Business owners Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell are on a high this morning – and it isn’t just a caffeine buzz from their own-brand coffee. Six weeks ago, their California-based Equator Coffees and Teas was named by the US Small Business Administration (SBA) as the winner of the state’s ‘Best Small Business’. The Federal agency presents awards to small business owners in all of the 50 states.
Now, to coincide with National Small Business Week, the gay-owned company has been crowned 2016 National Small Business of the Year.
Based in San Rafael, Equator was launched by McDonnell and Rusell in 1995 in their Marin-county garage. 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.
Announcing Equator as the winner of this year’s award, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras Sweet said, ‘Helen and Brooke purchased their own roasting plant using an SBA 504 loan. They have worked diligently with their farmers for 17 years and were one of the first roasters to support the Fair Trade movement to gain better wages for growers.
‘Two out of three net new jobs in America are created by small businesses and it’s all of our small business winners today who are leading the way.’
‘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,’ said Equator co-founder Helen Russell in a statement.
‘The SBA knows that small businesses like Equator are creating quality jobs and driving our economy. The SBA has had our back at important milestones in our evolution. We celebrate this achievement with our employees, our partners and our collective communities.
McDonnell agreed, telling the BizWomen, ‘I think the government sometimes gets a bad rap, but every time I’ve called the SBA they’ve been there for us.’
McDonnell and Russell collected the award at a ceremony in Washington last night. Joining them on stage was Equator Vice President Maureen McHugh, who has been with the business for the past 21 years.
Equator is the first LGBT-certified business enterprise (LGBTBE) to win a Small Business of the Year award from the SBA, and Russell also acknowledged the support Equator had received from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Business Association (GGBA) – both of whom congratulated the business women on their success.
‘As the Nation’s first LGBT Chamber of Commerce, 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 National Small Business of the Year,’ stated Paul Pendergast, Interim GGBA President.
‘Once again an NGLCC Certified LGBTBE makes history, and we couldn’t be more proud of Equator Coffee & Teas,’ said NGLCC Co-Founder & President Justin Nelson. ‘As the first LGBT company to win this honor, they are an inspiration to the estimated 1.4 million LGBT business owners in America.’