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Check out the first LGBT-owned business to be named a US Small Business of the Year

Check out the first LGBT-owned business to be named a US Small Business of the Year

L-R: Equator Coffees and Teas Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell

California-based business Equator Coffees & Teas has been named as the state’s Small Business of the Year by the US Small Business Administration (SBA).

Equator Coffees and Teas, based in San Rafael, was launched in 1995 by co-owners and partners Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell. They launched it in their Marin-county garage, but it has now grown to into a 5,500-square-foot flagship roastery in San Rafael with a thriving wholesale business.

It employees around 90 staff, and has retail cafes at LinkedIn, micro-kitchens at Google, and three retail stores in Northern California with a further two on the way.

It is the first LGBT-owned business – certified as an ‘LGBT Business Enterprise’ (LGBTBE) by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) – to receive the award.

‘Inspirational leaders and business owners’

Wholesale customers include Thomas Keller’s Michelin-starred The French Laundry. The chef sang the company’s praises in a press release announcing the award.

‘Brooke and Helen’s shared love for artisan coffee and a desire to have an impact on an industry with evolving social, economic and environmental issues is profound.

‘It is their commitment to forging personal relationships with farmers and hands-on approach that make them inspirational leaders and business owners; they are most deserving of this prestigious award.’

Equator was praised by the SBA being socially responsible and becoming the first America coffee company to become a certified B-Corporation – one that meets rigorous social and environmental standards.

‘It is such an incredible honor to be recognized by the SBA as Small Business of the Year for the State of California, and we are grateful to the GGBA for advocating on our behalf, to Capital Access Group for nominating us for this prestigious award and to the NGLCC for being a champion for LGBTBE firms at the national and international levels,’ said Helen Russell on announcement of the award.

‘As an entrepreneur, a women-owned business and a LGBTBE-certified business, I am proud to say that the SBA has been there for Equator at all stages of our growth over the last 21 years.’

The honor was also celebrated by Justin Nelson, NGLCC Co-Founder and President.

‘The entire LGBT business community and NGLCC family is celebrating this win for Equator Coffees & Teas.

‘NGLCC certified LGBTBEs continue to lead innovation and job creation throughout the country, and seeing our partners at the SBA recognize the impact one of our distinguished businesses is making in the community is a proud, precedent-setting moment for our global movement toward LGBT economic opportunity for all.’


Equator was nominated for the SBA award by Capital Access Group. Its CEO and President, Jacklyn Jordan praised the ‘amazing’ women behind the business, saying McDonnell and Russell ‘have not only created a successful, socially responsible business, they have also helped to influence the overall trajectory of the coffee industry through their early support of the Fair Trade movement.’

JP Leddy, President of the Golden Gate Business Association (GBBA) – Equator’s most local chamber of commerce – said, ‘The GGBA is proud that one of our most outstanding members has become the first LGBT-owned/certified business in the history of the SBA to be named the California Small Business of the Year. With California being the 8th largest economy in the world, SBA’s recognition of Equator will have a national and global impact.’