Meet the winners of $20,000 for QuickBooks + Mailchimp Small Business Hero Day

Meet the winners of $20,000 for QuickBooks + Mailchimp Small Business Hero Day

On a global scale, small businesses represent 90% of all businesses. They’re the backbone of our economy, the strength of our communities, and the heroes that swoop in when we need them most. 

This Small Business Success Month, we asked you to nominate a small business hero for their chance to win $20,000 to power their small business and grow. We received hundreds of inspiring nominations from across the country. The following three businesses were selected for their incredible commitment to serving their local communities. 

In honor of the inaugural celebration of Small Business Hero Day on May 31, these are the QuickBooks + Mailchimp Small Business Heroes, and these are their stories. 

The Hive brings job opportunities (and good food) to their community. 

There’s a lot of buzz around The Hive in the small town of Willard, MO. Hive of the Ozarks, affectionately called The Hive, is an inclusive eatery and nonprofit founded by special education teacher Melissa Skaggs. 

Inspired by her students, Melissa dreamed of a nonprofit organization that would offer job-skills training for people with varying abilities. For a long time, her dream was just that: a dream. The success rate for new small businesses in Willard hovers around 10%—and Melissa knew it. But the more she talked about her dream, the more the people of Willard encouraged her to pursue it. The tight-knit community promised to be by her side and support her every step of the way. 

So, Melissa quit the teaching job she loved and threw herself into building The Hive, a cafe that serves as both a community hub and career launchpad for people with developmental disabilities. Beyond serving amazing food, The Hive offers regular art classes, community meetups, and team building activities for local companies. The Hive is also a green business, they proudly produce zero waste and donate food scraps and coffee grounds to local farmers. 

Best of all, roughly half of The Hive’s 16-person staff are people with varying abilities and needs. These employees are limited to a 500-hour cycle to provide the maximum amount of job opportunities to the community. Once their 500 hours are up, The Hive works with local businesses to find permanent job placement for these ‘graduates.’ 

It’s this dedication to helping those with developmental disabilities that caught the eye of a local customer, who said “the food is something our town needed…but the highlight was watching these individuals at work.”

“Melissa and her team deliver a quality experience for her customers. More importantly, she provides an amazing life experience for her employees. She affords them the individuality that having a job provides and requires.”

As a nonprofit organization, the Hive largely depends on local donors for funding—and fundraising efforts have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hive has been operating on a shoestring budget, and Melissa says the $20,000 prize money for being designated a Small Business Hero will make a huge difference. She plans to use the money to add outdoor seating, purchase new equipment for the cafe, and expand their hours and add more products. She also plans to ask her employees and the community for input. 

“No matter what these funds are used for,” said the customer, “every penny and then some will go to providing these amazing individuals diversity, equity, and inclusion in a real work experience.”

Read what this Small Business Hero has to say about running a successful business that rallied an entire community.

What is your advice for new business owners?

“How you treat people will spread.” Melissa believes in the importance of treating people with kindness and respect. Beyond that, she encourages new business owners to connect with successful entrepreneurs to learn from their experiences and get advice. 

What are the qualities of a successful business owner?

“Flexibility and patience—especially when it comes to managing employees,” Melissa says. “You have to be a cheerleader, coach, and counselor all in one.” She strives to be a positive role model for her employees and the community. 

Why are small businesses such an integral part of the American landscape?

“Small businesses really give back to the community,” Melissa said. It’s why she was so passionate about starting a nonprofit with a storefront. 

Visit the Hive of the Ozarks website or find them on Facebook and Instagram

Ray’s Millpond Cafe is a small business with a big history

Ray City, GA, is a small, tight-knit community of just over 1,000 people—and nearly all of them have eaten at Ray’s Millpond Cafe. This family-owned southern seafood restaurant serves everything from popcorn shrimp to alligator, drawing in patrons from across the 50 states. 

Heather Heard, owner of Ray’s Millpond Cafe, inherited the restaurant from her parents, who inherited it from their parents. In fact, Heather’s great grandmother started Ray’s Millpond back in 1963 and it’s remained in Heather’s family ever since. 

But Heather never intended to take over the family business. She worked at the cafe on and off for most of her life, and spent the last ten years as a graphic designer. In 2019, her parents decided to sell the restaurant and retire, and Heather realized she couldn’t stand the idea of the cafe belonging to anyone else. She felt the pull in her bones to carry on the family tradition. 

Of course, that was just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit—and Heather didn’t expect her first year as a restaurant owner to be so complicated. The cafe was forced to shut down several times throughout the pandemic, but Heather refused to let those shutdowns impact her employees. She continued to pay them even when the cafe was hemorrhaging money. And she refuses to pay anyone minimum wage.

The poverty rate in Ray City is around 27%, one of the highest in the country. But Heather and Ray’s Millpond Cafe are on a mission to change it. Heather makes an effort to hire workers who are struggling to find work due to life circumstances or a lack of experience. She believes that a person’s challenges shouldn't get in the way of their livelihood. 

Beyond that, Heather and her husband have worked tirelessly to put their five kids through college, keep the cafe up and running, and give back to their community. For the people of Ray City, Ray’s Millpond Cafe is a place filled with family, connection, and memories—the epitome of southern culture. 

This dedication to their community and customers is what keeps patrons coming back to Ray’s time and time again (that and the alligator). But Heather’s kids thought it was about time someone took note. They submitted Ray’s Millpond Cafe as their Small Business Hero, saying “my parents, who have survived family tragedies and financial adversity, deserve to finally be the ones who are taken care of. Through adversity are made heroes, and that they are.” 

Heather plans to use the $20,000 to fund some desperately needed restaurant repairs and updates that have been put on hold since the pandemic. “Our cash flow has been slimmer than normal,” she said. “We’re so thankful for this.”

Read what this Small Business Hero has to say about running a successful small business that’s changing the employment landscape.

What does your community mean to you and your business?

Heather loves helping her community by providing job opportunities for those who need them most—but she really loves making deep connections with her patrons. “I serve people who have been coming to Ray’s Millpond since I was in diapers,” she said. “They’ve known me my entire life.”

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To run a business of any kind, you have to build a meaningful relationship with your customers and with the community you serve.

What are the qualities of a successful business owner?

“To run a business of any kind, you have to build a meaningful relationship with your customers and with the community you serve,” Heather said. She strives to always be friendly, understanding, and caring with patrons and employees alike. “We’re here to make a living, not a killing,” she said. While chain restaurants are always looking to increase their profit margins by cutting costs, Heather believes in keeping prices low and offering fair wages.

What’s one piece of advice for new business owners?

“Keep working at it!” Heather said. “Focus on building relationships and finding new customers—it’s a hard road getting the word out there, but it’s worth it.”

Visit the Ray’s Millpond Cafe website or find them on Facebook

When the going gets tough, Tree House Craft Coffee & Frozen Yogurt gets going

Accountant by day, coffee and frozen yogurt shop-owner by night. That was Noel Montemayor’s life. Today, he’s less accountant, more business owner—but he still does his own accounting and payroll. 

Located in Houston, TX, Tree House Craft Coffee & Frozen Yogurt offers espresso-based drinks, cold-brew coffee, loose-leaf teas, and 12 flavors of frozen yogurt with 32 topping options. Noel was inspired to start Tree House by his parents—who are also accountants, but dreamed of being entrepreneurs. With a little help from them, he opened his first shop with a family friend and worked two full-time jobs until he was able to make the switch to full-time entrepreneur.

In 2015, after he and his wife had their first child, Noel remodeled and rebranded the shop—finalizing the leap from side-gig to business ownership. The community loved the new look and business was booming. They were off to a great start!

But every business owner knows that running a business comes with its fair share of challenges—and this coffee shop was no exception. Business slowed when a two-year-long local construction project started on the street in front of Tree House. And things quickly went from bad to worse. 

In 2017, the city of Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey—leaving neighborhoods, homes, and businesses underwater for days. Despite flooding, Tree House opened its doors to first responders and flood victims. “They ran a generator, kept their restrooms open to the public, and provided free coffee and relief to the hardworking rescue teams,” said a witness. “Heroes helping heroes. They didn’t have to be open… but they were. And they literally helped fuel the rescue efforts.”

Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the community. As Houston rebuilt, business picked up for Tree House. Noel even had to bring in more tables to accommodate the surge of new customers. He and his wife were able to expand their team and (finally) pay off their remodeling debts. 

Just when things were starting to look up, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Tree House was forced to temporarily shut down. Since then, inflation and hiring challenges have made it difficult to bounce back or make needed updates. Noel plans to use the $20,000 to purchase new machinery and equipment. “We’ve been open ten years,” he said. “We have pretty old equipment, and it’s not cheap to fix. This is an awesome blessing.” 

This Small Business Hero looks forward to continuing to support the people of Houston with good coffee, delicious fro-yo, and community involvement.

What does your community mean to you and your business?

Noel was born and raised in Houston, and he can’t imagine being anywhere else. “This community is the reason our business is what it is today,” he said. 

What’s the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?

“Being able to make your own schedule,” Noel said. When he’s not in the shop, he’s with his family. As a dad with younger kids, getting to spend time with them is the most rewarding part of entrepreneurship.

How is running your business different than you expected?

“There’s a misconception that running a business means you can slack off or play golf all day,” Noel said. “But it really is a 24/7 gig. You have to put in a lot of work, especially in the beginning.” He likes to be hands on, so he’s always fielding questions from employees and thinking about new opportunities for Tree House. 

Visit the Tree House Craft Coffee + Frozen Yogurt website or find them on Facebook and Instagram

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