10-year-old Zoe Oli of Atlanta arrived at Walt Disney World for the first time a few days ago, not on vacation but as CEO of her start-up business, Beautiful Curly Me, aimed at creating dolls who look like her.
Oli and 58 other Black entrepreneurs got a two-day peek behind the Disney curtain as part of their journey with the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs’ (RICE) Supply Chain Accelerator Program sponsored by Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. RICE, a non-profit organization based in Atlanta, is a business generator designed to inspire and support Black entrepreneurs.
Throughout the two days of workshops, panel discussions and networking sessions led by Disney, RICE stakeholders learned best practices from various Disney leaders and the Disney Institute about how to grow their businesses. Participants engaged in sessions focused on storytelling, leadership, customer service, and supplier diversity.
“Disney understands the importance of diversity in business and is helping us create and accelerate opportunities for Black business owners – expanding the possibilities during a time when equitable opportunities have never been more important,” said Jay Bailey, President and CEO, Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs.
The Supply Chain Accelerator Program delivers an immersive learning experience aimed at preparing and positioning diverse entrepreneurs and small businesses for long-term success. The pilot includes 35 companies owned by Black entrepreneurs, 66% of whom are women-owned and featured companies from industries such as consulting, food and beverage, IT and software, media, transportation and retail.
In Oli’s case, her company, Beautiful Curly Me, started when she was six years old. “I did not like my hair and I wished it was straight like my classmates. I found a need for black dolls that looked like me. When we went to the stores and couldn’t find any, I decided I wanted to make my own business and do something about it,” shared Oli.
Oli is proud to say that Beautiful Curly Me is a brand on a mission to empower and inspire young black and brown girls to love and be confident in who they are, and for every doll purchased, one is given to an underserved girl. About her experience at Walt Disney World, Oli stated, “Walt’s vision has shown me the power of teamwork and one dream,” shared Oli. “If Walt can do it, I can too.”
M-T Strickland, co-founder and CEO of Metric Mate, also is part of RICE’s Supply Accelerator program. “The magic that you feel at Walt Disney World is energizing, and having a group of 60 entrepreneurs here that share that energy just magnified it,” shared Strickland, co-founder and CEO of Metric Mate. “Beyond the curriculum and relationships we built, being able to take a little piece of the magic back home is going to be amazing. Without a shadow of a doubt, every conversation I have from now on will have that twinkling of Disney in the back of my mind letting me know that I can achieve and I can do what I believe.”
Disney’s sponsorship of RICE’s program is part of its commitment to invest in communities by sharing knowledge and creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses. In fiscal year 2021, Disney set a goal to spend at least $1 billion annually with diverse suppliers by 2024, placing the company among the top in spending with diverse suppliers and impacting the communities by creating jobs and opportunities.
“We recognize that supporting suppliers of all backgrounds, sizes and industries makes a profound impact in the community,” said Ralph Sagaille, Director, Supplier Diversity and Sustainability, The Walt Disney Company. “We believe in the power of possibilities and the collaboration with RICE is part of our commitment to invest in supplier diversity while encouraging entrepreneurs, creators, and innovators to dream.”
The second year of the program will expand to 50 participating businesses and an enhanced curriculum. We look forward to continuing to share more stories about our work with RICE. To learn more about Disney’s Supplier Diversity efforts, visit https://supplierdiversity.disney.com/.