Latisha Jones started her first business when she was in the fourth grade. Her sister had given her a set of beads, and she quickly realized she could make earrings out of them. She called the business Latisha’s Earrings, made paper packaging and sold each pair for $2. The sales put extra money in her pocket to go to the snack cart or buy pizza after school.
That early experience planted the seeds for Mo’Shea LLC, a hair and skincare company Jones began building at 16. The idea had been percolating for some time, but she was inspired to bring it to life by a pitch competition and youth entrepreneurship program offered through her high school.
Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, Jones, who attended International Academy of Flint, had learned about Genesee County’s pitch competition in 2019. To prepare, students worked with mentors and attended workshops that encouraged them to come up with a business idea that tackled a real-world problem. The challenge spoke to Jones.
“I knew that my business was going to be about more than just me making money,” Jones said. “I wanted to make an impact and possibly change the world. I thought back on my own personal experiences and how I had been bullied the majority of my life because of my dark skin complexion. That caused me a lot of self-hate. And there were never people who looked like me when it came to beauty and positive representations of women. Starting there, I thought about ways to help other girls with these issues. Shea butter, and making healthy skin care products, came to mind. It was the act of implementing self-care to have the result of self-love.”
Jones worked intensively with her mentor on preparing and perfecting her pitch. She won at the school-wide level, netting an award she used to create prototypes and the first batches of skincare samples. With product samples and more feedback from her mentor, she refined her pitch. Then, in 2020, she won regionally.
“It was a huge accomplishment because at first I didn’t have the confidence in my product or myself to start my business,” Jones said. “I always knew what I’d wanted to do, but not necessarily how to do it. This program gave me the knowledge and skills bring my ideas to fruition.”
The pitch competition, workshops and mentoring, led by the Genesee Intermediate School District through a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, were part of a pilot program that launched the Genesee Youth Entrepreneurship Network. The network aims to create pathways to entrepreneurial experiences for students across the county. Mott also provides funding to the Young Entrepreneur Institute for its work with GISD and other school districts and afterschool programs to integrate entrepreneurial education.
“By growing entrepreneurial learning experiences, we’re not just opening paths for young people who want to start a business, but helping students cultivate the skills and mindsets that prepare them to meet 21st century challenges,” said Arielle Milton, an associate program officer with Mott’s Education program. “Equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset, students graduate better prepared for school, work and life.”
Latisha Jones continues to grow these skills, and her company, as she pursues her education. Today, she’s a freshman majoring in sociology at Spelman College, a historically Black, women’s liberal arts college in Atlanta. “The network I already have, the sisterhood that I will build and the opportunities when I graduate are endless,” Jones said.