CEO Stories: Moms as Entrepreneurs

Keisha Ransome and Tammira Lucas
The Moms As Entrepreneurs Academy

In a part of Baltimore where more than 90% of households are headed by single mothers living below the poverty level, Moms as Entrepreneurs founder Tammira Lucas and Keisha Ransome, founder of Baltimore Etsy Sellers, were driven to invest in their community by launching The Moms as Entrepreneurs Makers Academy.

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Through collaboration and complementing each other’s strengths, Lucas and Ransome use the Academy to expose moms and their children to the possibilities of entrepreneurship and a more prosperous life – topics seldom discussed in the communities where they live. Listen to the podcast below to learn more about these two successful women entrepreneurs.

Bumpy Starts

Keisha Ransome’s fashion business, 2live2love, got off to what she calls a “bumpy start” in 2012, earning her $100 on Etsy. But within a couple of years, the self-taught designer saw her business take off, and she wanted to share her knowledge of how to succeed on Etsy with other Baltimore-based makers, and founded Baltimore Etsy Sellers. Business consultant Tammira Lucas co-founded the Moms as Entrepreneurs podcast in 2014 with the goal of helping bring women into entrepreneurship. Like Ransome’s fashion business, the podcast wasn’t an instant success. However, after a couple of years, the podcast gained enough traction to help launch the Moms as Entrepreneurs Academy.

Opening Up

Ransome and Lucas were connected by Will Holman, executive director of the makers’ space Open Works, a facility that offers makers use of industrial and commercial equipment. They applied for an Etsy Makers Cities Grant, with Baltimore becoming the only U.S. city to receive a grant in 2017. Additional funding came from the Kauffman Foundation. The collaboration among Open Works, Moms As Entrepreneurs, and Baltimore Etsy was more powerful than individual efforts. More important, it exemplifies the spirit of community building and giving back that underpins all three organizations. The Moms As Entrepreneurs Makers Academy will offer two 15-week training programs with the goals of teaching mothers and children about entrepreneurship.

The Future

Ransome and Lucas see teaching children about entrepreneurship as just one aspect of investing in the future. They believe that their model can be replicated elsewhere and their goal is to grow a national organization that can help break the cycle of generational poverty with a curriculum focused on business, business psychology and parenthood.

This Is Capitalism: Tammira Lucas, Keisha Ransome

RH: This is Capitalism. I’m Ray Hoffman. When she was growing up on the west side of Baltimore, Tammira Lucas didn’t have any interest in entrepreneurism. An entrepreneur to her was a hustler. And if Keisha Ransome, growing up in another part of town, had a slightly less negative view of entrepreneurism thanks to television, she too had no particular interest in how businesses are built and grow through capitalism.

That started to change however in their college years and today they’re deeply involved in a project called “Moms As Entrepreneurs.” And if you have any doubts that this could go well beyond Baltimore, then you haven’t met co-founder Tammira Lucas and her colleague, Founder of Baltimore Etsy Sellers and Head of the Moms As Entrepreneurs Makers Academy, Keisha Ransom.

KR: I started my business 2love in 2012 and it was a bumpy start. I started selling on Etsy around that time. First year made than less than a $100, second year, a little over 500. But the next year skyrocketed and it continued to do so for the next several years. So in 2016, I said, “hey, I think I got a hold of this Etsy thing, how about I connect with other local makers in Baltimore City to see if they would be interested in talking about Etsy and sharing tips with each other?” So from the time I started on Etsy in 2012, I started Baltimore Etsy Sellers four years later.

RH: So that was the moment when Baltimore Etsy Sellers sort of flashed in front of your face as the big idea?
KR: Yeah. I learned about Meet Up and I said I want to meet with like-minded people. And this Etsy thing, I just really enjoy selling on Etsy, I really enjoy the platform. It was one of the places where I first gained confidence in my brand. So I just wanted to share that and see what other people’s experience was. It grew legs, pretty much, and it became way more than just a meet up.

RH: Tell me about your brand.
KR: I am also a fashion designer. I make tulle skirts, also known as tutus. I also make bridal skirts. And I have no formal training; I’m a self-taught fashion designer. My background is actually in civil engineering and city planning but I’ve been sewing since I was in high school.

RH: Wait, wait, wait a minute!
KR: [Laughter.] Yeah…

RH: Wait a minute, you mean you know how to use surveying tools and so forth?
KR: Yeah.

RH: And somehow you moved from civil engineering to fashion design and somehow I’m immediately thinking of the connection between those and I guess that’s what you did too.
KR: Yeah! You know, honestly in high school I made my prom dresses, I made my friend’s prom dresses, I was in fashion shows, everyone thought that I was going to go to fashion school, and I decided not to. I also have this technical side that I wanted to venture out in. And I actually, after high school, I didn’t sew for a whole 10 years.

And then the creative urge just started bubbling back up and I took a leap and decided to leave transportation planning consulting behind and really develop my creative life. At the end of the day, I love making things better. So I think fashion allows you to do that as well as planning and engineering.

RH: Now Tammira, in your case, Moms As Entrepreneurs. It started in 2014 as a podcast?
TL: Yes. I became a mom seven and a half years ago and my partner, Jasmine Simms, and I, we met around 2014, we kind of were talking about our struggles as mothers. We grew up in West Baltimore and we saw that most of the households in Baltimore City were single-mom households that struggled financially. And we were like “well what can we do to help the moms start thinking about owning their own businesses” because we know that are a lot of these moms have talents but they kind of struggle with the same things that we’re struggling with.

So we created a podcast just to put information out there so that moms could access it and get some tips and some advice and some resources to grow in business and to start in business. And that grew into a conference and when we did the conference, we did it here, in Baltimore, and it was a huge success. And the moms came back and they were like we need more. And Jasmine and I looked at each other and we were like we didn’t think about more, we just wanted to do this podcast and this conference.

Well, at the same time all of that happened, the riots in Baltimore happened and it impacted our community, the community that we grew up in, the community where our families still reside. And a lot of leaders, organizations, ran to service the kids. Well, because I’m from that community, I understood that you should invest in the kids and you can help them, however, they still have to go home to chaos. And the root of the problem is not the children but it’s the families.

And most of those families, 90 percent or more of those families are single moms. And we decided we can’t…We thought about it for a while, like what can we do to be a solution to the problem that we’re having in our communities? And that’s when we launched the Moms As Entrepreneurs Academy, which now has graduated 40 moms in Baltimore City and helped them start or grow their businesses.

RH: Take me back a little bit to 2014, do you know how many people listened to the first podcast?
TL: Probably like 15. [Laughs.] We definitely didn’t have a huge following. It was pretty much like our family and friends. I had a pretty decent following on like social media but we didn’t understand the podcast business at all. We did do our research but we didn’t understand it. And we kind of went back to the drawing board to see how can we market our podcast, how can we get it out there. And we started to develop different strategies to get our listeners up.

And ironically, people would come up to us if they saw us out and say hey, I listened to your last podcast, it was awesome. And that’s when Jasmine and I started to think oh this is really getting around further than we actually…or faster than we actually thought it was. We kind of took a break from the podcast as we started to build out the academy and now we’re getting back into podcasting.

But in 2014 it literally was a hobby, a side to help businesses that we were running. And pretty much like “I’ll give back. Like, this is what we can do to give back after building our businesses as moms.” We know that other moms need resources and they need a support system. And we tried to do that through our podcast.

RH: Was there one particular key to making that podcast break through beyond just friends and family and social media followers?
TL: One of the keys was bringing other moms on. So not just listening to us but listening to other mom entrepreneurs. And we have leveraged these relationships so that they can spread the word and then eventually start growing from there.

RH: When you had this first conference, how many people attended that?
TL: We had over a hundred moms to attend our conference. So now we’re focusing on maker moms and eventually we’re planning on doing a culinary academy next year.

RH: Somewhere in here Etsy got involved and I guess that brings us back around to your idea, Keisha, the Baltimore Etsy Sellers.
KR: Yeah. I kind of was hosting my meetings in various places. And Will reached out to me, the Director at Open Works, and he asked me if I’d like to have my meetings at Open Works because he thought that a lot of the members at Open Works could also benefit from some of the Etsy Meet Ups.

So that’s how I ended up getting connected with Open Works. Will was already working with Tammira but this Etsy Makers City Grant became open and we thought well… someone thought that it would be a great idea to connect the mom Etsy makers and allow them to make things at Open Works.

RH: Open Works is a work space just north of downtown, sort of East Baltimore, I guess, up by the Penn Station. Tell me about the place and why is it important in this story?
KR: Oh wow. No. 1, the community that Open Works is in is a community, Greenmount West, that’s being revitalized. So to have an actual facility where you can come and use industrial and commercial products to make your items. You can sew, you can do woodworking, you can do 3D printing–equipment that a lot of people wouldn’t have access to.

RH: And about Etsy, is the grant that you got from Etsy part of a program that Etsy does around the country or is Baltimore a one-off?
KR: Two thousand and seventeen was the first year that they issued out grants. We are the only U.S. recipient of the Etsy Makers Cities Grant. Etsy has changed a bit over the years and there was a focus on really using Etsy as a way to engage those untapped audiences and the program that Tammira, Will, and I established fit right into what they were looking for.

RH: And now the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City stepped up. How did they find out about you, Tammira?
TL: We were really passionate about doing this Makers Academy and the opportunity. We did some research and found the Kauffman Foundation. And they focus on entrepreneurship. And we applied and we were up against a nationwide search of people that wanted this funding. And it was very, very intense. I can’t remember the exact number of applicants for the grant but I do know that they only select about 10, I believe, out of hundreds of grants.

They were very excited about how Open Works, Moms As Entrepreneurs, and Baltimore Etsy came together to do one project vs. us doing something individually and applying individually. And that’s kind of a big issue with organizations not working together and working apart. And they loved the way that we decided to collaborate together and build off of each other’s strengths and grow and to invest in our community.

RH: Before they put up their money, what did they want to know about you?
TL: My whole life story. [Laughs.]
KR: Yeah.
TL: They definitely wanted to know how each of our organizations started, why are we doing this, what impact did we wanna have and what outcomes are we going to have. And they’re really driven about outcomes and driven by not just doing something for the period that they are funding us but how we’re going to continue to do this. So really capacity-building and how we’re going to build up our program to really maintain for years.

We had to definitely give them an overview of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past. And they were really excited about the things that we were able to accomplish with not a lot of resources.

RH: How long did they pepper you with questions?
TL: Oh my goodness…
KR: Yeah so we ended up having a videoconference, which was a surprise. We were definitely on the phone about an hour and they really wanted to kind of pick our brains about our individual motivations and how we planned on getting this done as a team. And I think the three of us are a bit thrilled and excited about this combination and I think they were too.

RH: So you’re going to start a 15-week training program, the first of two this year, right? And letting children see this, exposing them early to entrepreneurship, that has to be of immense value.
TL: Absolutely, absolutely. Building generational wealth and doing that in a community where those type of things aren’t talked about, I just think it’s important to expose your children to the possibilities of life and exposing them to entrepreneurship is important because we’re always taught to go to school and get a job but why not start a business or live your passions? I was a computer science major.

RH: Have you thought about how big Moms As Entrepreneurs can be and should be?
KR: Absolutely. We want Moms As Entrepreneurs to be a national organization. There are cities all over the United States that have a large population of moms that live below the poverty level. We want to establish here at our home but we also want to be able to take it to other cities–Chicago, Detroit.

RH: So do you take it to Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland or wherever or does this model just replicate itself in each city?
KR: I would love to personally take it and build it up and then let it fly by itself, take the model. That is definitely in our future within the next two to three years.

RH: What I’d like to do, each of you, as we finish this, I’d like each of you to give me your image of what Moms As Entrepreneurs is going to be five years from now: 2023?
TL: In 2023 Moms As Entrepreneurs will definitely be a national organization that will be providing entrepreneurship training and resources to moms in under served communities throughout the United States and hopefully in other countries as well.

And we are also working on…this is something we’re currently working on is building out a book, a curriculum that is a book, and being able to leverage that and sell that. Like, I am a few months away from being a Doctor of Business. So my goal is to do a whole textbook around that.

RH: Just for the record, the curriculum of the program will involve what?
TL: You have to understand parenthood; you have to understand the decisions that you have to make as a mother while you’re building your business. So our curriculum will definitely be around those three things:  business, business psychology, and parenthood.

RH: And Keisha, I’m not letting you off the hook in terms of having a vision for what this can be in five years.
KR: Well the Moms As Entrepreneurs Makers Academy, wanting Moms As Entrepreneurs itself to go national, I would like to continue on that journey with helping these women succeed on Etsy, a global online marketplace.

And a lot of the skills that I teach are also applicable to just establishing any e-commerce website. So I would definitely like to see an army of mom makers who are completely successful, full time creative entrepreneurs and have lots and lots of stories that these women can share with others. And possibly another conference, a national conference, to share these success stories, how do you do these things, and showing examples of women who have actually done it.

RH: This is capitalism in the making. I’m Ray Hoffman.

About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.

About Ray Hoffman: Ray Hoffman, a veteran business journalist, is highly-regarded for his news and analysis features and insightful CEO interviews. Representing BusinessWeek on air for twenty-one years, Mr. Hoffman was the morning business news voice on the ABC Radio Networks from 1995 to 2006. Mr. Hoffman also represented The Wall Street Journal, on air, for eleven years. His daily WCBS CEO Radio feature was recognized by the New York Press Club as best radio business news report in both 2012 and 2015. In this podcast, Mr. Hoffman invites some of America’s most dynamic CEOs to share their stories as business builders and perspectives on free enterprise.