Black-owned, Black-controlled businesses, eligible for free year of legal services

Harrisburg-based McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC announced the continued expansion of its Legal Equity Advancement Program, now open to qualifying Black-owned and Black-controlled businesses in three states.

LEAP helps Black-owned and Black-controlled businesses overcome barriers to entry that are caused, in part, by institutional racism. Each business chosen for the program, now in its third year, is awarded one year of free legal services.

To date, 14 Black-owned or Black-controlled businesses have received free legal services through LEAP. The LEAP Request for Qualifications Portal will remain open through March 6. Qualifying businesses will then be asked to submit an application for the program.

LEAP awardees gain access to nearly every practice area at McNees to help them with a wide range of business needs, including business organization or reorganization, tax, employment, real estate, intellectual property, Minority Business Enterprise certification, and contract review, among others. Recipients are also offered educational webinars/seminars and networking opportunities. McNees launched LEAP in southcentral Pennsylvania and last year expanded it to include Columbus, Ohio. Starting this year, LEAP now extends to parts of western, central and eastern Pennsylvania, as well as Frederick, Maryland.

“We are thrilled to again offer this service to our community, and even more excited that we are expanding LEAP so significantly,” Adeolu Bakare, LEAP co-chair at McNees, said in a release. “Black-owned and Black-controlled businesses too often face high hurdles to getting started and staying operational over time. Our goal is to help break down these barriers and provide tools for sustainable growth and long-term success.”

LEAP applications are now being accepted from qualified businesses in the following areas:

Central Pennsylvania: Adams, Centre, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Perry and York counties.

Eastern Pennsylvania: Chester and Delaware counties.

Western Pennsylvania: Allegheny County.

Ohio: Delaware, Fairfield and Franklin counties.

Maryland: Frederick County.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Black-owned businesses to receive year’s worth of free legal services 

“Everybody loves coffee,” says entrepreneur Stefan Hawkins outside Good Brotha’s Book Café in Harrisburg, where he grinds and makes his own blends. He wanted to be the first Black-owned coffee shop and bookstore. PHOTO / MARKELL DELOATCH

Six Black-owned businesses in the region are 2022 recipients of grants for a year’s worth of legal services from McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, courtesy of the Legal Equity Advancement Program.  

The law firm made the announcement at the Black is Beautiful Expo hosted by Urban Revolution Marketing & Branding. 

The businesses are:  

  • Arcana Recovery, a drug and alcohol recovery support app that helps with relapse prevention.
  • Cece’s Cake Shop, an in-home bakery in Harrisburg specializing in custom cakes, cupcakes and cookies.
  • Four Squares Development, an affordable housing company in York focused on developing the “four squares” around the Royal Square District.
  • Good Brotha’s Book Café, a Harrisburg-area coffee shop and bookstore offering coffee, teas and other beverages, pastries and a broad selection of books by Black authors.
  • Health Check Juice Bar, an Annville enterprise serving fresh juice, acai/smoothie bowls, avocado toast, salad and more.
  • Identity Learning, an adoption support application and consulting business specializing in interracial adoptions and their unique circumstances.

The Legal Equity Advancement Program – aimed at helping Black-owned and Black-operated businesses overcome certain barriers to entry caused partly by institutional racism – is in its second year. Recipients have access to nearly every practice area at McNees. 

This year, LEAP expanded to Ohio, and there are plans for the program to stay in growth mode. 

McNees Wallace & Nurick has more than 130 attorneys representing clients from offices in Devon, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Scranton, State College and York, as well as Columbus, Ohio; Frederick, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. 

Five black-owned businesses receive pro bono legal services from Harrisburg law firm

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.

Harrisburg entrepreneur finds niche in flavored water space

Sean Banks, founder of Krisp Drinks LLC, created the Harrisburg-based flavored water company after finding that many flavored water products are still made with sugar and artificial sweeteners. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Harrisburg-native Sean Banks had an epiphany when he was restocking a cooler at the local convenience store he managed — one that would lead him to starting Krisp Drinks LLC, a beverage company with the goal of providing a healthy alternative to sugary sodas and flavored waters.

Banks, an entrepreneur who previously started his own clothing line, noticed that he was restocking the flavored waters in his coolers multiple times a day. When he asked customers what compelled them to buy the products, many told him it was because of their perceived health benefits.

Upon researching the most popular flavored waters in the store, Banks said that many of the drinks that customers believed were a healthy alternative to sugary sodas weren’t as healthy as those customers may have thought.

“I started conducting research on different types of waters — their pH, flavors and their perceived benefits,” Banks said. “What I found was that most flavored waters are full of sugar and artificial ingredients.”

Banks then had a second epiphany while ordering those drinks for the store. Out of all of the drinks he stocked the coolers with every day, none of them were produced by Black-owned companies.

“The one thing I kept noticing was that there were no brothers on the shelf,” he said. “I could be that person to help make change to bring about some diversity in those coolers.”

These two realizations culminated in a budding business for Banks after his mother was diagnosed with diabetes and she had to swiftly change her diet, which he said was difficult for her because of her love of sugary drinks.

“She loved sodas and sweet tea, but knew she had to make a change,” he said. “That’s when I knew I had to make a drink that was diabetic friendly, organic and sweet enough for those used to sugary beverages.”

Banks quickly got to work on Krisp Drinks LLC — a flavored waters and drinks company that donates two percent of its profits to charities serving youth in underserved communities.

Beverage companies spent $1.04 billion in 2018 to advertise surgery drinks and energy drinks, according to a report released last month from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. Of those ads, Black preschoolers, children and teens viewed twice as many TV ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks compared to White youth in the same age groups.

Banks saved what he could while working at the convenience store and called a Shenandoah manufacturer that gave him a list of things he would need before he could move forward on the manufacturing of his product.

Within two months, Banks completed the manufacturer’s list and soon found a partner for the venture.

Krisp produces three beverage lines: Krisp Flava, subtly flavored spring water; Krisp Fruitish, spring water made with additional flavoring; and Krisp natural spring water. Both Fruitish and Flava’s formulations were created in Banks’ dining room with the help of friends and family members.

Banks said that while the purpose of his drinks are to provide a beverage option in stores that offers zero sugars, zero net carbs and ten calories a bottle, he created the Fruitish line for customers like his mother, who wouldn’t normally purchase flavored waters.

Krisp Drinks currently has three product lines. “Fruitish” is the company’s organic, zero sugar, zero calorie flavored water. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

“(Fruitish) is flavored water but it isn’t organic. It’s designed as an entry point for people used to sodas and sweet tea,” he said. “When we were working with our flavor house that does the professional formulations, I said I needed more sweetener in it. If it doesn’t taste like Kool-Aid, the underserved minority communities won’t like it.”

Banks’ venture was helped along through one-on-one consulting with the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center of Pennsylvania. Martin Bill, a program manager of international trade and agribusiness at the center, said that Sean thoughtful, thorough and methodical in the creation of his company.

“His approach to business and design shows talent,” he said. “He does his homework.”

Krisp first found its way into local convenience stores after Banks began going door to door to local businesses. He said that he found a break in the form of an agreement with Dave Riswold, owner of Harrisburg-based D&F Distributing, who gave him a list of stores his company distributed to and offered to purchase a pallet of the flavored waters and take the drinks to any stores that purchased the product.

Krisp looks to soon expand out of the local market.

The company is currently sending products to big box stores such as Rutters, Giant and Wawa with the hopes of getting the drinks approved and placed into coolers in time for the spring, when most companies reset their products and introduce new ones.

Banks recently signed an agreement with Cascadia Managing Brands, a Ramsey, New Jersey-based food and beverage brand management firm, to take an equity position in the business.

Cascadia is working with Krisp to provide Banks with an avenue to national distribution.

Early in the creation of his company, Banks struck a friendship with leadership at the firm who helped him ensure he was driving the brand in the right direction. He said they were stunned that he had created the product, partnered with a local manufacturer and brought the product to local convenience stores, all on a $35,000 budget.

Now that he is able to fully partner with the firm, Banks said he hopes to begin hiring to have four full-time employees by the end of the year and have the products in over 200 stores in the same time frame.