Not all entrepreneurs need to secure a deal on Shark Tank in order to experience immense success. In fact, one Hampton, Virginia-based company saw tremendous growth and expansion after leaving the hit show with no deal. And as late as last month, Lakesha Brown-Renfro’s mango inspired business grew again.
Simply Panache is a national event-planning firm based out of Hampton, Virginia, run by three women. If you’re a fan of the television show Shark Tank, you may have even seen them present their mango preserves to the sharks. This company is a perfect example of small business owners believing in their vision and running with it.
Lakesha Brown-Renfro, one of the founders of Simply Panache, is the wife of Leron Renfro, a sailor who recently retired after 20 years of service. Starting a company and running a successful business is a challenging feat for anybody. However, devoting time to a startup can seem even more daunting as a military spouse dealing with a PCS move or deployments. Though it wasn’t an easy task, Lakesha was able to launch several successful companies with her two business partners, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tanecia Willis, while also balancing her time as a mother and military wife.
Launching Simply Panache
Lakesha had the entrepreneurial mindset since she was a little girl.
“I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset. From childhood, I was the child with the lemonade stand. I had a hair bow business and I started a teen membership club called the Queen of Hearts, in which my friends and I planned outings and community activities,” Lakesha explains.
She always had an eye for business opportunities, and Lakesha, Nzinga, and Tanecia first launched their event planning firm, Simply Panache, in 2001. However, within a few years, they had an idea for an additional business.
Life after Shark Tank
Simply Panache’s business that was featured on Shark Tank evolved out of their event planning company. Lakesha says, “our mango preserves were used as an ingredient in the catering aspect for a plethora of our events.” Because the mango preserves were such a big hit, they decided to start selling it separately as a flagship product.
Although they didn’t receive a deal on Shark Tank, Lakesha explains that the exposure from the show helped their business grow immensely. She elaborates, “Shark Tank was great for us. It was awesome, as it expanded the reach of our flagship product, ‘Mango Mango’ Mango Preserves which resulted in increased sales. We were then able to invest that revenue in the creation of new businesses, mainly our bistro, Mango Mangeaux.”
Since Simply Panache appeared on Shark Tank, the company has expanded well-beyond mango preserves. Between Mango Mangeaux, Simply Panache Nail Bar & Pedi Spa, and their boutique hotel, Panache Place, Lakesha, Nzinga, and Tanecia have a multitude of services. The women don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon though. And they added a MediSpa component to their boutique spa this fall.
Being a role model
While Lakesha’s company has thrived, she also split her time supporting her husband’s Navy career and raising the couple’s 17-year-old daughter, Avery. As a military spouse, she explains that communication is vital for success.
“Good communication starts with your spouse. There has to be an agreement that you will support your spouse’s military career and pursuits, and your spouse will support your entrepreneurial pursuits,” Lakesha states. She adds that Leron has always been very supportive of her career, and Lakesha, Nzinga, and Tanecia often call him their “fourth partner” or the “braun to their beauty.”
Furthermore, as a mother, Lakesha worked to balance her life between her own ambitions and parenting because both demand attention, and she loves that her career allows her to be a positive example for Avery.
“The best thing about being an entrepreneurial mother for me is that I am talking the talk and walking the walk as the primary female role model for my daughter. I want her to have the positive leadership qualities of hard work, strength, integrity and perseverance,” she said.
One in the same
Lakesha firmly believes that it is possible to juggle military life and a startup because “entrepreneurship is all about being dedicated, flexible, focused and committed to seeing your vision realized regardless of the obstacles along the way. Military spouses are very adaptable, flexible and know how to recreate their lives over and over again, all of which makes entrepreneurship a perfect option for military spouses.”
She also advises military spouses with an entrepreneurial spirit to pursue an idea they’re both passionate about and that other people will need or want.
“Remember that entrepreneurship is not a race to the finish line, the journey is really the important part. You learn just as much from obstacles and false starts as you learn from successes,” she shared.
Her success and drive have been supported by a personal mantra: “Pray. A lot. And then pray some more.”
Transitioning to civilian life
In addition to running multiple companies, the Renfros are also in a big transition stage right now after Leron’s retirement from the Navy. “Although my husband has always been very involved in the businesses, from an entrepreneurial perspective, the transition from military to civilian life has not been easy,” Lakesha says.
She explains that “the structure of military leadership is quite different than that of civilian businesses.” Her best advice for families about to exit the military is to plan. However, she adds, “if you have an entrepreneurial idea and have the drive to see it through, this is a great time to get started.”t
To learn about Lakesha’s latest business, go to: The Hampton.Read comments