Asha Banks founded her online greeting and holiday card store, CheerNotes, last year after feeling frustrated by a lack of representation when buying greeting cards for friends and family.
To address the problem she saw in the greeting card space, the Harrisburg-based entrepreneur started the CheerNotes website and began partnering with artists to create cards with culturally-relevant humor for underserved communities.
Over a year after starting her business, the CheerNotes website sells over 300 designs and works with 24 artist partners.
Banks was one of five midstate black-owned businesses to win $50,000 worth of free legal services through Harrisburg-based law firm McNees Wallace & Nurick’s Legal Equity Advancement Program (LEAP).
Businesses chosen for the program have a year to use the $50,000 in pro bono services. Banks intends to use that year to file intellectual properties, prepare for fundraising, develop contracts and more.
“We are growing rapidly and I want to make sure these elements of our business are in good order,” said Banks. “I want to have more clarity around how to best protect our brand and products as we continue to expand our in-house line.”
McNees has more than 130 attorneys from offices in State College, Lancaster, Scranton, Harrisburg, York, Devon and Frederick, Maryland; Columbus, Ohio; and Washington D.C. It announced LEAP late last year as a response to systemic racism brought to light by the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
The program received 81 applications from black-owned businesses across the region. Recipients were chosen in an eight-county area and were scored by how long they had been in operation, their current financials, their business plan and more.
“This wasn’t a Shark Tank endeavor– we weren’t trying to find the next best business,” said Jeffrey Esch McCombie, a member of the firm. “We were looking for a business we could help and make an impact on. This was focused on sophisticated legal work so we wanted to find clients that needed that.”
The recipients include CheerNotes, Mechanicsburg-based home mover company, MoversForMe PA; York-based nonprofit youth boxing gym, Stick N Move; Blazin J’s chicken sandwich franchise in Lancaster; and Na’toria Marketing and Design Solutions in Harrisburg.
MoversForMe, a local and long-distance carrier of household goods and general freight, is using its year with McNees to work on its brand, trademarks and copywriting training materials. Marc Domingos, managing partner at MoversForMe, said that the program allows his company to keep up with the cost of doing business and has felt like a scholarship.
“We have a lot of knowledge based on our trade/craft, but we aren’t attorneys,” said Domingos. “We are using McNees, for advice and counsel. Everything is for the benefit of our employees, sub-contractors, and customers.”
Blazin J’s, founded in late 2019, specializes in hot chicken sandwiches. The company operates a restaurant on 15 E. King St. in Lancaster and in Lancaster’s Park City Mall. Despite the pandemic, the restaurant had a strong 2020 and hopes to begin franchising with McNees’ help.
Na’Toria, a marketing and design firm that helps minority-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs develop their marketing and brand awareness campaigns, has a list of projects that it hopes will set itself up for the next step in business growth as it takes on bigger clients and establishes itself as a marketing entity that can handle its customer’s needs.
The firm was founded by Victoria McCallum and Natasha Dexter in 2017.
“When Natasha and I first started, we made sure we had an operating agreement and contractor and barter contracts drafted for an as-needed basis,” said McCallum, the firm’s president. “But that was almost four years ago and our business has steadily grown, so you know, some updates are probably in order.”
Not all of the recipients are young businesses looking to get their footing. Stick N Move, a nonprofit that offers a gym space to disadvantaged children and adults, was started in 2009 and never sought out legal counsel prior to becoming part of the program.
Stick N Move is using McNees’ services to look over its policy manual, board and bylaws and draft a Memorandum of Understanding for when it partners with different organizations.
“Our enrollment is rapidly growing and becoming more diverse,” said Antwoine Dorm, the nonprofit’s owner. “With this being said, Stick N Move has come up with new goals of expansion in accommodation of this change.”
McNees looks to make the program beneficial for even those applicants who didn’t receive the free year of services through a series of networking webinars.