(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of profiles about the startups competing in the fourth installment of the ARK Challenge accelerator, currently underway in downtown Little Rock. 'ARK 4' will culminate in its Demo Day, scheduled for Nov. 12 at the Clinton Center, where startups pitch their final products for a chance to win $150,000 in prize money. The series begins with Little Rock's My Color of Beauty.)
Eyona Mitchell is experiencing first hand how the other half lives. A one-person team competing in the fourth installment of the ARK Challenge startup accelerator in downtown Little Rock, Mitchell used to help businesses at previous stints working with the Downtown Little Rock Partnership and Alt.Consulting in Pine Bluff.
Now she's trying to launch one of her own, and her acceptance into the ARK program was the first step. Her startup is My Color of Beauty, an online platform for women of color designed to help them discover beauty products from online "influencers" that are specific to their needs.
Mitchell plans to launch the website in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, she's enjoying the full benefits offered by the ARK: daily access to a network of mentors and other resources that will help her business launch regardless of what happens at Demo Day on Nov. 12.
"I worked with small businesses for years," Mitchell said. "I just enjoyed helping everybody else. Now I'm on the other side. I know the value of getting assistance with your business idea."
Mitchell, 34, completed her master's degree in community and economic development at UCA in Conway this spring, and she knew the time was right to launch. She met with Innovate Arkansas and its advisers suggested she apply for the ARK.
"I finished school and decided to go with it, full steam ahead," she said.
Mother of two boys, 13 and 7, and a 3-year-old girl, Mitchell hatched the idea for My Color of Beauty after experiencing frustration trying to find the right products for her daughter's "natural" hair. Mitchell said she was likely to spend up to $100 a month on hair-care products.
She tried Birchbox, the online subscription service for beauty and grooming products, and was surprised to find nothing specific to African-American women.
"I just said that I was going to create something for us," she said.
Through the website for Sheena's Hair Emporium, owned by her sister-in-law, Mitchell surveyed potential customers about their interest in a subscription service specifically geared for black women. She found out they were not interested in a subscription box but were enthusiastic about an online "platform" that could link them to the products they were seeking.
"My Color of Beauty will be a platform for women of color to discover beauty products specific to their unique needs from online influencers," Mitchell said. "Users can visit the website and browse through articles and video tutorials about beauty topics that pertain specifically to women of color."
Mitchell, who picked up the entrepreneurial spark from husband James, who owns JM Enterprises, said users will be able to pick "tips and tricks from influencers that look and sound like them."
"I'm hoping to bring attention to the diversity found among African-American women," Mitchell said. "I want to be an online beauty community for women of color."