Kimberly McGlonn

Kimberly McGlonn is the CEO and founder of Grant Blvd, a fashion start up specializing in sustainable fashion.

— TRIBUNE CHIEF/ABDUL R. SULAYMAN

A local entrepreneur is one step closer to possibly winning a national small business contest.

Kimberly McGlonn, CEO of Grant Blvd, has been selected as a top five finalist in The UPS Store 2021 Virtual Small Biz Challenge.

McGlonn founded Grant Blvd in 2017, which is named after the street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she grew up with her activist parents. The clothing company creates fair wage opportunities in sustainable fashion for marginalized people, particularly those impacted by incarceration.

Now McGlonn is vying for the chance to win up to $25,000 and an editorial feature in Inc. Magazine.

“I’m really excited to share with the UPS Store and Inc.com the things that I’ve learned with being a business owner and the lessons that I’ve walking away (with) as I navigate in this role as CEO in this moment,” she said.

“I hope that is what this competition taps into – all those agility skills, all those problem solving skills and those people skills that have been so helpful to me in growing my small business.”

After more than 2,000 small business owners submitted online applications, judges selected 10 semi-finalists representing a range of small businesses from around the county. The competition was narrowed down to five finalists who were chosen through a public vote.

“The last year has forced small business owners to adapt like never before to an ever-changing landscape,” Michelle Van Slyke, senior vice president of marketing and sales at The UPS Store, Inc. said in a news release.

“This year’s Small Biz Challenge will not only help entrepreneurs learn from each other through a series of dynamic and informative virtual discussions, but also celebrate their tenacity and perseverance.”

McGlonn is competing against Julie Sullivan Loos, co-founder, Ground Up Nut Butters; Dr. David A. Paul, founder of Bold & Gritty, LLC; Sammi Bivens, founder and CEO, Digital Marketing Maven and Jonathan C. Marcus, co-founder of Rose Sisters Chips.

The final component of the UPS Store Small Biz Challenge will be held on Thursday with a virtual studio event. During the event hosted by celebrity chef Carla Hall, finalists will be challenged by answering questions, giving elevator pitches and conducting situational problem-solving.

McGlonn said she learned some key lessons as her business adapted throughout the pandemic.

“One, I think is the need for really nimble decision making,” said McGlonn, who has a Ph.D in education.

“I think that as business owners we try to figure out the best laid plans and I think that one thing that I’ve learned is you really have to grow into being able to see things from many sides and letting go of what you think are expected outcomes – with an optimism that whatever the outcome is – it’s one that you can survive.”

McGlonn said she also learned a lot about persistence.

“Hard work is important, there’s no doubt about that,” she said. “But part of hard work that we don’t talk about is the need to be persistent. It’s hard work over time, I think is what I learned about survival, particularly in business.”

McGlonn said that the narrative of successful small business ownership for a lot of people is that “it just kind of happens and you run a sprint and build something that is bold and beautiful.”

“And what I learned is that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and I think that in this particular season of the pandemic, it feels like we are running at a higher altitude,” she continued.

Last year, McGlonn had to push back the opening of Grant Blvd’s first retail location at 36th and Lancaster in West Philadelphia from March to July. This month marks the store’s first year anniversary.

“Quite honestly, it’s been quite a roller coaster ride,” McGlonn said, reflecting on her store’s first year in operation.

“There were these large spikes in sales and then there’s been these other moments where there has been anxiety about the vaccine or anxiety about safely being outside of homes which has driven people online to shop, versus bringing them into the store.”

For McGlonn, receiving funding from the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund, Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund and BeyGood Foundation was instrumental in helping Grant Blvd stay afloat and grow her team during the pandemic.

“All of that has been really helpful in helping us to figure out how we can keep our team secure and figure out how we can execute on the vision on creating a fashion brand that centers people and the planet,” she said.

McGlonn is thankful for the opportunity to participate in the challenge.

“It’s exciting that UPS Store and Inc.com, given their resources, recognize that business owners need many things,” she said.

“We need additional resources to survive and we need some inspiration.”

“There were thousands of people across the country who voted for us and I would just like to express my gratitude for them taking the time to root for us,” McGlonn added.

Those who wish to support McGlonn can register to watch the final competition on Thursday by visiting https://events.inc.com/theupsstore

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