Business Plan Challenge

This online platform links minority small businesses with consumers. The key is quality.

Leyanis Diaz's Major Marketplace took third place in the FIU Track of the 2018 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. The marketplace app features minority businesses.
Leyanis Diaz's Major Marketplace took third place in the FIU Track of the 2018 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. The marketplace app features minority businesses.

Leyanis Diaz is on a mission to keep minority-owned businesses in business.

How she hopped onto this mission has a lot to do with her life story. Born in Havana, Diaz moved to the U.S. at age 3. Her parents have always worked minimum wage jobs to support the family. After she graduated from Florida International University in communications in 2015, she gravitated toward helping small businesses in social media roles.

Then in late 2016 she attended an Advocates for Change event put on by the Women of Color Empowerment Institute and learned that most of the country’s minority-owned businesses will fail in the first five years.

“I learned that we are starting businesses at an alarming rate but we don’t make enough money to sustain ourselves. Over the weekend I thought long and hard how I could use my communications background to help minority businesses.”

That’s when it hit her. “I thought it would be really great to have a platform that showcases minority businesses with really cool products who do great work in our community. That’s how Major Marketplace was born.”

Major Marketplace (majormarketplace.co) is an online marketplace that connects minority-owned businesses with conscious consumers as well as socially responsible corporations and government agencies that want to support them. Diaz is a social entrepreneur, a movement that has been growing in South Florida. She said a portion of earnings will go back to supporting minority businesses.

To learn more about starting and running a business, the first-time entrepreneur and 2017 Miss Black Florida participated in StartUP FIU’s accelerator, Miami Dade College’s Startup Challenge and CREATE programs and the Babson WIN Lab for women entrepreneurs. “The programs gave me the opportunity to learn but they also helped give me the confidence that I am the person to do this.”

Diaz is currently a finalist for the MDC Innovation Prize. She won an American Entrepreneurship Award, and some funding, last year.

Now she can add another accolade: Major Marketplace took third place in the 2018 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge FIU Track.

The CEO and her team, which includes Andrea Mirabal, who oversees operations, and Vanessa Galindo, who manages marketing, have been developing their platform and testing their assumptions. They hope to launch by early fall to take advantage of the holiday season. To spread the word Major Marketplace is coming soon, the team has hosted pop-up shops and participated in farmer’s markets.

Major Marketplace wants to focus on young minority-owned businesses. Diaz said.

“We want to serve as one of their initial channels to create revenue and traction. A lot of the loan and grant opportunities minorities aren’t eligible for because they don’t have traction. We are trying to help them build that.”

Major Marketplace plans to initially offer products for beauty and health, as well as clothing and accessories, in South Florida, then expand from there.

There’s competition, of course, including Vivrant Beauty in New York and We Buy Black in Atlanta.

Diaz says those sites are more narrowly focused and Major Marketplace will be curated — only quality products will be accepted. Both businesses and consumers will have profiles. Major Marketplace will send accepted businesses a tool kit and work with them to showcase their products, identify a target market and come up with a selling strategy, including monthly goals. For consumers, the startup will recommend products based on their profiles.

At this time, Major Marketplace plans to charge businesses $10 (basic) to $20 (premium) per month to be part of the platform. The startup would also get 10 percent from each sale made on the platform.

The goal: A thousand businesses showcased by early next year. To fund the venture, Diaz may launch a crowdfunding campaign.

“Because of all the support I received, it really keeps me going. Before graduating, I thought I would be a TV anchor. I never thought I would be here but this is what I am supposed to be doing.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter and email her at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com.

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