Growth with purpose: Q&A with a YLAI Fellow small-business expert

By Bryce Kelly

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses faced challenges staying open and growing. As changing conditions create a path to returning to normal, many businesses that persevered through these challenges are seeing rapid growth during the recovery. While everyone wants to see their business do well, making your business bigger can be just as difficult as going through hard times. 2021 YLAI Fellow Kenna George knows this well.

Kenna is the founder and chief executive of LinkUp, a company that provides small businesses in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines a digital space to collaborate as well as promote and sell their products and services. Read on to learn more about Kenna’s journey and experience expanding her small business.

What issues in your community drove you to create this company?

One of the issues we have facing small businesses as a country is the number of imports. Because it’s more convenient to shop online or support a larger business, people weren’t supporting smaller businesses as much as bigger ones. Sometimes, it’s not even about the prices; people just don’t even know that what they are looking for is also available locally. It could take weeks longer to import goods, but they do it because they don’t even know that someone in their community provides it as well.

With LinkUp, we wanted to make an online presence more affordable for smaller businesses, so they can provide the same level of service as a larger business.

Even outside of connecting our clients with consumers, small businesses run on such limited budgets, so we realized that there is room for them to “link up,” not only with consumers but also with each other. Last year before the pandemic, I created a Facebook group for business owners to come together to come up with solutions to help them. We want an interactive brand, to have people come on and say, “we want to be a part of this!”

What has it been like to scale your business?

Right now, LinkUp is growing quicker than we thought it would. When we launched, we had just 20 businesses on the platform. In 2018 we had 200 businesses, and in 2019, 400. I had to take a pause because LinkUp was just two full-time employees and a few part-time employees. I’m in the process right now of scaling it beyond the waters of Saint Vincent, and that’s one of the areas I’m actively working on.

Within the next few months, we’re launching a new platform, which will open us up to e-commerce. This will allow us to get more small businesses. We’re adding the rest of the Caribbean islands and targeting small businesses that have not established an online presence.

How do you keep the essence of what LinkUp is as it grows larger?

When I’m looking for new employees, I’m looking for the right attitude, the right values. I’m taking people on board and asking them, what is your vision for small businesses? Is this something you are passionate about? One of the things we thrive on is innovation. We value continuous improvement for quality. That is something I advise to ask of all future employees and potential partners.

What keeps you motivated?

I think I’ve always had the entrepreneurship bug. I used to pitch ideas to my cousins and my parents of ways I was going to make money. Through the years it kept adding on and adding on. Every step was just another turn in my journey. I left school to pursue an associate degree. I completed that program at the top of my class and I did what’s called an “attachment,” where I was posted with a company to learn. I’m still with the company today. I graduated from college in 2012. LinkUp launched in 2017.

LinkUp was launched because I saw small businesses weren’t getting as much visibility as these larger businesses importing in. As I went on pitching the idea to other groups, I realized that so many companies, not just small ones, were having these problems. I thought, how is this affecting our economy? It motivates me to keep going because I see how things are getting better.

What has YLAI taught you?

I’ve learned so much about finding the right talent, and finding out what’s available in other markets, and networking. One of the things I always feel good about is that knowing at any point through YLAI I’m able to ask a question, and there are so many people from around the world who will have a solution to help one another. It’s one of the things that’s really fun. Even though I’m able to gain all this experience and connections, it’s an added benefit for businesses on LinkUp, because if they’re looking for resources, I can reach out to people I know through YLAI to help and advise.

Thank you, Kenna, for sharing your experiences! If you’re interested in learning more about LinkUp, you can follow them on Facebook! Look out for more resources about expanding your business with #YLAIBrandBetter

 

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewees and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.