She is donating $100 from her business‘ profits to Save the Children’s relief efforts in Haiti. It may not sound like much, but Ariana Smith-Bland is not the president of a multi-million-dollar corporation. She is the owner of Monai Enterprise, a one-woman, Cleveland-based business specializing in hand-made decorative tissue holders. The 18-year-old Shaker Heights, Ohio, native has used an e-mail campaign to encourage other entrepreneurs-both novice and veteran-to contribute as well. So far the response has been great, according to Smith-Bland.
In February, she sent just 10 e-mails to colleagues telling them that Monai Enterprise had donated $100 to Save the Children’s Haiti relief effort. She asked those colleagues to meet or beat that pledge. The e-mail spread virally, reaching hundreds of young entrepreneurs as well as established professionals and business owners in Greater Cleveland. The e-mail even made its way to one of her teachers at John Carroll University, who said that two of his children were making donations.
Smith-Bland is keeping track of the donations promised and hopes that the money will allow children in Haiti to realize their dreams. “I selected Save the Children because so many kids want to have their own businesses, and I would definitely like to help the children of Haiti start their own companies,” she says.
The entrepreneurial bug bit Smith-Bland when she was 13. “I was part of Caring Communities, a business and entrepreneurial development class (in Cleveland),” she says. “My aunt gave me the idea for my business.” She also served as a webmaster of sorts, focusing on websites offering product reviews for everything from baby jumpers to the Yamaha HS8 Review.
Smith-Bland sews all of the fabric tissue holders herself, although these days the college freshman employs the help of her grandmother to assemble them. The tissue holders are sold at a local boutique and an art gallery, but she says that word of mouth is her best form of marketing.
Currently working toward a degree in business management with a minor in entrepreneurship, Smith-Bland’s long-term dream is to graduate from law school and open her own firm. She says that running her own business at a young age will give her the skills needed to accomplish that goal.
In high school, Smith-Bland’s business sense was heightened while attending classes at E-City, a nonprofit organization that teaches Cleveland-area students entrepreneurial, business and life skills. E-City, she says, reinforced the importance of entrepreneurs giving back to their communities.
Smith-Bland took those words to heart and for years has volunteered locally with Coats for Kids, the Cleveland Food Bank and the City Mission, among other organizations. In 2007, her company donated more than $200 to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina as well as AIDS victims in Africa.
After seeing the devastation following the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, Smith-Bland knew she had to help.
Giving back, she says, is a way to say thank you to those who in the past have helped her and to give others a chance at success. “If people invested time and energy in me, I should reinvest my time and energy in others,” she says.