When the elevator door opened to the 43rd floor of the Marriott Downtown in New York City in early May, University of Iowa Venture School alumna Joy Hankins began soaking in more than the ever-present branding for One Million Black Women in Business.
A first-generation entrepreneur with no prior business experience, Hankins felt part of a fantasy. Here was a Midwestern woman from Michigan (now Iowa) in the Big Apple, not only chasing a dream, but inching closer to making that business dream a reality.
Intimidating? Not for Hankins. She felt more than prepared for this adventure because of her experience in the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Des Moines Venture School that ended in November 2021.
“It would have been a little overwhelming had I not attended Venture School,” Hankins said. “One of our homework assignments for One Million Black Women in Business was basically the Business Model Canvas. I brought my homework with me from Venture School so I could continue to refine it. It was a blueprint right there — I had that advantage and it made me comfortable.”
Hankins is founder and chief executive officer of The Joy of Curls, a plant-based texture hair brand with a mission to educate and share products with the foster care community, including children and care-givers. She was accepted into the Goldman Sachs One Million Black Women cohort that requires two in-person visits at the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York City. Orientation was May 9-11 and graduation will be July 18-20.
From May until July, Hankins will be grouped with seven other women and each is assigned a mentor. Every Monday the group reviews the syllabus for the week and on Tuesday they receive one-on-one coaching. Mentors check in daily to make sure everyone is on track. One goal is for the women to double their monthly revenue by the time they reconvene in July.
“They want to see us get there so they are right by our side making sure that we finish our goals,” Hankins said. “This provides the support to take my business to where I know it can go. Alone it would have taken me at least three years to reach my business goals within the retail community. They will help me do that in a fraction of the time.”
Hankins graduated from high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before earning degrees in Spanish and sociology from Western Michigan University. She earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Northern Arizona University and moved to Des Moines in November 2019 when her husband, Malcolm, accepted a job with the City of Des Moines.
The timing didn’t allow the Hankins family to mix and mingle with neighbors.
“We didn’t get a chance to branch out and meet people in our community,” Hankins said. “The pandemic happened.”
Like many entrepreneurs, Hankins used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity, not an excuse. A self-care enthusiast, she loved hair and nail salons, but they were closed when COVID struck.
“When I couldn’t go to the salon, I had a moment where it was like, it’s me or no one,” Hankins said. “I taught myself how to do my own hair. That was a moment for me, a great realization that I can do this. It was very empowering.”
Out of desperation, Hankins purchased seven bundles of hair, locked herself in the bathroom with YouTube videos, dark chocolate, and a latte, and for six hours she worked and worked and worked.
“I learned during COVID how to care for myself,” Hankins said.
Before coming to Iowa, Hankins began interacting with the foster community, primarily teaching about texture care and how to wash and style. But the products with clean ingredients that she wanted to share were too expensive for many of the foster families.
Then Hankins wondered: “Why don’t I hire a chemist and launch my own hair care business?”
The idea of having her own product line grew in her mind during those lonely, isolated pandemic days at home. In May of 2020, Hankins filed for an LLC and officially started The Joy of Curls. And…she contacted a chemist to help build her product line.
Last fall, Hankins enrolled in Venture School in Des Moines, working with Bill Adamowski and Gregg Barcus.
“It opened my eyes to approaching my business in a different way, to doing my homework so I could be successful,” Hankins said. “Venture School taught me how to research my competitors and figure out what my competitive advantage was and my value propositions.
“With Venture School, I had access to venture capitalists to teach me the art of pitching, how to refine it, and how to come prepared with an elevator pitch that I could summarize my business in 30 seconds. All of those things were so beneficial to me.”
Hankins has felt an association to foster care her entire life. Her mother was an only child, but her grandmother was a foster parent. Hankins often listened to stories about her mother’s foster sisters.
“I was intrigued by (foster care) and felt this tug on my heart to be involved in the foster community,” Hankins said.
Malcolm and Joy reside in Des Moines with a 3-year-old son and 6-month-old foster daughter. They have five grown children.
Hankins wants to take a logical next step when she completes the One Million Black Women in Business cohort.
“I would like to apply for the 10,000 Small Business Program,” she said. “I know this is preparing me for that as well.”
Click HERE for more information on The Joy of Curls.