Meet Tenaj Ferguson, Fearless Founder and CEO of Lady Epicure Gourmet.
While attending the University of Maryland, Tenaj turned her passion for health, nutrition and her Bahamian culture into a thriving business. Today, Lady Epicure Gourmet brings a taste of the Bahama islands to their customers through their all-natural gourmet popsicle line.
We recently caught up with Tenaj to learn more about her journey and her tips for future fearless founders.
Bringing the islands to Maryland.
Tenaj, who has a Nutrition and Food Science background, has long been an advocate for healthy and active lifestyles. Dissatisfied with lack of available (and tasty) food options in the market, Tenaj decided she wanted to do something about it.
Raised in the Bahamas, Tenaj learned about cooking and pairing bold flavors from her mother. Tenaj knew that she wanted to incorporate her heritage into a business that also promoted health and well-being.
With this idea in mind, Tenaj attended Pitch Dingman, where she met with Brice Laconte, one of the Dingman Center’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR), who motivated her to pursue her vision. Brice continued to provide Tenaj with motivation and mentorship throughout the startup phase. After several iterations, Lady Epicure Gourmet was born.
Through Innovation Friday’s I saw myself more certainly as an innovator and strategist. I realized that my content area in health, wellness, food and nutrition was already shaping into an enterprise.
After attending a few Pitch Dingman sessions, Tenaj enrolled in UMD’s Fearless Founders Idea Shell class, which provided helpful workshops and really catapulted the process. As a result, she refined her recipes, discovered her most popular flavors, figured out potential pricing, and narrowed her target market.
Popsicles… in February?
Once her business concept was solidified, Tenaj turned to friends, family and fellow Terps for taste testing. Tenaj told us that she brought her popsicles to class, parties, wedding showers, farmers markets and Terp Marketplace to gain customer feedback. She realized she really had a market when she received a special order in the cold of February last Valentine’s Day.
With that encouragement, Tenaj spent her first trial summer season doing more events, getting prepared to scale her product beyond and starting talks with local and national natural and organic food store chains. By next summer, Tenaj expects to see Lady Epicure Gourmet in the frozen foods aisles!
Tenaj told us that all the success of Lady Epicure Gourmet over the past year wouldn’t haven’t happened within this quick timeline without the support of the Dingman Center and her EIR mentor.
The Dingman center has been so supportive of my ideas and goals and I continue to be impressed by how much The Dingman Center gives to students. The resources are abundant and I always feel comfortable working with the staff that challenges me to think critically, do my research and to fearlessly pursue my business ideas.
The Dingman center was a hub for me to innovate, question, learn, share and collaborate. Being in that environment kept me inspired. There is was so much to learn and their support was invaluable.
Tips for rising enTERPreneurs.
Do as much research and networking as possible. Tenaj takes time to attend entrepreneurial meetups and events outside of the food industry to network and to learn as much as possible. She encourages others who are interested in entrepreneurship to take time to really understand their competition and the major players in their field.
Don’t think of others as competitors but as opportunities for mentorship and folks who can teach and train. Your supporters are important and could be future investors, allies, or customers.
A lot of information will be learned from trial and error. Tenaj told us she is still learning all the rules of the road herself. At a recent event, she had permits for the facility, but upon arrival needed another permit to be in the jurisdiction. She takes these challenges and turns them into positive learning experiences.
Take the first fearless step. Share your idea and product with others. Even if you’re hesitant or your product isn’t fully developed, this is essential to gain feedback and to improve. That’s when the progress and development happens, says Tenaj.
To learn more about Pitch Dingman and other student resources available through the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, click here.
For more information about Lady Epicure Gourmet, visit their website: www.ladyepicuregourmet.com.