Sodexo employee makes strides as entrepreneur with mobile barbershop pitch

Lakendra+Brooks%2C+a+Sodexo+worker+at+Straz+Tower+dining+hall%2C+made+the+final+rounds+of+REV-Up+MKE+with+her+barbershop+idea.+

Photo by Ricky Labrada

Lakendra Brooks, a Sodexo worker at Straz Tower dining hall, made the final rounds of REV-Up MKE with her barbershop idea.

Straz Tower Sodexo dining hall employee Lakendra Brooks pitched her idea of a mobile barbershop to the Near West Side Partners as a REV-Up MKE finalist Sept. 25.

The REV-Up MKE event is a business competition hosted for the last three years by the Near West Side Partners that allows entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas in the hopes of receiving support to expand their businesses.

Brooks said she got the idea for a mobile barbershop after cutting students’ hair in Straz last year.

“I (was) picking them up, taking them to my house, cutting their hair and dropping them back off … I was like, I might as well plan on being a mobile barber,” Brooks said.

Adam Romanski, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, said he met Brooks while living in Straz last year. Romanski said Brooks has been cutting his hair for about a year. 

“She’s very sweet,” Romanski said. “Probably one of the best people on campus.”

Romanski said Brooks brought up her idea for a mobile barbershop last year, to which he said it would be an awesome idea.

“She’s very passionate,” Romanski said. “She livens and brightens up when she talks about it.

Kelsey Otero, the associate director of social innovation at the 707 Hub on campus, said a team started mentoring Brooks in July after she was selected as a finalist. She said this team consisted of members like herself and Tom Avery, an in-residence mentor at the 707 Hub.

To prep, Otero said the REV-Up MKE finalists signed up for one-on-one meetings each week with Avery to receive critiques on their projects. Otero said the finalists would have to complete follow up work for their next meeting with Avery.

After a month, Otero said the finalists practiced their pitches during one-hour sessions. She said the finalists practiced on their own time as well, in front of friends and colleagues.

Brooks said she did not end up winning the finals, but that it will not deter her from persuing her business.

She added that REV-Up MKE wanted a storefront, but she did not want to change her idea. She said she did not want clientele coming to one location; she wanted to come to them.

“I don’t want to change my idea just so I can be in to win,” Brooks said. “They have enough storefronts … I want to be mobile.”

Brooks added the judges were looking for already established businesses. She said if she would have known that, she would have waited until next year to compete.

“The experience overall was great,” Brooks said, adding that she got to meet some great people and received mentorship through Marquette.

“All around, being able to be chosen out of 35 people (as a finalist), I’m blessed,” Brooks said.

Even though the Rev-Up MKE event is over, Otero said she will continue to work on the idea with Brooks. She said she is co-teaching a new business urban learning class that works with start-up businesses in the Near West Side. Otero said Brooks is part of a student team participating in the class.

“(Brooks) is a great person to get to work with and to continue to work with,” Otero said.

“It’s my passion, so I don’t want to stop it because I didn’t win a competition,” Brooks said. “I want that competition boosting me up.”

Brooks said she thinks she will take her idea somewhere else before going back to the Rev-Up MKE event.

“They’re thinking so small about it,” Brooks said. “I have to go somewhere I know they’re thinking big about (my idea).” 

Brooks said she felt blessed to have the opportunity to present her mobile barbershop to the Near West Side. She said no one had heard of it before and she was able to give them an idea of what it could be like in the future.