Throughout 2017, Values Partnerships is leading a nationwide casting tour for ABC’s Shark Tank that is focused on bringing more diverse ideas and voices to the show. Shark Tank is hosting casting calls across the country to give diverse entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their businesses and appear on its ninth season. It will also offer pitch prepping sessions, entrepreneurship resources, and discussions on access to capital for entrepreneurs around the country. The goal is for every entrepreneur to leave these events in a better position than when they arrived.
At each stop, Brandon Andrews has a Q&A session with entrepreneurs from the casting calls and the organizations that support them. On April 18, the casting team for ABC’s Shark Tank made its third stop in New York, and set up shop in 3 Black Cats Café and Cakery. Here, Andrews spoke with Brooklyn, NY natives Ionna, Melissa, and Diana Jimenez, the three sisters behind this small business.
About 3 Black Cats Café and Cakery
Located in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Ionna, Melissa, and Diana Jimenez grew up, 3 Black Cats Café and Cakery is known in the community as “the cafe with a purpose.”
The youngest of the three, Diana Jimenez is a self-taught baker, who initially started in the baking business with two of her friends about six years ago. At the time, the trio noted the high demand for bakeries able to offer customizable cakes and baking services, as reality shows like Cake Boss were fueling the popularity of these treats. However, they also understood that customized cakes were extremely expensive, so they decided to create them for lower prices. They held their first cake tasting with friends and family, and the business grew from there. Word of mouth and social media helped to further expand their client base.Unfortunately, the strain of business took a toll on their relationship, and the friends all split ways.
However, Diana continued on this path as an entrepreneurial baker, and, again, used word of mouth and social media to boost the clientele for her baked goods. Shortly thereafter, Ionna and Melissa teamed up with their little sister, and together they worked to establish 3 Black Cats Café and Cakery.
When the Jimenez sisters first began working to grow their small business and network on its behalf, each was also holding down a full-time job. Both Ionna and Diana’s previous working experience as community organizers for locally based organizations in Brownsville led to a networking opportunity that changed the trajectory of their business—an introduction The Big Dream Foundation. Now, in partnership with this organization, according to the 3 Black Cats Café and Cakery website, “These three sisters will be a part of Brownsville’s aspiring entrepreneurs’ journeys [to] success, through the Dream Big’s Innovation Center’s Entrepreneurship Program.”
Q&A With the Jimenez Sisters
Below, Brandon Andrews talks more to the Jimenez sisters about their business, as well as their experience at the Shark Tank casting call.
Brandon Andrews: Your business has been described as “a café with purpose.” What does that mean?
Jimenez Sisters: We want the café to be more than just a cafe that served coffee, light eats, and pastries; we want to sell people on the dream. By being examples of dreams coming true. But also by having meaningful events that promote the development of the person and its community.
Brandon Andrews: Talk about your partnership with The Dream Big Foundation. Is this a model that could be used to support black businesses in other cities as well?
Jimenez Sisters: The Dream Big Foundation provided 3 Black Cats with an equity investment to open up the cafe. It also linked us up with mentors in the same business, to guide us along the way. We know that it is extremely hard for small businesses to find the funding to get started. We know that this model is definitely needed to jumpstart economic development in areas similar to Brownsville.
Brandon Andrews: You hosted our Brownsville, [Brooklyn] casting call. How was the experience? What does the opportunity to have a business from the Brownsville area on Shark Tank mean to you?
Jimenez Sisters: Hosting the Shark Tank casting call was an amazing experience for us. We felt the entrepreneurial spirit in the room. It also reminded us of when we were super excited about our business [while first starting out]. Sometimes, when you are in the business and become so focused on it, you lose sight of the reason why [you took this path] or the purpose of it all. However, feeling that energy reminded us of our dream and how much we need to keep pushing to get to where we need to be.
Having Shark Tank at 3 Black Cats is another continuation of bringing purpose to the space. [Our ability] to play a part in providing opportunities to others so that they may live out their dreams is why [our business is] here in our neighborhood!
Andrews: How do you plan to grow 3 Black Cats Café and Cakery in 2017?
Jimenez Sisters: By mid 2017, we will have been in business a full year, and hopefully [we will] continue to grow our customer base. [When we first started out] in 2016, we did a lot of listening and learning along the way. This allowed us to see that the community had a lot of talented artists, but it did not have [enough] space to exhibit their [creative work], which comes in many forms. We want to expand on the arts and culture here in Brownsville, by hosting events able to cater to those needs.
Are You Ready to Pitch Your Business to the Sharks?
On May 20, 2017, we will be in Houston hosting a casting call at the BLACK ENTERPRISE Entrepreneurs Summit.
To apply to audition for the ninth season of Shark Tank and find out more information on the Shark Tank Diversity Tour, visit www.sharktankdiversitytour.com.