International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Entrepreneur of the Month: Mary Page

Mary_Page_Tropical_HeritageThe IRC recently recognized Mary Page as the March  2012 Entrepreneur of the Month.

“IRC has been like a family to me.  Without the support of the IRC, my business would not be as successful as it is today.”    - Mary Page, Owner, Tropical Heritage

Personal Background:
Mary Page arrived in the United States in 1999 as an asylee from Kenya, where she was forced to flee due to violence and political persecution. Mary had several years of entrepreneurial experience prior to coming to the United States, including managing two different “Duty-Free” shops in Liberia.  Mary was also an accomplished artisan in Kenya, and ran a gallery featuring her work alongside the work of several youth and women organizations in Africa, which supported victims of violence in both Kenya and Liberia.

The IRC in San Diego Microenterprise Program and the WE STAR Center Supports Tropical Heritage
In 2005, Mary decided to start a business importing arts and crafts from her native country.  Her two reasons for starting this business were to create a living for herself in San Diego and to support artisans in Kenya.  When Mary approached the IRC’s Microenterprise Program in November of 2007, her business was very new; she was only selling products at one consignment shop and was generating just a couple hundred dollars per month in sales.  Furthermore, she had not yet established a legal business entity, had insufficient marketing material to support her sales, and lacked financing necessary to import additional products. 

From November 2007 through early 2008, the IRC Microenterprise Program and WE STAR Center spent many hours providing 1-on-1 technical assistance and business consulting to Mary.  The results of this work include the development of a formal business entity (Tropical Heritage), a marketing plan with professional marketing material (brochures, business cards, and website), the addition of new sales venues (including two weekly farmers’ markets), and a $5,000 loan to purchase a dependable van to transport her goods to and from markets.  Mary also expanded her business into selling at street fair and festivals, with the support of an additional $3,000 in loan capital from IRC.

Tropical_HeritageStatus of business:
Today, Tropical Heritage is almost entirely sustainable, due to IRC’s support and Mary’s very hard work and dedication. Mary is able to locate markets, sell products, track income and expenses, import more inventory, and grow the business with limited assistance. Her business is currently generating $2,000-3,000 per month in sales, and has been featured in local San Diego publications, including the San Diego Union-Tribune and The Reader.

Mary has recently worked with the Microenterprise Program to develop an e-commerce enabled website, which will allow her to expand to new markets.  For Mary, Tropical Heritage has grown to be not only a source of income, but also a business that gives her the tools and confidence to successfully integrate into her new community.    Visit her website at www.AfricanTropicalHeritage.com.

Why we are nominating Mary for Entrepreneur of the Month:
Mary has played a critical role in helping other refugee women start similar businesses.  As an experienced business owner and expert sales woman, Mary has been an invaluable mentor to other refugee women entrepreneurs. She helps other women locate markets, display their products, and develop sales skills for selling their products.  This mentoring from Mary, in addition to support provided from the IRC, has resulted the development of an additional five refugee-owned microenterprises.

Learn more about the IRC Microenterprise Program

Meet the February 2012 Entrepreneur of the Month

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