A mistake in business can lead to a disaster for a small business owner, however, for Maryland-based entrepreneur Allyson Yuille, someone else’s error enabled her to win thousands of dollars recently to help finance and maintain her small stationary and paper products business—with the colorful and tasty name—Sweet Potato Paper.
The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) of Central New Jersey’s S.E.E.D Competition was held earlier this year in New Brunswick, NJ. The organization awarded more than $45,000 in funding and other services to any business that is at least 50 percent woman-owned, based in New Jersey and is no more than two years old. Sweet Potato Paper only met two of the three requirements—the business is based in Maryland and not New Jersey. “I found the competition on a national business competition and thought it would be a good opportunity for me and my business,” says Yuille. “I didn’t know the competition was only for New Jersey residents.”
In an odd twist, the address on Yuille’s application listed her location as Upper Marlboro, MD. The organization assumed the city was Marlboro, NJ. By the time the error was caught, Yuille and Sweet Potato Paper had already made it to the competition finals. Yuille was one of three winners eventually chosen for the awards. “I was stunned when I found out about the error that was made by the organization,” she says. “I guess watching shows about New Jersey from travel to entertainment on TV made me an “unofficial resident.”
Yuille started Sweet Potato Paper in 2009 with about $3,000 from her personal savings. She says revenues for the business will top $25,000 by the end of the year. Around the same time, she started the business, she was also planning her wedding. She and was unable to find the perfect wedding cards, invitations and other things that would set her wedding apart and ahead from the others. Additionally, she wanted paper products that would appeal to African-Americans and Latinos in a distinct and sophisticated manner.
“It seemed that whenever I searched for a piece of stationary for African-Americans or Latinos it would only have a standard image of a person or some slang phrase,” Yuille says. “I wanted something that would highlight the artistic contributions, style and experiences of African-Americans and Latinos.” Unable to consistently locate paper products that she liked, Yuille started Sweet Potato Paper. The business is named after a pie Yuille’s grandmother always brought to parties and family gatherings. She also incorporated famous inventor George Washington Carver’s use of the sweet potato to make a form of the paper. “I am a stationery fanatic and a designer who appreciates modern, fresh and clean design aesthetics,” she says. “I want to have a modern selection of invitations for people of color.”
As for the future (and following in the footsteps of domestic diva Martha Stewart), Yuille says she has her own style and plans to bring a new spin to arts and crafts by adding a unique urban flair to her products. “I was once told, ‘it’s not what you sell, it’s why you sell it’,” she says. “Anyone can sell invitations and give it some culture, but I’m doing more than that. And I’m not just cooking, but planning and celebrating the cultures of people of color with innovations.” The website for Sweet Potato Paper is www.sweetpotatopaper.com