I bet you didn't know your plans tonight involved watching ABC's business-pitch reality show, Shark Tank. But with a military spouse on tonight pitching her own product, we should all tune in.
Because I write for Military.com's Spouse Employment Center, I talk to a lot of spouses who have great ideas for companies. They're marketing their own products, inventing great things, taking photographs, selling homemade crafts, opening up stores... all while also balancing military life and, frequently, parenthood. It's impressive, to say the least. For Lakesha Brown-Renfro, all of that is just another day at work. And right now, that work is running an event planning company and selling their very own preserves, Mango Mango.
Lakesha and her two partners at Simply Panache, decided to go commercial with Mango Mango after the preserves they used in various recipes at their parties became a huge hit. "Every recipe that we used our preserve in became wildly popular," Lakesha said. "So we decided to produce our mango preserves for retail sale."
The preserves are everything you'd want them to be, and nothing else: mango, sugar, lime juice, and vanilla. They're made in small batches, and they're terrific on just about everything, Lakesha says. "We call our preserves a PARTY in a jar because you can use our preserves over 100 ways. For starters: Spread it on breads, Mix it with cream cheese for a delicious fruit dip, Shake it with red wine vinegar and olive oil for a Mangolicious vinaigrette or stir it in shrimp and a ginger spice for a mango ginger shrimp."
Just like their clients encouraged them to make the jelly for sale, they also urged the women to go on Shark Tank. The competition better beware, though, because Lakesha has an entrepreneurial spirit that's hard to beat. It's also one that a deployment helped come to life.
"My husband proudly serves his country in the world’s greatest Navy and, for me, being a military spouse/entrepreneur has sometimes had a bittersweet element," Lakesha says. " You see, we started this second business (food production company, actually making the mango preserves) during one of the hardest times for my family and I: during my husband’s Afghanistan deployment, the longest deployment of his career."
We all know deployments can be hard, but for Lakesha, Mango Mango helped ease the strain.
"I started this business while missing my husband in every possible way and doing my absolute best to manage my young daughter’s sadness at missing her father every second of every day. This was bittersweet, because it was both challenging and a blessing at the same time. It was challenging for obvious reasons, but it was a blessing because it gave me a wonderfully productive distraction and made the time of my husband's deployment seem to pass more quickly."
If only all of our deployment projects turned out so successfully! Be sure to tune in tonight to see Lakesha "take a dip" in the tank.
And for anyone who decided to take home a little Mango Mango of their own (because we're all in the business of supporting other military spouses), I highly recommend adding it and a little coconut and some cashews to your morning oatmeal. Mango is delicious all day long!
Tell us: If you were going to pitch an idea on Shark Tank, what would it be?