Maria Scott, Creator and Cofounder of In The Black VIP, is a serial entrepreneur with two businesses–Fully Prepped and Spice Rub–based in Health and Wellness. She discovered that the high cost of customer acquisition with minimal ROI triggered during the pandemic caused many of her fellow small business owners to shut their doors, which is the reason she created the In The Black app. Maria’s background in hosting community health fairs that bring resources to underserved communities helped forge the mission of In The Black’s “Nothings’s Bigger Than Small Business” to create a stronger and healthier small business base for the Columbus Metro Area. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Maria and her answers to my questions were enlightening.
Latasha Chubb: What inspired you to start this business, and what impact do you hope to make on the community?
Maria Scott: Upon returning to my massage company after Covid restrictions were lifted, I discovered how Groupon and Valpak worked. I was devastated to hear the ridiculous fees associated with using their platforms and decided to create something designed to help small business owners without costing them funds they couldn’t afford.
Have you faced any specific obstacles or discrimination as a Black business owner? If so, how did you navigate through them?
My company is called In The Black, which is a financial literacy term meaning as a business you are profitable. I take on and support all business owners. However, due to the name of my business and the fact that I am Black it is often assumed that I only assist Black- owned businesses, which is untrue. I have been called racist on social media and asked “What if we made a business called In The White?” I take it all in stride and invite them to create that company. After all the term “in the white” means unfinished so it would be fitting.
How has social media played a role in growing your business and connecting with your audience?
“Truthfully, social media is the least pleasurable part of my business, but an unfortunate reality is it’s a necessary evil of today’s business ownership. Social media content creation and interaction is truly a weak point for me.”
Can you share a specific instance where your business positively impacted the community? What were the results?
My business is designed around positive impact. Whether promoting businesses at a reasonable rate or free of charge, assisting a small business to stay open only helps its community. I create positive events that promote physical, mental, nutritional wellness and I utilize my brick-and-mortar business in order to do it. Giving them free promotion and their surrounding community entertainment opportunities that push positivity.
What challenges have you faced as a Black-owned business, and how have you overcome them?
My company is based in tech. All of my ideas include technology as part of the solution to problems. There is very little representation of Black women in technology, so I find it hard to get my ideas taken seriously. To combat this, I joined the international non-profit Women In Tech-Global movement under the USA regional branch and founded the Columbus, Ohio Chapter. Ultimately, I don’t intend to solely help small business owners. My overall goal is to introduce solutions for many sectors and industries based on the concept of collaboration through tech.
How do you use your social media platforms to engage with your audience and promote community involvement?
Currently I have my app down for redesign. During this period. I am not reaching out to customers as much as I am forging new relationships with business owners in order to expand my platform’s offerings to the community once it is ready for relaunch. When I am on social media it is primarily LinkedIn, and I am communicating with my base of Women In Tech US-Columbus. I know that beyond In The Black and helping small businesses there are several industries and sectors I can assist with technology. I am creating a strong network of women to help me do that.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly those from underrepresented communities?
Utilize whatever free and inexpensive resources you have available to you and constantly be searching for more. Find like-minded individuals and surround yourself with positivity. Look for opportunities to collaborate instead of worrying about competing. Find opportunities by constantly networking.
Tell us about In the Black VIP and what its purpose, mission, and vision are for small businesses.
“The purpose of In The Black VIP is to provide digital, virtual and event promotional opportunities to small locally owned businesses that can’t afford the rates and fees that come with traditional customer acquisition platforms. Our ultimate goal is to provide free and affordable marketing and promotion services for thousands of businesses in hundreds of US cities.”
Do you see this expanding to other cities?
Yes, absolutely. It is designed to, and I am currently looking to establish ambassadors in cities to assist with making In The Black an opportunity available to all.
What is on the calendar for 2024 for In the Black and the businesses you support?
Our first large vendor event for In The Black was hosted at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in May of 2023. It was well received, so we will be hosting a second one in December to close out 2023. I will continue hosting Nothing’s Bigger Than Small Business biannually in 2024 with the first event being in May for small business appreciation week and December for a Holiday Bazaar. The relaunch of the completely revised In The Black VIP web app in January of 2024 will start the year off strong. I founded the Columbus, Ohio chapter of Women In Tech- USA in January of 2023.This collaboration allowed me to meet amazing female tech professionals. I want to further the interaction between these professionals and Columbus’s small business communities in order to create small business solutions that promote longevity.
How can someone support your efforts or collaborate with you on projects?
Reach out! I can be found on all social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. I host monthly meetings for my Women In Tech US-Columbus chapter that are open to the public. I encourage all women small business owners, startup entrepreneurs, women in technology, those simply interested in technology, current students, recent graduates, and our allies to join us.”