Innovative Supplies is nothing if not true to its name.
The company, now about a year old, isn’t run out of an office, doesn’t stock its products in big box stores and doesn’t have experienced business staff or a production facility.
But using a combination of ingenuity and some strategic internet marketing, the veteran-owned business has sold thousands of its socially conscious notebooks to countries all over the world. And its main employees are rising seniors at Kendrick High School.
Nneka Brown Massey, founder and chief executive officer, said she got the idea after she left the military and decided to go to college.
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“I was looking around for some school supplies to take into (Columbus State University), I was embarking on this new journey and I felt like I needed some new school supplies that would really motivate me and push me into this new chapter of my life. I couldn’t find any,” she said.
So she decided to make her own. She reached out to some artists online and offered them 30 percent of her profits if they contributed art for notebook covers.
When they agreed, she created a website and placed an advertisement on Instagram. Then the orders flooded in.
“We became an overnight success,” she said. “We had over 1,200 people come to our website and place an order for over 8,000 notebooks. I actually had to shut down the website.”
It was way more than she expected, and way more than she was prepared to handle herself. So she asked her teenage brother, Kevontrae, if he had any friends who might want to help out.
“I was very skeptical at first,” Kevontrae said. “I didn’t think it was going to take off, but overnight, it was a success. So she brought me in as manager, and we worked all summer long to do the orders.”
The teens spent days assembling notebooks and shipping them all over the world. They went out to Canada, South Korea, Singapore and across the United States. Gov. Nathan Deal recognized the company this spring for its efforts in reaching the international market.
The team quickly added a chief operating officer, general manager, cyber innovation leader and assistant manager to their ranks of manufacturing associates — all of them high schoolers.
“We’re showing people in Columbus that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, the American dream is alive and well, and then also showing teenagers, who most would consider at-risk, that there is a viable way to make honest money without it being in a negative light,” Brown-Massey said.
For now, the team is preparing to launch its second round of notebooks. They work out of a space in Columbus Makes It, across from Heritage Park and the Coca-Cola Space Science Center. It’s a muggy, ad-hoc space, but they don’t mind.
“We really enjoy working here,” said Christopher Poole, general manager. “It’s a great company,”
Most of the artwork so far has focused on speaking to the black community, but Brown-Massey says she intends to broaden her offerings soon, with a new selection of notebooks every year.
“Our name is Innovative Supplies Incorporated Worldwide, so what we want to do is start incorporating art from around the world,” she explained.
“We don’t want to just have the urban market. We want all ethnicities, all upbringings.”
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE