Two women in Harlem have boiled down the secrets of their budding business success to a single, one-word mantra: Mission.
Denise Adusei, the founder of the Harlem’s newly opened Peartree Preschool, dubs herself a “mom on a mission.” Precious Williams, the founder and CEO of Curvy Girlz Lingerie, says she is a “full-figured diva on a mission.”
The two businesswomen have never met. But they have a great deal in common: Both are 34-year-old dynamos, and winners of prestigious business plan competitions — sponsored by the New York Public Library and other groups — who fulfilled their missions by launching enterprises that fill unmet needs.
And, in each case, searing personal experiences played a role:
* Adusei had two daughters she wanted to put in preschool in Harlem, but the options were limited. She discovered her neighborhood had only 5,000 pre-K seats — for some 25,000 kids under the age of 5.
So she put her daughter Simone on a waitlist at one pre-K when she was 6 months old. Three-and-a-half years later, Simone, now 4, is still on the list, even though she will be too old for pre-K at age 5.
“I decided it would be easier to build my own school than to keep searching!” Adusei said. “And that’s exactly what I did.” Simone is now a student at Peartree, which held a ribbon-cutting on Monday at its spanking new home on W. 112th St.
* Williams, meanwhile had met the man of her dreams. She wanted to showcase her body in its best light for her new beau, but she, too, learned to her great sorrow her options were limited.
“They sneered at me at Victoria’s Secret,” she says. So she went to Lane Bryant, and then to Ashley Stewart and then to Macy’s, but never found the lingerie in her size that would make her feel pretty and seductive and hot.
“There was basic black and beige, but if you have a little more meat on your bones, why can’t you wear pink and red and gold and turquoise and all the colors of the rainbow?” she demanded. “And so I decided to create Curvy Girlz.”
Transforming a smart idea into a working business is never a cakewalk. Yet both women soon learned that a detailed, financially realistic and well-executed business plan can attract notice and lure funders:
* Adusei in 2011 beat out 500 applicants to win the $15,000 second annual New York StartUP! Business Plan Competition, which is sponsored by the NYPL’s Science Industry & Business Library and the Citi Foundation.
“She stood out for clarity of her plan, the passion of her pitch, the fact she had all her ducks in a row — and her optimism, which can be so important to entrepreneurship,” said Kristin McDonough, the NYPL’s director of SIBL.
Adusei’s plan for Peartree had already helped her secure a low-interest $25,000 loan from Columbia University’s Business School in 2010.
The NYPL prize brought her seedbed up to $40,000, and that helped her leverage a five-year, low-interest $150,000 loan from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone in 2012.
Additional state and venture capital funding poured in, and Adusei soon had enough cash to lease space at 132 W. 112th St. for a for-profit, 6,000-square-foot preschool with five classrooms for 75 kids, a courtyard and indoor play space.
It doesn’t come cheap: Pre-K tuition ranges from as little as $10,000 to as much as $19,000 annually, depending on how many days a child is enrolled, a rate that Adusei says is competitive with other Harlem preschools.
Kids get organic lunches provided by an eco-friendly caterer, a play space cleaned without chemicals and wooden toys coated with vegetable oil that are far safer than the chemical-packed plastic variety.
Adusei leased the space last year and held a soft launch in March after obtaining permits from the city’s Health Dept. On Monday, flanked by Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel and her husband, Jeffrey, she cut a big red ribbon and officially open Peartree.
“Those kids are some very, very, very lucky kids!” Rangel marveled.
* Williams in 2011 won the third annual $5,000 Harlem Business Plan Competition, which is sponsored by the Harlem Business Alliance and is one of the most coveted awards for an uptown entrepreneur.
“She’s both dynamic and very inventive at overcoming the obstacles of financing, marketing and utilization of new technology that still confront the typical uptown minority business owner,” said HBA executive director Regina Smith.
Equipped with the start-up funds, Williams pocketed another $6,000 by winning two “elevator pitch competitions” — contests sponsored by local business groups in which an entrant has 60 seconds, the time it takes to ascend 12 floors in an elevator, to explain why her company should be funded.
She was a finalist in the NYPL 2012 StartUP! competition and is now a finalist in Black Enterprise Magazine’s Elevator Pitch Competition, where she’ll vie for a $10,000 grand prize in Columbus, Ohio, on May 15.
Thanks to the cash — and attendant publicity — Williams was able to time off from her work as a mortgage lawyer and devote herself to her great passion: Helping plus-size beauties find sexy and stylish intimates.
It’s paid off. She’s sold $113,000 in wares online, for a $40,000 profit, and is now holding monthly “lingerie house parties” in all five boroughs that reap about $4,500 per night.
By September, Williams plans to expand into the Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., markets, and in another year or two, she hopes to realize her big dream: A brick-and-mortar retail storefront in Harlem.
“I’m on a mission to take on the world on behalf of full-figured divas everywhere!” she says.