Updated: Nov 14
Last week the folks at Hennepin County came to ACER’s offices to capture small business owner Florence Karp’s success story. To support small and micro-businesses ACER, in partnership with Elevate Business HC, is providing technical assistance to entrepreneurs like Florence. With the assistance of ACER & HC Florence was able to set up her website and continue selling her Afric Sauce after her business was disrupted by the pandemic.
When she came to America from Nigeria in 1997 Florence brought along her love of homemade cooking. After a successful career as a life coach, she began making her traditional plant-based sauce, a blend of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices. In 2018 production of Florence’s signature “Afric Sauce” began and she started giving out samples in local grocery stores. When COVID hit, her mild and spicy sauces were already in stores and Florence was getting ready to demo Afric Sauce in Hy-Vee when suddenly they quickly called to cancel. Soon many of her contracts with other stores were canceled leading to a lot of financial hardship for Florence’s business. “I bet my sales on people trying [Afric Sauce] because it’s new, but with COVID I wasn’t able to meet people face to face to show them the sample.” Luckily Florence found ACER.
“I always refer to ACER as ‘small but mighty’ because there are organizations that are bigger than them, but they are the ones that get down to the grassroots. They will come to you one-on-one,” said Florence in her video shoot with Hennepin. Searching for help with her business, Florence connected with ACER’s Director of Economic Development, Denise Butler, who encouraged her to apply for Hennepin County’s Elevate Business program. “Denise was there for me…I will email her or call her [and] she’s always there, on Sunday, weekdays, and any time of the week. That was how she sent me information about Elevate Business. I already talked to some business consultants. It’s not easy. It’s not cheap to work with them. [Denise] said ‘you know [with Elevate Business] you can get all these services for free?’ So I went ahead and applied.”
ACER was able to connect Florence with a business consultant who began working one-on-one with her. Florence had a website but it was not a fully functional E-commerce site—something critically needed as many customers currently prefer ordering online. ACER worked with web design partners to update and upgrade her website, including getting a professional photographer to take high-quality photos of her products (before Florence had taken pictures of her food and sauce with her phone). With her new redesigned E-commerce website, Florence was able to continue selling Afric Sauce throughout the pandemic.
Florence’s business has had its ups and downs. Nowadays her product is available in over a dozen stores, including Hy-Vee, North Market in Minneapolis, and African Tropical Supermarket. Florence has many positive things to say about her experience with Elevate Business; “first of all, you can’t beat free…If you’ve ever tried hiring a business consultant you know how much those people charge. So, to get this for free?—that would be awesome! And it’s not just business consulting, they have pro bono lawyers—all those services that you get through elevate business are free.” Florence emphasized the support that ACER and Elevate Business has provided her and she encourages others to give the program a chance.