Tracy Skelly of Little Cocoa Bean is making wholesome, ancestral cuisine for little ones
Running a business

Tracy Skelly of Little Cocoa Bean is making wholesome, ancestral cuisine for little ones

Name: Tracy Skelly

Location: Jamaica Plain, MA

Pronouns: She/Her

Business: Little Cocoa Bean Co.

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Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

When I had my first child in 2018, I found that I was unable to find baby foods with the culturally diverse flavors and nutrient content that I sought for my daughter. I believe that first foods—those that are introduced to babies in the first few years of life—are “heritage foods” that connect cultural beliefs and traditions. For me, that meant the inclusion of foods of the African Diaspora—ingredients such as collards, chayote, papaya, and tamarind. 

Despite being a busy working mom, I took matters into my own hands and began to experiment with making my own baby food. I found that by incorporating diverse, fresh veggies, fruits, and spices that I was able to create baby food products that were not only superior in terms of nutritional content—they were more culturally relevant. I’m also passionate about combating childhood hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity, and the racial inequities associated with poor health outcomes. Nutrition—particularly that which occurs during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life—is an important predictor of future child health and development. All of this led to the founding of the Little Cocoa Bean Co. in 2019.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

I started my business at the end of 2019 with a plan for full launch in May of 2020. Well…2020 was a dumpster fire. I learned that you need to make room for the unknown in the planning process. Sometimes life will break all of your contingency plans. 

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

How lonely it can be…especially as a solopreneur 

How does running your own business make you feel? 

Tired, motivated, challenged, accountable, nervous, grateful

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You need to make room for the unknown in the planning process. Sometimes life will break all of your contingency plans.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome? 

I’m working to overcome pandemic setbacks, racial inequality, and learning up on things I don’t know.

What challenges do you feel are unique to Black small business owners? 

Racism impacts our ability to grow, scale, and maintain our businesses. 

What are your proudest moments? 

Officially applying for my LLC, publicly announcing my business, launching my website, an AMEX grant, making my first product donation to a local nonprofit, and signing my first storefront lease.

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

My storefront is opening this spring!

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

My kid, my husband, my community, my faith, and gospel tracks on rotation.

How can Black business owners support each other and their community? 

I think the large majority already do. Most of us became business owners to support each other and our community (the collective worldwide community). 

What advice would you give to other Black business owners just starting out? 

Well, my general advice for anyone starting a business would be to ask for advice. Take notes. Sign up for classes. Listen and learn. You’re going to make a ton of mistakes but you can avoid a few by learning from others. Try finding a cohort of other Black business owners in your city. It helps. 

What advice would you give new business owners about balancing work and wellness? 

Try to find moments of peace and joy each day. It helps because in the beginning, there’s no balance.

How do you make time for yourself while running a business?

I make Friday evenings about me and my family. 

What is the most important healthy habit you’ve developed that you feel makes you more successful? 

Prayer, meditation, and taking quiet time to reset and refocus on what matters. 

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