Socially Conscious Startup Wins Forbes 400K Pressure Cooker Competition

By and

Jessica (left), a Digital Marketing graduate from Los Angeles, took a leap of faith two years ago when her long-time friend suggested the idea of launching Enrou. The content-driven marketplace supports consumer brands that are invested in social good and community development. Since, Enrou has taken off, and the team won over a panel of judges including Steve Case, Mike Perlis, and Troy Carter during the Forbes Under 30 Pressure Cooker pitch competition. They walked away with a winning title, a cash prize to fund their business, and immediate bragging rights.

Let’s start at the beginning. What’s Enrou?

Derived from the idea of being en route towards change, Enrou is a content-driven marketplace for brands that invest in community development. Enrou is founded on the desire to empower people around the world through the power of trade. Enrou creates opportunity for people in developing communities that lack the skills, resources, or support through the distribution of their products to a global market.

While Enrou gives opportunity to women and men that need it most, we also empower our customers to make an impact with every purchase. When shopping from Enrou’s collection of goods – from hand-roasted coffee from Rwanda to unique jewelry from Laos and one-of-a-kind home goods from India – customers can discover products they love and learn how their purchase makes a positive impact in the lives of the people who made the product and their communities. Taken together, Enrou acts as a connector between two diverse communities of people that enables community growth through commerce.

What motivated you to take our Digital Marketing course?

Studying communications in college always had me interested in marketing. When we started Enrou, I knew it would be beneficial as an online brand to understand digital marketing specifically. I had done a lot of my own research and learning before taking the class, but knew it would be useful to learn in a structured environment like GA. After hearing about the class and meeting the instructors, I knew it was a great opportunity for me to understand digital marketing so that I could use my knowledge to help Enrou.

How did you meet your co-founder, Ann, and how did you two start the business?

Ann and I met when we were 13-years-old in junior high. We’ve been friends ever since and went to high school and college together. When Ann came to me with her idea during our senior year at UCLA, it made a lot of sense. Plus, I saw how passionate and excited she was about this idea. I knew then that I wanted to contribute to her dream however I could. Because I’ve known her for so long, it’s easy to work alongside one of my best friends who I know is absolutely capable of making this idea into something that will hopefully make the world a little brighter.

As a small team, how do you divide roles and responsibilities?

Ann and I have very different personalities, but we’re lucky that they complement each other so well. While Ann is the dreamer and looks at the big picture of Enrou, I am more detail oriented and pragmatic. Whereas Ann does a lot of the internal infrastructure of the company, I mostly work on the front-facing components of Enrou.

You seem to be busy traveling lately. Tell me about your most recent trip.

Yes! Ann and I were in Philadelphia and New York for two pitch competitions. Enrou was selected as a finalist in both competitions, and we ended up winning the Forbes Under 30 $400,000 Pressure Cooker pitch competition. The trip was an absolute whirlwind, but we were so fortunate to have the opportunity to share our passion — Enrou — with the people that we did. We are an L.A.-based company, and have built some great relationships in this community. But it was so wonderful to share with an entire new group of people what our team has been so hard at work on.

Congratulations on your big win! What has been most valuable about your experiences with Blackstone Launchpad and Forbes?

Thank you! The value from both the Forbes Under 30 and Blackstone LaunchPad is tremendous; we feel so grateful that we had the opportunity to share our work with those communities.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself over the past year?

I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned about myself is how much I can grow and learn. A year ago, there were instances when I was unsure about how to conduct myself in certain situations or was timid to approach people at events, but now I am much more confident in my knowledge of business and social enterprise — it’s quite surprising to see how that has changed!

Tell me about your future plans for Enrou.

Enrou’s next steps are to raise money and begin to implement a lot of the ideas we’ve built since releasing our beta site. We have a better understanding of what stories influence people; and now we feel like we have a very strong direction for our brand. Our next phase will be focused on turning our learnings into practice and releasing Enrou to a national audience.

What advice can you provide for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

The best advice I have for any entrepreneur is to keep learning, and the best way to do that is to listen. As an entrepreneur I think it’s inevitable that you are always learning; but it’s one thing to watch a Youtube video about how to crop a photo into a circle, and something entirely different to sit back and learn from others that have more experience and knowledge than you do. Being an entrepreneur has given me many opportunities to learn from others at the top of their fields. I am so grateful that I’ve been able to listen and learn from these people to make both Enrou and myself better. And I encourage all entrepreneurs to do the same.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I’d have to say watching the show “Dance Moms” is my guilty pleasure.

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Nelson Igunma is a Front Lines Associate at General Assembly and and Alumni Writer for GA Success Stories.