Each Friday in February, we are featuring one of our 2021 Women of Color Incubator Pitch Competition winners. These up-and-coming Black women business owners are sure to inspire and motivate other young Black women entrepreneurs, and all of us, to pursue their own business ventures.
Meet Sarai Arriola-Jacob, chief executive officer of Sage and 2nd Place Awardee from Howard University.
What inspired you to start your business?
I saw how my mother, who is an extraordinarily successful academic in public health, was always getting bombarded with requests from students (mostly Black) who wanted her to mentor them. She almost always had to turn them down because she’s so busy. I realized one day that that is the life of Black professionals. They have this dual obligation, one to their career, and the other to the young Black students who look up to them. I have seen that this is a phenomenon that occurs mostly to Black professionals because Black students are hungrier for mentors that look like them because they often feel disconnected from the disproportionally white academic spaces they occupy. I decided to makeSage because we need a safe space for these kinds of exchanges, where the professionals who are willing to mentor can clearly communicate their availability to students and the professionals who simply do not have the time will find themselves having less students to turn down.
What has the entrepreneurship journey looked like for you so far?
So much second-guessing. So much questioning if what I am doing really makes sense or has any weight. I often fear nobody else sees this issue the way I do. But my entrepreneurship journey has shown me that having faith in my idea is the only way I can press forward. I am in the startup phase, and because my business isn’t so much marketing a product but a robust technological mechanism, I have a lot of technical things to do. So, I spend my workdays drawing mock-ups of the app and learning about the programing that supports this type of service.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur?
I know that external validation is not the way one should fuel their self-esteem, but at the end of the day, external validation is how businesses stay alive. So honestly, when I explain my idea to people and they express interest in it, or excitement about it, I can have a sigh of relief like “this is actually something worth fighting for, there are people who want this”. I feel rewarded by doing this for the people out there that need Sage, but don’t know it yet.
Where do you see yourself in one year? How about 5 years?
In one year, I will be knee deep in my Bachelor’s degree. I should be beginning to fill out scholarships for Fullbright and graduate school. But in terms of my business, one year from now I should have a prototype application on the mobile market. I should also have executed the advertisement campaigns I am currently conceptualizing. In 5 years, I should have a fully operational application on the mobile and online markets, with hopefully a couple hundred thousand users. In 5 years, I should begin my larger scale enterprise plan where I will start talking to universities about purchasing the Sage University Package. Having universities as clients is an excellent way to get Sage more widely accessible.
What advice would you give to other female founders just starting their business?
Accept criticism. This is business, and it is crucial you remove your emotions from it. While I know it is so easy to take it personally when people criticize and question your ideas, I think it’s important to listen to them. Even if it came off as snarky, it is in your best interest to legitimately consider any holes you may have in your business. This is to ensure that you minimize the issues you may run into in later stages of development. I also think it’s important to have a personal Constitution of Operations. This is so you have an anchor, so to speak, for you to reference as your business grows and operations get more complex. Think of it as a mission statement of sorts, with a clear definition of protocols so there is continuity in your decisions.
How would you describe your experience in the WOC Incubator Program?
Stabilizing. I had an idea in my head that was a cacophony of jumbled and loose concepts. This incubator stabilized my thinking and allowed me to put down a coherent and doable business plan.
What did you learn during the WOC Incubator program that will help you grow your business?
I learned how to ask the right questions of my consumers so that they can build the app that works the best for their needs.
What’s next for you and your business?
Right now, I am still creating mockups of the app. In a month or so, I should have enough ideas to bring to a development firm and begin the work of actually developing the app.