People of ProsperUS: Lesa Walker
By: Torisa Johnson
Lesa Walker grew up in Canada, and has lived in Detroit for her adult life. Growing up in a large family with nine siblings, Walker spent lots of quality time early in life experimenting with deserts and competing against her siblings. Walker’s fond memories of making cow patties alongside them influenced the name of her business, Sweet Thoughts. Appropriately named, Sweet Thoughts is a dessert business selling various forms of delicious chocolate and dessert chips, additionally offering healthy yet sweet options that still manage to be delicious.
After completing culinary school, the process of legally formalizing her business took Walker about a year. She wished to formalize Sweet Thoughts much earlier than that and she may have been able to do so with more guidance. The need for business mentorship was one reason Walker decided to join the joint ProsperUS Detroit and FoodLab Detroit Tapestry Fellowship, but, the sense of community and togetherness was what stood out to her about the program. She recalled the joy of relating to the other fellows. She had been a part of many other business associations, but as she explained:
“[The previous business associations] were different because [they were] really not geared towards your business. “[They were] geared toward multiple different businesses so nobody really focused on the issues that you were having with your business.”
“Instead of following the steps, I tried to skip steps of opening a business, like business 101. I was trying to [skip] to the third year of business.”
The lack of relevant mentorship before joining the fellowship made processes such as networking and industry-specific support difficult for an introvert like Walker. While Walker now sees success, she acknowledged that the path she took set her back a few years. Today, the challenges she faces as a business owner stem from the setbacks she experienced years ago. Despite these challenges, Walker is beyond grateful for the mentorship she has received at FoodLab.
Mentorship has been one of the most beneficial parts of the fellowship for Walker, alongside the sense of community. Because of the questions she asked and the guidance she received, she now makes decisions quickly, confidently, and efficiently. Her mentor created space for networking, put her in contact with distributors, and brought grant programs and loans to her attention. Mentors such as Devita Davison and Ederique Goudia at FoodLab became more like friends to Walker, and with Goudia operating a food business herself, the process was even more relatable.
Walker explained the sense of community within the Tapestry Fellowship as,
“The thing that “really kept [her] going.”
The outpour of support and overwhelming response to her product made her feel more confident and encouraged to get her product to market. Additionally, being able to hear and witness other fellows’ stories was rewarding to Walker, as she learned how entrepreneurs can help one another grow.
Walker’s goals to complete her product packaging and update her website are practically complete. However, COVID-19 brought her progress on packaging development to a halt. She plans to fund her packaging with her lending circle payout. While the packaging prototype is complete, any updates paused due to the drawbacks of the pandemic.
Walker also engaged with a technical service provider for product photography through the fellowship, and she hopes to engage with another provider for marketing and web design. Given the circumstances, Walker is satisfied with her progress.
Walker hopes to see her products on store shelves soon, and she is determined to utilize the resources and tools afforded to her by the fellowship. In the future, Walker aspires to own a manufacturing facility in which she will hire and mentor younger people who share her passion.