Like so many entrepreneurs, when Terri-Nichelle Bradley launched Brown Toy Box in 2017, she funded the startup with the savings in her 401(k). That’s how confident and passionate she was about her business plan and purpose.
“I want to change the trajectory of kids’ lives,” says Bradley. On the World’s To-Do List (otherwise known as the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals), Brown Toy Box is focused on #4: Quality Education and #10: Reducing Inequality.
Brown Toy Box introduces science, technology, education and mathematics (the STEM fields) to Black and Brown children through play in a culturally affirming way. The company began as a subscription service; kids who were subscribed received a different box each month with fun and engaging lessons and activities, each led by a fictional Black or Brown character as the expert.
As part of her business model, Bradley also began connecting schools with corporate partners to reach high-potential students who happened to live in impoverished neighborhoods. That’s how PNC met Bradley.
In Atlanta, where Brown Toy Box is headquartered, PNC Grow Up Great® supported what Bradley calls an “out-of-the-box” experience with a marine biologist at a local elementary school.
And now PNC has another connection with Bradley: both are fans of the global nonprofit Coralus (formerly SheEO), an organization that’s on a mission to change how businesses owned by women and non-binary individuals are funded and supported.
As part of PNC’s Project 257SM: Accelerating Women’s Financial Equality, PNC has launched a three-year $1.257 million partnership with Coralus to help close the economic gender gap by expanding women’s access to credit.
Coralus Activators Are Game-Changers
Coralus provides 0% loans and an ecosystem of support to women and non-binary entrepreneurs. Its business model is unique. The organization raises money for its 0% interest perpetual loan fund by appealing to the pocketbooks of people who identify as female or non-binary and are willing to contribute $92/month or $1,100/year. These “Activators” not only underwrite the loans to “Ventures” like Brown Toy Box, they also vote to select which companies receive financing.
Activators, who come from locations on three continents and bring a wide range of backgrounds, expertise, connections, influence and buying power to the entrepreneurial table, also form a support system for Ventures.
“I’ve participated in a lot of incubators and accelerators, and Coralus is a whole new way of being supported as an entrepreneur,” says Bradley, one of five U.S. entrepreneurs to receive a Coralus 0% interest loan in 2020. “It’s an amazing organization.”
When Bradley was selected as a Coralus Venture, Brown Toy Box was in the process of pivoting from a subscription box to a toy company. This change was capital intensive, and Bradley says that Coralus took a personal interest in helping her raise money to pay the manufacturer to make the products Brown Toy Box needed to fulfil its first large purchase order from Target.
“Coralus Founder Vicki Saunders knew that I was working feverishly to fund the purchase order; her calls and texts of support were invaluable and lot of my capital connections have come through very warm leads from Coralus Activators,” says Bradley. “When you’re raising money, you’re constantly having to prove yourself. But with Coralus, just by virtue of being a woman in business, you’ve already proven yourself. It’s an amazingly safe, supportive environment.”
Learn more about PNC's Project 257SM and how you can become a Coralus Venture or Activator at pnc.com/women.