a series of courses that take students through the life cycle of an entrepreneur: starting with a business plan, then learning to increase sales, marketing, social media, advertising, fundraising, and so on.

I’ve thought about a conference, but I don’t think our community needs another conference in order to get the results they want to see. With the courses, people can invest $100+ rather than $600 for flight and hotel. Courses would be more affordable and would include an online community for support. Nevertheless, we value networking and will host some events in the near future.

The courses will be ready as soon as this autumn.

Are you earning any money from Adventist Entrepreneurs? How do you cover costs?

This happened so organically that I am still building out the business model. Right now I post for free, but I have had paid advertising when someone asks for something really specific.

Some revenue will also come from the courses. Right now there are no major costs.

Well, there is your time.

Yes! I have been very intentional about how I use my time, and I keep a tight and organized schedule. Of course, the things you love you are willing to do for free. I love connecting with people and helping them achieve their goals. I feel like God really put this idea here, so I trust Him to work everything out.

What has been the best thing for you about working on this project?

The space to talk about God and business together has been really amazing for me. I was born and raised in the church, and I always saw them as two separate things. After church, I continued with my life as a businessperson and entrepreneur. Now, I share a space with like-minded individuals where we can discuss how scripture encourages us to be entrepreneurial, among many other things. Jesus had multiple skills, including carpentry.

God wants us to use our talents to change the world. We can’t do that in our churches alone. Business and entrepreneurship is a way to bring Jesus to people. I love that synergy where these things come together. I love helping people from a business standpoint, but also sharing the Gospel.

What has been the hardest or most challenging thing about Adventist Entrepreneurs so far?

Time. It’s a large project, and as it grows, the responsibility grows as well. I am in finals week, but I have to strategically plan the next few weeks. Consistency is important.

What long-term goals do you have for Adventist Entrepreneurs?

Long term, I hope to see more entrepreneurial courses taught in our Adventist schools. I was an 18-year-old girl who grew up in a low-income home. I was first exposed to entrepreneurship as part of the foundational freshman-year curriculum at my alma mater, Babson College, when the school gave us $3,000 to start a business. Throughout the semester, we worked with professors and our classmates to manufacture and sell our products.

I learned to take risks, fail, succeed, and repeat. I then went on to learn accounting, finance, and business law throughout the four years, but that entrepreneurial thought and action mindset completely changed my life, my thinking, and my future. Entrepreneurship teaches beyond starting a business; entrepreneurship is identifying issues and creating solutions to do something about those issues.

In these critical times in our world, we need more problem solvers. Our young people could use entrepreneurship to be a voice and a change agent.

I believe you have participated in some social entrepreneurship projects outside the U.S. Can you tell us about those?

My first entrepreneurial teaching trip was to Cape Coast, Ghana, where I taught 21- to 25-year-olds the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship. During my time in Ghana, there was a city-wide business plan competition. The students from my school won second place for their idea: a sustainable wallet that they designed using waste that they collected from their neighborhoods. I was so proud of them.

In India, I started a project (together with designers from a school in Boston) trying to solve a problem experienced by rickshaw drivers in Delhi. The drivers had to drive to provide for their families, but they had a lot of medical issues as a result of the poorly designed bikes/rickshaws. My team created a new ergonomic rickshaw, and I was responsible for negotiating with suppliers in India, creating a business model, and putting together a plan that was sustainable and affordable for the pullers. I went to India for three weeks to test the rickshaws and make further negotiations. When we presented them to the pullers, they loved them. We were able to make adjustments right there, on-site. It was great to be able to work on a social entrepreneurship project and see how happy the users were.

I also visited Israel on a more education-based trip. Israel is a very entrepreneurial and technologically-advanced country, so I learned a lot about their strategies and innovations.

And what other previous jobs have you held?

I was born and raised in Boston and went to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Straight out of college, I worked at Bloomberg L.P. Financial Services in New York as an analyst, then I worked at UBS Asset Management in a similar role. After over three years in New York, I moved to D.C. so I could attend Georgetown.

What church home have you found in your new town?

I’ve been attending Capitol Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in D.C., and it’s amazing. I really feel at home there.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.

Photo courtesy of Joanne Louis.

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