On the home page of africanwomenempowered.com, browsers are tempted with a brilliant display of fabric, featured products like an “elephant bag,” and an invitation to “shop with a purpose.”
African Women Empowered debuted in Cedar Rapids four years ago with a charge to help African women here as refugees develop job skills and earn money to support their families, according to Helen Armstrong, a volunteer leader with the small business.
They churn out bags and aprons, beads and pendants — with materials imported from Africa — from a shop at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids. For years they peddled the merchandise only at craft fairs and the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmer’s Market.
But that changed this month. The mission-specific enterprise added a new tool in their sales kit: a website.
African Women Empowered is among several local businesses to benefit from a partnership between GoDaddy and Mount Mercy University’s Enactus team — comprised of students wanting to help their community while developing leadership skills through “learning, practicing, and teaching the principals of free enterprise.”
For a third consecutive year, Enactus selected local vendors who participated in the university’s annual Market at the Mount to receive extra online support during a 24-hour event dubbed “Some Day: One Day.” This year’s event, which occurred on March 3, involved four women-owned businesses who worked with GoDaddy employees to create a website and enable online sales.
“Enactus helped to open our eyes to the potential of how a website could enhance our business in ways we had not even considered,” Armstrong told The Gazette.
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On “launch day,” Armstrong said, she was skeptical they could get a website off the ground.
“I came in with bits and pieces of written material and some pictures. I couldn’t see how this could turn into a website in a few hours,” she said. “The fabulous team from GoDaddy, along with support from Enactus, pulled it all together and by midafternoon I hit the launch button and suddenly we were up and running.”
Businesses that were interested in turning a “someday” website into a “one-day” project in December pitched their enterprises to a panel of judges during Mount Mercy’s Fourth Annual Market at the Mount — an Enactus-sponsored craft-show-type event that began in 2014 as both a teaching tool for students and as a free space for vendors to promote their products.
Twelve businesses vied for the help creating a site, which can make a massive difference in reaching prospective customers, according to Anjela Calasan, a Mount Mercy Enactus team member and leader of the “Some Day: One Day” project.
“I believe, since we live in a world where we use technology every single day, that having a website is a big deal,” she said. “To be able to have competitive advantage, you need to be available not only in your neighborhood but to communities around the country as well. Having an online store helps with advertising which leads to growth of customers.”
Enactus, which has about 15 active members, decided to start the website endeavor based on feedback from vendors after past Markets at the Mount. More than half of the dozens of businesses in attendance — over 70 participated in December — reported being unable to sell products online.
That feedback spurred the GoDaddy partnership.
“We decided to reach out to them in order to partner with them in terms of providing our vendors with an online presence, which is what GoDaddy specializes in,” Calasan said in an email.
After launching this year’s crop of new sites, many of the business owners were awed by the new opportunities before them.
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“They just couldn’t believe that it actually happened,” Calasan said. “After six hours at GoDaddy, these business are now able to sell online, and not just that, but actually have an online store where people around the world can see amazing products they have to offer.”
GoDaddy supervisor Jesse Rodman in a statement echoed the enthusiasm for the website development “in one day instead of spreading it out over a few months.”
Other businesses that benefited this year included Nutty Sisters, a peanut, almond, and sunflower butter business out of Marion; Crafters Chaos, a Center Point-based craft shop; and the Looking Glass, a Washington-based hair salon.
Armstrong with African Women Empowered said the collaboration has morphed into a “powerful reciprocal relationship” — as her group has offered real-world business experience for students and partnered with Enactus on a “Sandbags2Handbags” project, which repurposed flood-protection materials.
“The club not only helped A.W.E. design and build the website but also helped us clarify our mission and vision statements, develop a business plan, and refine our ideas about the possibilities for the future of this business,” Armstrong said.
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