Small Business Awards Winners

Black Enterprise honors the best of the best

B.E. Next of the Year: Heritage Link Brands

The B.E. Next Award is presented to the fearless young entrepreneur age 21-35 tapped to be a future business leader.

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Selena Cuffe and Khary Cuffe

Heritage Link Brands LLC’s mission is “to showcase the very best wines from Africa and the African Diaspora in terms of the finished product, the sustainability of the value chain, and how the environment and employees are treated throughout the harvesting process,” says Selena Cuffe, co-founder and CEO. And this isn’t a cursory nod to going green, but a deeply held commitment to helping indigenous African vintners market quality wines abroad. The company’s direct and indirect efforts have certainly paid off.

With the U.S. economy in a slump, the Los Angeles, California-based Heritage Link Brands LLC still raked in revenues of $1.2 million in 2008, up from just $42,000 the year before. With $1.6 million in sales projected for this year, the African wine importer with just eight employees is poised to turn a profit well ahead of the six-year wine industry standard. Cuffe, 33—who runs the business alongside her husband Khary, 30—credits its African connection, respect for nature and humanity, and the audacity of hope with fueling its success. “Don’t think small,” she advises, “because if you don’t think small you’ll wake up one day and you’ll be big.”

And let’s not forget taste. Cuffe says environmentally friendly farming methods allow the wines she imports to retain more of the distinctive qualities of the soil where the grapes were grown. With the Cuffes’ help, black-owned, family-owned wine producers that struggle to gain wide distribution in post-apartheid South Africa can export its wine. In the U.S., retailers such as Whole Foods, Albertsons and Jewel Osco, and restaurants at Disneyland carry some of these brands.

Surprisingly, Cuffe doesn’t refer to Heritage Link Brands as a social enterprise. “That’s a label that others place on what we do,” she explains. “It’s not a thought that comes across our minds. My training is really about how to run a successful business and how to get the most profit you can out of something. People label the tenets upon which I live my life ‘socially conscious’ but it’s just the core of who I am. I want to do things that are taking things to the next level in a way that touches me.”

Why is Heritage Links the best company in its field?

We don’t look at the company as a wine importer and distributor. It’s about more than the wine; [it’s about] the brands, the families, and the people.

In these trying times, what do you think sets Heritage Links apart from competitors?

Our business is a family business so whatever decisions we make have to be made with the best interest of my family and those we work with. What we’re able to do and how we’re able to make an impact with this business only matters in as much as the people here and on the continent are able to be successful and thrive. It’s about the people and telling their stories to the masses.

Do you have any words of advice for people who are also thinking about starting businesses?

If you’re not happy and it’s not driving you, you owe it yourself to find out what that is that does drive you so that you can be happy.

What can Black Enterprise readers learn from you?

Any good wine has to be pruned–planted in rocky soil, the vine struggles to survive and create a beautiful grape that makes great wine. So, when there is an obstacle placed in front of you, know that if you look at these challenges as you being pruned you’ll become a stronger, better company.

Heritage Link Brands LLC
Type of business: Wine importer and distributor
Co-founder/CEO: Selena Cuffe
Co-founder/CFO: Khary Cuffe
Location: Los Angeles
www.heritagelinkbrands.com

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ACROSS THE WEB
  • Annette Culpepper

    Jordan,

    Congratulations!! We are so proud of you and look forward to many more accomplishments from you.

    Love,

    Annette C.

  • Nadine Smith

    DUUUUUUUUUDE! Ms. Smith is so proud of you. I am tellin EVERYBODY to look at what my AWESOME student has accomplished. YOU DO YOU!!! Keep goin man…keep goin! No limitations…well unless yo momma says so.

    Luv You
    Ms. Smith

  • Dad

    Okay I’m dad ..but it still counts, I am very proud of you :0)

  • Tammi and Brian Lloyd

    Jordan! Jordan! Jordan! We can’t stop smiling b/c we’re too excited and proud of YOU! Here’s a virtual HIGH FIVE and a HUGE hug – WE LOVE YOU! Congratulations!
    Aunt-T and Uncle B

  • A.Asbury

    Congratulations Jordan! I am so proud of you. Keep up the good work. I’ve already spread the word and will be placing my order soon.

    Love Ya!
    “Auntie” Freda

  • ron parker

    Jordon, we are very proud of your honor as Teen Entrepreneur. Your creativity and tenacity is a model for all young and old business leaders.
    All the best. Tell your mother “hello” for me.
    Ron Parker
    SVP, PepsiCo

  • http://www.kidsontracktravelclub.com Ms. Stephie

    Jordan,

    Congratulations, I am so very proud of you. I will be sharing this with the young people in my family. You are an encouragement to everyone. Don’t forget I am your other Auntie. Love ya!

  • http://www.kidsontracktravelclub.com Ms. Stephie

    Jordan,

    Congratulations, I am so very proud of you. I will be sharing this with the young people in my family. You are an encouragement to everyone. Don’t forgt I am your other Auntie. Love ya!

    Aunt Stephie

  • Rochelle Simmons

    WOW! Jordan, this is sooooooo awesome! I am too proud of you. Way to go!
    Ms. Rochelle

  • http://blackenterprise.com Betsy Culpepper

    Jordan, I am so proud of you. You are an example to young people everywhere. You are inspiration to me as well as others. Congratulations on your business and your well deserved award.

    Betsy Culpepper (cousin)

  • Denise (Arizona)

    Hi Jordan,

    I’m not one bit surprised at what you have accomplished. Not only are you intelligent but you are a go-getter and having those two qualities will take you far beyond anything you can imagine. I can’t see anything stopping you. Now, back to reality…… I’m still waiting for a Wii Tennis re-match. Lol…..Congratulations!!!!

    Denise Collins (Arizona)

  • http://www.thephillipscompany.com Teri Sgambelluri

    Hello Valerie,
    We are honored to be employed by the best of the best! You inspire us all….congratulations!
    Teri and staff

  • Talika

    Jordan,

    I wish you the best in your business. Congratulations on being named the 2009 Teenpreneur of the Year!

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