Both personal and community frustrations fueled veteran Jarriel Brown’s drive to create a business that gives back. Burst of Life LLC sells products that focus on health and wellness but the mission is much bigger. “I started this company so that I can create opportunities for those in need, especially in the black community and for veterans,” he explains. Brown is the second place winner in Nav’s quarterly small Business Grant program, receiving a $5000 grant.
The company’s main product is compostable utensils, which are sold in Meijer’s stores in Michigan. He plans to expand the product line, first with smaller packages of 24 utensils instead of the current 48, and then into additional compostable products such as cups and plates. He also wants to increase distribution to other stores.
His interest in compostable utensils came from a unique experience. While serving in the Air Force, Brown and his fellow service members would often find themselves in the field trying to eat hot meals with plastic cutlery that would break or melt. “We’d get stabbed in the mouth with a broken fork,” he says with a grimace. He also noted that the plastic utensils would sometimes get dropped, creating waste that would not break down. It was a relatively small annoyance, but one that stuck with him.
After returning to his hometown of Detroit, Brown discovered a passion for community service and worked on a project to help residents of Flint Michigan affected by the crisis of lead in their drinking water. He was frustrated he couldn’t do more. He missed the vibrant Detroit he had grown up in, and he wanted to play a role in its revival. “Businesses were doing better, which gave us many places to create great memories,” he says.
Realizing entrepreneurship would be a path to help not just himself but others, he set about creating his business, launching in February 2020. “It was tough,” he admits. He launched it with help of family and friends, by bootstrapping with funds he earns as an IT technician, and with a small business credit card.
The credit card proved invaluable in helping him purchase inventory and cover shipping costs before he could pay for them out of cash flow. “Through the use of that credit card, I have now been able to get our compostable utensils in stores,” he explains.
Brown’s church, Global Empowerment Ministries, has been instrumental in helping him build his business. He’s taken entrepreneurship classes and participated in numerous events. It was there he learned about the Nav Small Business Grant.
Brown says he has found Nav to be helpful for comparing financial tools: “I like the banking comparison tools they offer to give entrepreneurs a clear view to consider their checking account options and credit card options.” He adds that he has been surprised to discover how many financing options are out there.
He has also benefited from a business mentor who has provided invaluable advice. He says the smartest thing he did when starting out was to take his mentor’s advice. “It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that my mentor has taught me everything that I know about being a business owner and helping me begin my journey of bringing my vision to life,” says Brown.
Brown loves getting positive feedback from customers about how sturdy and heat resistant his utensils are, and how they provide an alternative to harmful plastic. He also relishes each milestone his business has hit. “It is both humbling, yet exciting, to watch something I created grow before my eyes,” he notes.
Dealing with inflation has been a challenge, and he’s also learned he needs to better pace himself. In the beginning he would work almost nonstop 16-hour days, and eventually he burned out. While he remains laser focused and diligent, he now takes a longer term perspective, observing that running a business “isn’t a race, so working fast doesn’t always get you to the finish line faster.”
Brown’s goal is to expand the product line and to get his products into retailers nationwide. The $5000 he will receive as a winner of the Nav Small Business Grant will help him get one step closer.
His faith, community and customers will be key to continuing that growth. “The vision for my company’s future will impact many lives, and I must push forward to be where I’m needed when the time comes to help them,” he says.