A Chicago entrepreneur with a passion for creation is growing her business one invention at a time.
Raquel Graham started her company, Roq Innovation, in 2014 when she was looking for a scarf her kids would wear.
“During the polar vortex, when they were younger, maybe about six years ago, they would not wear scarves,” said Graham. “They decided that they were bulky and itchy, and if you remember the polar vortex, it was so cold that you had to have every bit of your skin covered, so I went online to see if I could find an alternative and there was nothing.”
With that, Roq Innovation was born with her first product Nekz, followed by Headlightz beanies, inspired by a love for running at night. What started out as a fix to a problem is now a booming business operating out of a West Town warehouse.
“All of my products come from my life, I don’t just think of products out of the blue. It’s usually I’m doing something in my everyday and there’s a frustration and then I look to see if there’s a product out there and if there’s no product then I make it,” she said.
It’s that innovation that put Graham’s company on the map, appearing on “Good Morning America”, “Oprah's Favorite Things”, and most recently, “Shark Tank.”
“When you’re in the tank, it’s all a blur.” Graham said. “Honestly, like, as you can tell, there’s like so many questions happening at the same time, but yes, they were, they were all really receptive, and it felt great.”
Graham walked out of the tank with a deal from two sharks. She can’t share the specifics of that partnership but says her appearance on the show has been a game-changer, putting more eyes on her business.
Along with exposure, the deal gives Graham the funding Black and Brown entrepreneurs often struggle to land. A 2021 analysis of federal reserve data by Nerd Wallet found 80% of white business owners receive at least a percentage of the funding they request from a bank compared to 66% of BIPOC business owners.
“For entrepreneurs in general, it's really hard to get funding, to be a Black female entrepreneur, it is close to impossible.” Graham said. “So in order for me to grow my business, I bootstrapped, I got funding from friends and family and now at this stage I’m able to get funding from banks and there are a lot of investors that are interested, but the problem is when you're an entrepreneur starting out, you need the money at a lower level, you know, in the beginning.”
Graham says she expects to launch at least three new products this year, including a year-round version of Headlightz that can be worn in both cold and warm weather. She says business is growing tremendously and she’s excited to get in the lab and create more products.
One thing Graham can guarantee is all her inventions will maintain her mission to make life a little easier.
“When you look at my products, it’s almost, it’s got to be some kind of like biography attached to it because there’s something that would have happened in my life that made me create this.”
Graham says you can expect the first round of new products sometime in July.