Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2007Kellogg School of Management
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Cheryl Mayberry McKissack
Cheryl Mayberry McKissack '89  Photo © Nathan Mandell

Risk takers, value makers

Sense of 'purpose' drives Mayberry McKissack

Alum's online community and marketing research hub serves African-American women and their families

Cheryl Mayberry McKissack '89 has a message for would-be entrepreneurs searching for the inspiration that can create a new venture: Ideas are important, but don't forget that timing is too.

"You have to be very clear about your objectives," says the graduate of the Kellogg School's Executive MBA Program. "You have to understand why you are taking on this project at this time."

Mayberry McKissack knew the timing was right in 2000 when she founded Nia Enterprises, an online community of African-American women and their families. Through its national consumer advisory panel, Nia collects and provides data to companies eager to avoid a one-size-fits-all mentality when marketing their products.

With a database of more than 150,000 African-American members (who have elected to be part of the panel), Nia Enterprises can provide companies with rapid feedback on the way a new cosmetic works, for instance, or a suggested name for a new product or service.

The company — whose name means "purpose" in Swahili — launched a new venture in March. "Nia Pulse" is a Web site designed to appeal to and solicit opinions from a broader, multicultural, audience.

When she started Nia Enterprises, Mayberry McKissack, the company's chairman and CEO, was "in a good place" both financially and spiritually, she says. "This wasn't just about starting a business; this was a passion. I was set to change an industry that really needed changing."

Because her timing was right, Mayberry McKissack could be patient with the new endeavor, and that patience proved critical as she spent a couple years building a respected online site and earning trust from her constituents. The two-year window also allowed more companies to become comfortable with online data collection, she notes.

The Kellogg alum also drew on her years of corporate experience earned at companies including IBM, U.S. Robotics and Open Port Technology. Just as important was her foray into entrepreneurship. Twelve years earlier she and a partner had opened One Moment in Time, a chain of three retail stores that rented women's formal wear. The concept ultimately proved unworkable, but it provided an invaluable education and sparked a desire for her eventually starting another business.

Today, despite balancing the demands of a growing company, Mayberry McKissack still makes time to speak about entrepreneurship and advise others. She frequently does so at the Kellogg School, where she is an adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship. These interactions help shape how she views her own company. "It's a two-way street," she says. "I get so much back; it's not just about me giving."

Meanwhile, Nia Enterprises continues to grow.

"I'm doing business with companies that wouldn't even talk with me five years ago," says Mayberry McKissack.

Timing really is everything.

— Kari Richardson
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