Erica Plybeah grew up watching her mother, a full-time teacher, take care of her grandmother while she struggled with Type 2 diabetes. Her grandmother faced an amputation that impacted her mobility, so she required transportation to and from various medical appointments, which proved to be difficult due to her mother’s busy schedule. As Erica got older, she learned that millions of families across the country face similar mobility challenges. Erica went on to work in healthcare IT implementation for hospitals and later decided to use her experience to address medical transportation inefficiencies that disproportionately impact low-income, rural communities.
In 2017, Erica founded MedHaul, a platform that connects hospitals and patients with medical transportation providers, streamlining the management of day-to-day operations. Erica faced a number of challenges getting MedHaul off the ground. Just when she was ready to give up, she got an email saying she was selected for Google for Startups Immersion, a mentorship program focused on addressing the funding gap for startups led by Black founders. “It’s the reason I still have a company,” said Erica. “They provide a one-on-one mentor for you to work with.” The program and its resources helped Erica get MedHaul back on track. “It completely changed my whole life as a founder,” she said.
Today, Erica and her small team use Google tools to keep MedHaul going. “We use pretty much every Google product that you can think of — everything from Google Keep to Google Analytics,” said Erica. Google Analytics helps Erica see how people are engaging with the MedHaul website. “Once we started using Google Analytics, we learned that people were much more interested in our company than we initially thought,” she said, allowing the MedHaul team to pitch investors with confidence. MedHaul also runs Google Ads campaigns to reach people searching for transportation solutions and uses G Suite tools like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Drive to collaborate efficiently.
With MedHaul, Erica is dedicated to providing all people — especially those in vulnerable communities — with access to reliable medical transportation. “Google will be a huge partner in advertising to these individuals and communities,” said Erica. Beyond MedHaul, Erica works with children who have been affected by HIV, leads a scholarship committee for students of color pursuing healthcare careers, and mentors underprivileged teens and young adults. “I hope to be the face for a lot of younger black girls or boys from these very poor communities,” said Erica. “They can see that I came from a situation like theirs and that I was able to use the obstacles I faced as a catalyst.”
My Cup of Tea
In 2014, Rick and Carey Moore launched My Cup of Tea, a Memphis local business dedicated to packaging and distributing tea from around the world. In an effort to give back to the community, the Moores exclusively hire local single mothers to manage and operate My Cup of Tea from the House Orange Mound Resource Center. The tea is then sold nationally online.
“All of our profit is reinvested into our amazing employees,” Carey said. Digital has played a key role in helping the company flourish in an under-resourced area, driving both community support and sales. “Part of the challenge is getting the community involved financially and finding people willing to work and volunteer with women who live in the neighborhood,” Rick explained.
In 2015, My Cup of Tea partnered with a web design and marketing agency to kick-start its online strategy. Together, they set up a Business Profile on Google and built a website to raise awareness. “Early on, we were setting goals for search engine optimization and social media,” said Kindra Svendson, the agency’s digital marketing manager. My Cup of Tea uses Google Ads to reach customers and Google Analytics to monitor traffic on its top landing pages. The business’ entire advertising budget is dedicated to digital, which accounts for more than 20% of its total sales. ”Year-over-year sales have improved about 74%,” Kindra said. “The majority of our site traffic is from new visitors, and 42% find the company through organic search. We’ve gotten thousands of visits just from our online presence.”
In just five years, My Cup of Tea has grown to serve more than 2,000 customers annually. “From a marketing standpoint, Google is one of the most powerful tools that we use,” Kindra said. “The mission of the organization isn’t going to change. But to keep growing, we need to stay on top of what’s changing in the digital space.” More importantly, My Cup of Tea has become a “mission within a mission” in Carey’s eyes. They’ve helped several employees launch their own side businesses. “We’re making a change in the community, but these women are the real inspiration,” Rick added. “They’re determined to improve their lives, their family’s lives, and the area they live in.”
Patricia Nash Designs
Sometimes a glimpse into the past is the best way to see the future. After years of designing handbags and accessories for other brands, Patricia Nash was looking for a change. She found a 50-year-old handbag in her mother’s closet and, inspired by its quality and workmanship, decided to launch a line of handbags under her own name in 2010. The company produces quality bags, all designed by Patricia, combining old-world craftsmanship with updated details for today’s customer. “We’ve grown exponentially and continue to be a very healthy business because of the quality and the detail in every product,” explains Jennifer Evans, Vice President of Operations.
Patricia Nash Designs sells wholesale to department stores and direct-to-consumer via their website. Google products help them to stay competitive and grow their online business. They use AdWords, Google’s advertising program, to market and sell their products directly to customers across the country. Google Analytics helps them make effective use of their digital advertising budget by measuring conversion rates and providing insights into their website traffic. They also share videos on their own YouTube channel to debut new product lines and to give customers a behind-the-scenes peek into the design and production processes.
Patricia Nash Designs is proud of being a woman-owned business and offers mentoring events to other businesswomen in the community. As Jennifer points out, “Patricia is not only a great designer, she’s also a great businesswoman.” They’re proud of maintaining a personal touch with their customers and community, and of having devoted followers nationwide. “A lot of people ask why Patricia Nash Designs is located in Tennessee while most of our competitors are in New York,” says Marketing Manager Suzanne Koontz. “That’s because our customers are located in Knoxville-sized cities all across the country. That’s our following.” The company has added women’s footwear and men’s accessories to their product line in the past couple of years. Looking ahead, they are planning to add new classifications soon and are focused on steadily increasing their online business.
40 employees in Nashville
While working in Ethiopia, Barrett and Rachel Ward saw firsthand how extreme poverty affects the lives of girls and women. Many endured the ravages of homelessness and addiction, often turning to prostitution to support themselves and their families. "It’s a pretty disturbing thing to see," Barrett says. Amid this poverty, the couple also saw beauty in the scarves and garments made by the local women. This inspired them to find a way to help women overcome adversity. "Charity and rehabilitation are critical for getting people on their feet, but there has to be opportunities for jobs after that," Barrett explains. FASHIONABLE was founded in 2010, partnering with manufacturing companies in Tennessee and around the world to help women earn a living wage and break the cycle of poverty.
FASHIONABLE’s e-commerce site sells clothing, handbags, jewelry, and shoes. It also serves as a resource to educate consumers about world poverty and the fashion industry. "We wanted to invest in the web as our primary source of growth," Barrett says. “About 75 percent of our marketing budget now goes to digital.” AdWords, Google's advertising program, brings fashion- and socially-conscious consumers to their website and flagship store. “We earn four dollars in revenue for every dollar we spend on AdWords,” he adds. Google Analytics equips the company with the customer insights to continually refine their marketing campaigns. G Suite tools Gmail, Docs, and Drive power their growing operation. "Everything from financial-data analysis to inventory management happens in G Suite." And YouTube enables them to bring their story to life. "We are fully invested in everything Google,” says Barrett. “It’s the driver of our online growth.”
Revenue for the company more than doubled in 2016. While impressive, how much they’ve sold is far less important to them than why they sell, “and that’s to create sustainable jobs for women who have overcome extraordinary circumstances,” says Barrett. Today, FASHIONABLE employs 39 women in Nashville and partners with manufacturers to employ over 300 women globally. With consumer interest in their mission and products on the rise, this figure will likely keep on growing. And through their program ACCOUNTABLE, the manufacturers they partner with will continue to be held to the highest standards of labor and environmental practices. “That’s what we’re fighting for,” Barrett says, “not just the number of women who work, but also the quality of jobs those women have.”