3 small business stories to celebrate National Entrepreneurship Month

This month marks the 8th annual National Entrepreneurship Month and 11th annual Global Entrepreneurship Week. At Microsoft, we celebrate the business owners who drive innovation in the global marketplace. After all, our mission is to enable every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. And with Microsoft 365, we’re proud to help small- and medium-sized businesses achieve more with productivity tools that put artificial intelligence (AI) to work for them.

Comprising 99.9 percent of all firms in the U.S., representing 60 percent of total GDP in China, and employing a staggering 106 million people in India, small- and medium-sized businesses bring new ideas, diversity, and economic growth to the global marketplace. Today, we’re sharing stories—plus helpful tips—from three Microsoft 365 customers whose journeys to success epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit.

Investigative journalist turned chocolatier—Tony’s Chocolonely

In 2002, Dutch investigative reporter Teun van de Keuken was working on an exposé of child slave labor in the cocoa industry when he made a disturbing discovery. Despite having signed a protocol designed to end forced child labor, none of the signatory chocolate companies were upholding it. Van de Keuken’s solution: He founded his own chocolate company. Since 2005, Tony’s Chocolonely has been dealing directly with West African cocoa farmers, enabling families to earn living wages so children could go to school instead of work. Today, the company has grown to more than 100 dedicated staff across Europe, West Africa, and the U.S.

Tips for success:

  • Let team spirit drive key decisions. “Without the team, there is no company,” explains IT Manager Rick van Doorn. “And keeping that team collaborating optimally is vitally important to everything we do.”
  • Use chat features in Microsoft Teams to build personal relationships. “Email is more formal, more time-consuming. Chat lends itself to the shared humor and quick check-ins that naturally fit our culture and make us more efficient,” says Angela Ursem, a marketing communications manager with Tony’s Chocolonely.

Bee-stung kid turned beverage maven—Me & the Bees Lemonade

Mikaila Ulmer, founder and CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade, embodies go-get-‘em entrepreneurship. She landed her company a contract with Whole Foods, along with a $60,000 investment from the TV show “Shark Tank.” She also appeared on “Good Morning America” and “NBC News” and has been featured in Forbes and Time magazines. In 2016, President Barack Obama introduced her at the United State of Women Summit.

This all happened before her 13th birthday.

In fact, Ulmer founded the company at age four. Stung twice in the space of a week, she developed a fear of bees that her parents encouraged her to channel into research. Her fear turned to fascination, and concern for the insects’ dwindling numbers. Around this time, her great-grandmother happened to send the family a 1940s cookbook that included a recipe for flaxseed lemonade.

With the help of parents Theo and D’Andra Ulmer, the budding bee ambassador used that recipe to launch her lemonade company. She now sells products in more than 1,500 locations across the U.S., donating a percentage of profits to organizations working to save honeybees.

Tips for success:

  • Streamline day-to-day operations. The family uses various Microsoft apps to collaborate, create presentations, support sales, and automate processes. This helps free up every entrepreneur’s most valuable resource—time.
  • Dream like a kid. Too often we focus on problems instead of possibilities. “If you have a dream, you shouldn’t be fretting over the obstacles,” says Ulmer. “You should be finding ways to innovate in order to make that dream come true.”

Side-hustle turned thriving business—Presentation Studio

As a young graphic designer, Emma Bannister had dreams of working for Disney—designing movie posters, theme parks, maybe even a few animated characters. But life had other plans, and Bannister landed a job at Deutsche Bank in London creating Microsoft PowerPoint presentations for fund managers.

“I found it [to be] a strangely satisfying creative challenge,” Bannister says. “I got really good at understanding what these financial wizards were trying to say and helping them say it better.”

While on maternity leave in 2006, Bannister had the idea to create a PowerPoint makeover business. She worked tirelessly to deliver memorable presentations while also taking care of her newborn. Today, her side hustle has snowballed into Presentation Studio, a Sydney-based consultancy that delivers PowerPoint pizzazz to Australia’s biggest banks, telecommunications, mining companies, and pharmaceutical giants.

Tips for success:

  • Tap into the global talent market. Bannister encourages other entrepreneurs to implement technology that enables first-class remote work options—the best way to attract and retain top employees around the world.
  • Empower remote work, even for local employees. Boost productivity and morale by eliminating commute time and giving employees the freedom to design their own work styles and create better work-life balance. In the process, you’ll reduce the hassle and expense of maintaining physical offices.

These three stories illustrate the incredible opportunities that await today’s budding entrepreneurs. Armed with a great idea—and the right technology to bring it to life—everyone on the planet can succeed in today’s marketplace. Want more tips on running your business better? Visit The Growth Center for tools, guides, and advice on starting, managing, and growing your business.