Broward Entrepreneur Finds Success with Help from Urban League Loan Fund
As a teenager, Keel Russell still remembers looking around his low-income community in Broward County and realizing how tough it was to succeed financially. He wanted to avoid all the dreaded challenges holding back so many of his family friends and relatives.
His ticket out: become an entrepreneur.
So after graduating high school, serving in the military, and trying to launch several products, Keel finally hit upon the right business idea: selling unique umbrellas and outerwear.
His big break came in 2015 when he beat out more than 30 other entrepreneurs to land a major purchase order with Walmart as part of the National Urban League Conference in Fort Lauderdale.
Everything was ready to go, except for one vital issue: he needed capital to fund the purchase and merchandising of products. Keel approached several banks, but he couldn’t get a loan.
That’s when the Urban League of Broward County’s Small Business Loan Fund recognized Keel’s potential and gave him the $250,000 line of credit.
“It was a game-changing moment,” said Keel, who is now 31 and was born in Jamaica. “Not only did the Urban League open the door for us to Walmart but they also helped us secure this important loan. What they did was put trust in us. We were very grateful.”
The loan also enabled Keel, along with his two business partners Trevon Young and Patrick Senior, to innovate and better market their products to other big retailers including Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
For Keel, it’s been a long journey to reach the breakthrough moment.
In many ways, his dream of thinking big started after he got accepted into the multi-racial magnet program at Pompano Beach High School, where he befriended students from wealthier families and saw a world outside of Lauderhill. He learned quickly that one of the best ways to make money was to become an entrepreneur and control your own destiny.
“This gave me a different perspective on life,” he said. “I now wanted a bigger home and more financial security. I wanted a better education and I wanted to be able to help my nieces and nephews go to college and be anything they set out to become.”
So he enlisted in the military in 2004 and served in Kuwait and Iraq, and eventually returned home to complete college and start a web development company. He also set out to try his first product, a for curvy women. He made a trip to China in search of a manufacturer and began working on the product, but soon dropped the idea after learning that it would take a huge investment and many years to establish a reputable brand.
He needed another product. After doing research, he decided on umbrellas -- not just regular umbrellas, but stylish and unique umbrellas. Umbree was started in 2008 and began selling products on the internet in 2013.
Like so many other entrepreneurs, he threw in practically every dollar he had to grow the company, often leaving himself nearly penniless. But he pushed on, selling tens of thousands of umbrellas over time to JM Family Enterprises, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, and many other companies and consumers.
And then Walmart happened. Umbree secured its first order at 78 stores. The company projects sales to be $3.7 million over the next five years. As many as nine jobs will be created over that time, with average wages being $43,800.
Keel hopes to soon get deals with other major companies, including Disney.
As part of the company’s mission, Umbree is giving some sales proceeds to social justice causes. It is, for instance, making black umbrellas to bring aware to gang violence and purple umbrellas to spotlight domestic violence.
“We want to support our community,” he said. “This is why I became an entrepreneur – to do good for the world.”
Umbree is looking for investors and equity partners. If interested, contact Keel at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about Small Business Loan Fund, click here.
About Urban League of Broward County
The Urban League of Broward County is a not for profit organization founded to empower communities and change lives. Our mission is to assist African Americans and other disenfranchised groups in the achievement of social and economic equality. Our “Breaking the Cycle” programs uplift more than 7,000 people every year through affordable housing initiatives, youth development, and diversion, employment and training, community empowerment, and civic engagement. Learn more about the Urban League of Broward County by visiting: www.ulbroward.org.
About the Urban League of Broward County's Entrepreneurship Center and Loan Fund
The Urban League's Entrepreneurship Center and Loan Fund was developed to give minority small business owners the tools needed – technical training, market exposure, and capital funding – to grow and develop their businesses provide capital to entrepreneurs for business development. Entrepreneurship Center participants with 25 or fewer employees, and average annual gross revenues of $5 million or less are eligible to borrow funds of up to $250,000 for additional market expansion. The Loan Fund is made possible by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, BankUnited, Florida Community Bank and Citi.