Starting and growing a business is like planting and maintaining a garden. Benito Lubazibwa, a native of Tanzania who has lived in Arkansas since 2000 after graduating from the University of Central Arkansas, is familiar with both. His first entrepreneurial experience involved growing and selling vegetables at 12 years old.
“I was responsible for planting the seeds, watering, tending to the ground and eventually selling vegetables like spinach, eggplant and tomatoes to vendors at the market,” Lubazibwa said. “I really didn’t make much money selling the vegetables, but the value was in the entrepreneurial lessons I learned in the process.”
According to Lubazibwa, he was able to learn about ownership, responsibility, patience, timing, and dealing with challenges or competition.
Flash forward to today, and Lubazibwa is the founder and CEO of ReMix Ideas.
“ReMix Ideas is inspired by a couple of things,” he said. “First, ‘remix’ speaks to many of us in the Black community culturally. It is a style of music that, in short, takes an existing track of music and through creative edits, transforms it into a new version. Secondly, the crux of our mission is to advance Black entrepreneurship. We help businesses ideate, test their ideas, innovate and pivot. Oftentimes, the edits and changes or adaptations make a big difference in companies scaling and becoming sustainable.”
Black people tend to face more challenges and barriers that are often overlooked. Such challenges include access to financial capital, social capital and markets.
According to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, white families have eight times the wealth of Black families and five times the wealth of Hispanic families. The data indicated that white families had the highest level of median net worth with $188,200 and Black families had the lowest with $24,100. Hispanic families’ median net worth was $36,100.
Lubazibwa envisions change rooted in equity and justice to create “a human-centered system opposed to one centered on individualism and accumulation.”
“There must be something wrong with an economic system where three people have more wealth than half of the United States’ population,” he said. “I just believe that the human mind can imagine and develop a better system.”
According to a recent report published by the Institute for Policy Studies, 50 families hold half of the wealth of approximately 65 million families. Furthermore, the wealth of the 50 families grew 10 times the rate of ordinary families during the past 40 years.
Over the past few years, Lubazibwa has been focused on inspiring and encouraging Black people to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. He launched the 12-week ReMix Ideas Business Academy that enables entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to build a sustainable business. Another resource Lubazibwa established to help entrepreneurs is the Power of Many grant, which awards $1,000 to a Black entrepreneur each month. There are 12 recipients every year.
Lubazibwa recently founded the nonprofit organization, Advancing Black Entrepreneurship, with a goal to raise $1 million in 12 months in effort to provide more support for Black-owned businesses. The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to the organization in May.
On June 19th, ReMix Ideas and Advancing Black Entrepreneurship partnered with the Wright Avenue Neighborhood Association in Little Rock to host Shop Black @ Wright Avenue. It was an economic development event that took place between Battery and Marshall Streets near the iconic K Hall & Sons Produce. More than $20,000 was generated in eight hours for local Black entrepreneurs through a $10,000 match initiative in which each individual was given a $10 Black dollar to shop from participating vendors.
Mr. Keith’s Gourmet Kettle Corn was one of the participating vendors at the event. Inspired by Nuts on Clark in Chicago, Keith Fulks opened a food truck in 2013 to serve his own gourmet kettle corn. He let people try it at small events.
Fulks admitted, though, that he was not an initial fan of kettle corn before trying it.
“Once I tried it, I instantly thought how awesome it was and how many people are like me who don’t know what they don’t know if they have not tried it before,” he said.
There was also a lot of trial and error at the beginning of learning how to make kettle korn. However, Fulks eventually got it down.
“It took seven years to add additional flavors and work out little quirks like getting the timing right,” Fulks said. The most popular flavor is the Little Rock mix which has a combination of cheddar cheese and caramel kettle corn.
Fulks met Lubazibwa nearly eight years ago when he was looking for funding to open a brick-and-mortar store. Lubazibwa was one of Fulks’ customers when he purchased his kettle corn.
“[Lubazibwa] recognized the value of my kettle corn and witnessed how many people would purchase it at events from my food truck. I had my mind set on scaling the business. He was instrumental in helping me network and connect with the right people to get the necessary funding,” Fulks said.
According to Fulks, he had expected challenges in obtaining a loan through a traditional bank.
“If you don’t have an established reputation or relationship with a traditional bank, then it is hard to get a loan most of the time. Especially being a Black person, there can be more obstacles.”
August 1 will mark the first anniversary of his brick-and-mortar location in North Little Rock. Fulks takes pride in being a family-owned and operated business that is open six days a week. Plus, Mr. Keith’s Gourmet Kettle Corn has not received a traditional loan with a bank in its entire existence.
“[Lubazibwa] let me know that there were other options. He is always doing the hard work and helping folks like myself to achieve their dream of opening up their own business whether it be a food truck or a brick-and-mortar store.”
As an entrepreneur, Fulks said the most gratifying part is helping his family make a decent living by giving them an employment opportunity to make a living wage. He also loves the flexibility that comes with having his own business.
Lubazibwa told AMP that he is most proud of contributing to the sense of hope and aspiration that burns in people to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. He measures his success from the perspective of how much an individual contributes to the advancement of humanity.
“It is not about how much one receives, but how much one gives,” he said.
ReMix Ideas and Advancing Black Entrepreneurship has enabled Lubazibwa to help others. His ultimate goal is to “democratize the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Arkansas.”
“Zip code or race should not determine a person’s access to capital, market and business knowledge,” Lubizibwa said.
In an effort to provide a pathway to achieving economic mobility for under-resourced entrepreneurs in Arkansas, Lubizibwa has partnered with the Central Arkansas Library System to launch the Rock It! Lab in the Cox Building near the main library in downtown Little Rock. It is expected to open at the end of July and serve as a learning and start-up hub for entrepreneurs to use. There will be resources and services available such as technical assistance, mentorship, promotional opportunities and networks.
The Rock It! Lab has three floors with different features. The 501 Makers Makerspace is a creative suite for artists to draw or paint and designers to sew and tailor. The River Shop Retail space is a shopping space that sells vendor products. The Village is a coworking space with amenities for individuals.