Catapult Program Helping Diverse Business Owners

Catapult is an intensive, seven-month journey designed to help diverse business owners bridge the digital skills gap.

Unoma Okorafor believes that when you’re doing what you love there’s no such thing as failure. And for the Founder and CEO of Herbal Goodness, that belief has proven to be true. The winner of Capital One’s 2019 Catapult Pitch Competition, Unoma impressed the judges with her vision of a digital inventory system that will not only increase revenue for her company, but will provide an additional revenue stream as she plans to commercialize her platform for other small/medium, farm-to-market food and manufacturing businesses. 

One of 10 certified diverse businesses participating in the third cohort of Catapult, Herbal Goodness started in Texas in 2011 when Unoma was looking for organic papaya - the kind she grew up on, fresh from the trees in her native home, Nigeria. She wasn’t able to find what she was looking for and was shocked at the radical difference between the non-GMO papaya she was raised on, and the GMO papaya varieties abundant in the US. 

“I was looking for organic papayas and couldn’t find them anywhere” Unoma said. “I thought, if I’m looking for it, then maybe somebody else is looking for it.” With that insight, she stayed up all night to build a website offering organic papaya products like teas, supplements and smoothies. She went to bed and when she woke up five hours later, she discovered that she already had five orders. Herbal Goodness was born. 

As she worked to build the inventory to supply her demand, Unoma knew that providing organic papaya products wasn’t enough. She wanted to ensure that her products were sustainably sourced using fair trade practices and that she was able to use some of the profits from her company to support the education of girls in Africa. 

Fast forward to 2018, where you’ll find an expanded product line of health and wellness products centered around organic, sustainably sourced tropical fruits, targeted to people who want to use food as medicine rather than medicine as food. Herbal Goodness partners with farmers to ensure their products are certified organic, non-GMO, fair trade and sustainable. Ten percent of the company’s profit goes to support the education of girls across Africa; last year, the company was able to support more than 10,000 girls.

Herbal Goodness sells their products online and in select US retailers, and as you can imagine, they have a lot of inventory. Over time, the business began facing challenges in their inventory management. Work was being done manually across multiple tools, it was difficult to reliably predict what inventory was needed, and there was a complete lack of transparency in the supply chain. There was nothing on the market that met their needs – that’s when Unoma heard about Capital One’s Catapult program and decided to apply.

Developed and facilitated by Capital One’s Supplier Diversity team, in partnership with national diverse-owned business certifying organizations, Catapult is an intensive, seven-month transformational journey designed to help diverse business owners bridge the digital skills gap. Catapult offers participants instructional courses, collaborative thinking workshops, access to one-on-one meetings with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and regular meetings with a dedicated Advisory Board.

Core to the program’s success is how the team leverages the competitive strengths of Capital One – our innovation/technology focus, digital labs, and experienced and talented associates. In fact, Capital One associates teach many of the program’s instructional courses, conduct SME sessions, and sit on the Advisory Board. By the end of the program participants have been given the knowledge and tools they need to innovate and disrupt their business and, ultimately, their industry.

“Unoma's energy, enthusiasm and thirst to learn were inspiring to me; she was a constant source of positivity and energy throughout the program.” said Jim Martin, Unoma’s Capital One Catapult Advisor. “It gives me a huge lift to work with such a passionate group of companies, and being in a room full of entrepreneurs helped open up my own inner-entrepreneur! Unoma was always unbelievably grateful for all of the connections she made with associates across Capital One, and everything about Catapult was well organized, energizing and intellectually stimulating!"

According to Unoma, “The program is amazing because you don’t actually even have to be in technology or be a tech person to join this program. As long as you are open to looking at technology as a possible solution, the program would be amazing.” For Unoma, that meant finding a solution to her inventory management challenge. Which is exactly what she did.

Unoma credits the program with teaching her how to use design thinking and agile project management methodologies to define her proposed user challenges and solve their most pressing issues. Working with her advisors and SMEs, she was able to define the technology specifications and lay out a database schema. She then hired a part-time software developer to start building out the front and back ends of the platform. Her solution will drive transparency along the supply chain through a centralized platform – eliminating the multiple software packages she currently relies on. The product will also be able to aggregate data and use machine learning and robotic process automation to improve and automate inventory forecasting.

By resolving these issues, Unoma can now explore new product lines like energy bars, ready-to-drink products and frozen food. And, if the product works the way she envisioned, she will commercialize and sell it to other small businesses like hers, as it will be the only inventory management system that targets this unique market and helps track sustainability. According to Unoma, none of it would have been possible without the Catapult program. 

“This has been the most fun experience in terms of training for my business that I’ve had. I don't know how else to say it. It’s been an amazing, amazing time. The learning, the community, the environment, it’s just been an amazing experience so I’m very excited.” 

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