Meet Sherrill Mosee, the Woman Behind MinkeeBlue
Engineer turned entrepreneur
Have you ever found yourself schlepping three or more bags at once just to get through your day? Carrying your laptop bag, gym bag, lunch tote, and purse like a baggage handler? This was the problem Sherrill Mosee experienced herself and saw others struggling with as well. It eventually led to her creating MinkeeBlue and designing polished and professional multi-functional totes, backpacks, and diaper bags. From her early aspirations of being an astronaut to filing for her first patent, Sherrill's story shows us you really can do anything you set your mind to.
Sherrill, you have done so many things already over the span of your career. You were an engineer at General Electric, you founded a non-profit, and now you're making bags. Walk us through your journey to launching MinkeeBlue.
My mother would always say, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” When I told her, I wanted to be an astronaut, she never discouraged me nor said I couldn’t. I believe with all my heart, what we say to our daughters when they are young will help prepare and shape them to be confident and fearless in life’s endeavors. With those words from my Mom, I studied aerospace engineering in college - that was, before I ever took my first flight at eighteen. I quickly changed my major to electrical engineering. I know that’s not a far deviation from aerospace but, because my Mom said I could do anything, I figured I'd give it a try. It certainly wasn’t easy, but I persevered and graduated.
I moved from the inner city of Baltimore to Philadelphia where I accepted a job as Test Engineer at General Electric, later bought out by Lockheed Martin. After about 12 years, the facility plant where I worked shut down and I was laid off. I accepted a temporary consulting job while searching for full-time employment. During this time, I was inspired to start a nonprofit organization to help other young women similar to my situation. I was raised by a single mother, who always wanted to go to college but never had the support, resources or money to make it happen. Raising my own children, I know how expensive childcare is and the impact it has on the family income. It can easily deter and prohibit a young woman from pursuing her dream of earning a college degree. I came up with the idea to award childcare scholarships to low-income moms in college. That was the beginning… just an idea. Over a period of thirteen years, I partnered with eleven colleges and universities, hundreds of childcare centers in three states and awarded over $3 million in childcare scholarships. My organization, Family Care Solutions (FCS) experienced a 92% graduation rate. Some of my scholarship recipients are now lawyers, nurses, accountants, engineers, and business owners. I, unfortunately, had to closed my doors to FCS a couple of years after the economy crashed in 2008. I’m still connect to some of the students on social media.
It was during my time working with the young Moms that I noticed some struggling with a diaper bag, book bag and sometimes purse. I thought, wow… I’m doing the same thing while commuting to work with two and three bags. I carried my purse, laptop bag, lunch bag and oftentimes shoes in a plastic grocery bag inside my purse. I thought, there has got to be an organizational bag on the market that I could carry everything I needed for the day. When I couldn’t find it, I decided to make it.
You have a Master's Degree in electrical engineering from Drexel University, did that help when it came to making your first prototypes?
Yes, definitely. The skills and techniques I learned in solving math problems helped me to think about how to “build” a collapsible shelf in the middle of a handbag. The shelf needed to be structured to hold weight and function without impeding on the other parts of the bag.
You are the first African American woman to hold a patent on a folding panel inside of a fashion handbag. What was the patent process like?
I’m pretty nerdy, so I enjoy learning and studying how things work. Before contacting a patent attorney to file my patent, I did a preliminary search myself using the online database on the U.S. Patent and Trademark website. I also visited the Patent and Trademark Office in Virginia and sat with a “librarian” to show me how to do more extensive patent search. I studied other patents to learn how to write them too. I filed my provisional patent. When it came time to filing my non-provisional application, I hired a Patent Attorney. I’m now the proud owner of two patents.
What have been some of the challenges or learnings getting MinkeeBlue off the ground?
Wow!!! There have been so many, but I’ll talk about the big things. The fact that I had no experience in fashion design, manufacturing, sourcing etc…. I had to learn and figure all these things out. Because of my inexperience, I lost thousands of dollars in the beginning of my business. I got involved with local groups, attended various business-related workshops and started networking with people to learn from others. Manufacturing and funding are the biggest challenges for MinkeeBlue. To help others through the process, I now offer coaching and an online course to other entrepreneurs interested in bringing a product to market.
What is your advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
There are so many ups and downs in starting and operating a business… one day you’re loving it and the next day you want to quit. Some tips I would give are as follows:
- Be certain this is a business you enjoy doing
- Get connected to other entrepreneurs and find a mentor
- Remember to take a break and find your joy (Dance in front of the mirror)
- Never compare where you are in your journey to someone else’s success
- Learn from your failures (there’s always more than one path to success)
- Measure success with every small win
- Always look towards your end goal
Currently MinkeeBlue is housed at Particle, a novel co-working space within Philadelphia's K-through-12 charter academy String Theory School. What has this experience been like? How do you work with their students?
It’s pretty cool! Particle is a co-working space for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Philadelphia region. The space has a full kitchen for those interested in starting a YouTube cooking show, a sound studio and photo studio. It’s an awesome opportunity for MinkeeBlue and the students. Students interview for internships with the business. My interns are usually from Mr. Grinaldi’s TV and Production class. I assign projects typically for photo shoots and creating social media content. We also created a video series highlighting women entrepreneurs in the city. It’s a win-win partnership.
MinkeeBlue bags are so multi-functional. Do you have a favorite? How do you go about designing new ones?
I don’t have any favorites… but the Mariah Backpack is getting all my love at the moment. I design new bags with my customers in mind. I review customer feedback to see what the customer liked or didn’t like about a particular design. I then use that info to create a new design.
Your team actually sent me a Mariah Backpack to try out since we were doing this interview (thank you!). I love that the top of the bag has a zipper closure and snaps so I can stow it on a plane without everything falling out. What specific use cases did you have in mind when designing each of its features?
I designed this bag so that I could separate items that I sometimes would carry in two bags. For example, prior to MinkeeBlue, I would drop a piece of fruit or a pack of crackers in my bag and then my sneakers in a plastic grocery bag inside the bag as well. Everything was mixed together at the bottom - wallet, keys, fruit, crackers, lipstick, with the shoes sticking out the top. It was frustrating digging to the bottom of the bag to find my keys, an ink pen, or wallet. Also, depending on what's in the bag, the cracker package would end up opening and getting crumbs everywhere. I also wanted a place to separate my shoes from my purse essentials and laptop. This design allows me to carry lunch or toiletries in the insulated bag and place that bag inside the lower compartment of the backpack, while still carrying my purse essentials on top. When I'm not using the insulated lunch bag, I can carry my shoes in the bottom of the backpack with the shoe bag as well, making it a great work and travel bag!
How important are online reviews and customer feedback to the success of your business?
Extremely important. I believe we all shop these day by others’ experiences and I use the feedback I receive as inspiration in my new designs!