Tawonda Burks is a powerhouse. Between working full time as a project manager in the department of management, engineering and consulting at Mayo Clinic and raising five kids, she also manages to run two of her own businesses as well. Oh, and she’s working on her Ph.D
Enterprising from the start
Burks knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur as a young girl. Growing up in Chicago, she saw street vendors selling water bottles and other things. Those vendors would then go and spend the money that they earned.
Interested in that exchange of money in the community where she lived, Burks knew that if she could make money of her own, she could buy the pink BMX bike she had her eye on. Her mom gave her some money, and she used that to buy candy, which she then resold to the neighborhood kids. She made enough profit to buy the bike and then some. She noted what sold well and what didn’t and started over the next summer.
“The thing about entrepreneurship that intrigues me is the motivation behind it,” Burks says. “I saw street vendors around me whose motivation was to eat or get a hotel room because they were homeless. The impact of the money circulating in the community was mind-blowing to me.”
Leading through education
Burks has a bachelor’s degree in business management, has a Master of Business Administration and is almost finished with her Ph.D in educational leadership.
Education is very important to Burks, and it’s one of the main things she offers through her consulting firm, Elocina. Her goal is to help people go from their idea to opening a business. Her clients are from around Rochester, near the Chicago area and other locations. Part of what she offers is market research based on the area where the client is.
A change agent
It’s very important to Burks to talk to her clients about generational wealth. She notices and is bothered by the disparity between those who have and those who do not have wealth.
Burks includes “all types of human capital—social, financial, intellectual and spiritual” in her definition of wealth, encouraging her clients to create that capital foundation and pass it on. These are the things that haven’t always been taught in the Black community.
She is a “huge advocate for equality and accessibility.” As “change agents, we keep on working because we believe change will happen.” In her consulting and coaching, changing mindsets is the first step.
From the basement workshop
Burks’ second business is called 5th Studio Designs. Started as a crafting business, it has developed into a thriving customization business. From a workshop in her basement, Burks does laser engraving, creating customized coffee mugs, shirts, glasses, phone stands and more.
When on maternity leave with her last child, with her other kids at school and her husband at work, she was bored. After seeing an engraved coffee mug on Facebook designed by an acquaintance, she was intrigued, purchased the materials and started playing around, first creating gifts for friends and gradually accepting orders for purchase. She ended up being able to pay for some big-ticket items with the money she earned. Her customers love her creativity, and she says, “I love the emotions that are attached to that personalization.”
It’s not all business
When asked how she manages this busy life, Burks says, “(I’m) very organized. I have lots of automated systems. I don’t mind the work. I know the foundation has to be built because it’s important to the community that I help.”
Burks’ children range in age from 2 to 23, and they all help in the running of the household. “We’re in a home together, so we have to take care of it together,” she says. “We all use dishes, so we all wash them. We all eat, so we all cook.”
In her free time, Burks loves to read, enjoy different kinds of foods and travel. She is hoping to travel to Italy when she finishes her Ph.D. Self-care is important to her. “If you don’t take care of yourself first, it’s hard to take care of others. Regardless of what others say, you have to stay true to yourself.”
“I’m very open minded,” Burks concludes. “I question everything and love to experience things. If I fall, I fall fast and then get back up. My goal in life is to help others make change.”