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At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we believe American business is a positive force not only for our economy, but for our communities. As the next generation of business leaders launch innovative companies that aim to solve some of society’s most pressing problems, we are highlighting those business owners through the new Young Entrepreneur Series.
Through this series, we explore how young entrepreneurs are revolutionizing the way business is conducted through new, disruptive technologies, as well as how they’re building societal impact into their missions and business plans – resulting in companies that truly embody the meaning of “business for good.”
We also thought it was fitting to launch the series on the ninth annual Nelson Mandela International Day as a way to commemorate the South African political leader, philanthropist, agent of change, and former president of South Africa. Mandela championed the impact business could have on democracy and society.
“Business are very good ambassadors in terms of good labor regulations, health policy, generally in terms of having a diversified workforce. Businesses can be good ambassadors on behalf of human rights,” Madeleine Albright said at a U.S. Chamber event celebrating Mandela’s legacy in April.
Our first entrepreneur encapsulates the “business for good” spirit with a product that aims to keep the public safe. In 2017, as a sophomore at George Washington University, Danya Sherman founded Washington, D.C.-based startup KnoNap, the company behind a cocktail napkin that is capable of testing drinks for specific drug presence. We chatted with Sherman about her business, the challenges she has faced, what advice she would offer to fellow young entrepreneurs, and the positive impact she hopes her business will have on society.
Q: Tell us a bit about KnoNap and why you started it.
A: KnoNap, the napkin that knows, is a cocktail napkin that is capable, upon saturation, of detecting specific drug presence. I started the company as a means to empower, educate, and advocate against drug facilitated sexual assault and crime.
Q: What are some of the standout lessons you learned from building a business at your age?
A: Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. To this end, prioritization of physical and mental health is crucial so that I can perform and execute deliverables without the risk of burning out.
Q: What are some of the biggest milestones KnoNap has had so far?
A: KnoNap is patent-pending and we have working prototypes. KnoNap was selected as the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 1st Place recipient for the i-List Awards, an award that recognizes the most innovative companies that demonstrate measurable impact in the Greater Washington region. As well, KnoNap was selected as one of eight companies to participate in Target’s Inaugural Incubator Program.
Q: What impact has running your own business had on your life?
A: Running KnoNap, while being a full-time student, has enabled me to maximize my time management skills. Through growing my company, I have been honored to meet thought leaders and learn about their work to create a better tomorrow. Overall, leading KnoNap has been the most humbling, challenging, and rewarding experience of my life. And the best has yet to come.
Q: What are the long-term goals you have for your company? Where do you hope to see KnoNap grow?
A: My long-term goal for KnoNap is to lead, alongside other advocate organizations, the conversation in working to empower, educate, and advocate against drug facilitated sexual assault and crime. I see KnoNap’s reach being international, and our growth will enable individuals, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation and geographic location, to feel more comfortable in social settings.
Q: What advice would you give to any other younger entrepreneurs who are considering starting their own business?
A: Surround yourself with people of differing viewpoints and skills. Echo chambers are easy to develop, but are counter-productive. Developing a team with different mindsets, experiences, and passions enables viewpoints on issues that will change the way you envision your problem and solution. In turn, this will provide the best end results for your company and the consumer.
Q: How do you perceive small business in our generation today? And how do you think other young people think of business?
A: Our generation is filled with socially-minded thought leaders. The trend of socially- conscious consumerism has expanded, which positively impacts the ways entrepreneurs envision solutions to problems. Instead of solely creating a solution to a problem, our generation is creating solutions to problems that are good for people, the environment, and social equality.