A Chicago entrepreneur with a passion for creation is building her business one invention at a time.
Raquel Graham started her business, Roq Innovation, in 2014 when she was looking for a scarf her children would wear.
“During the polar vortex, when they were younger, maybe six years ago, they didn’t wear headscarves,” Graham said. “They decided they were bulky and itchy and if you remember the polar vortex it was so cold you had to cover every part of your skin so I went online to see if I could find an alternative and there was nothing .”
With this, Roq Innovation was born with its first Nekz product, followed by the Headlightz beanies, inspired by the love of running at night. What started as a solution to a problem is now a thriving business operating out of a warehouse in West Town.
“All my products come from my life, I don’t just think of unexpected products. It’s usually I do something in my day to day and there’s frustration, then I look to see if there’s a product and if there’s no product, I make it,” she said. declared.
It was this innovation that put Graham’s business on the map, appearing on “Good Morning America,” “Oprah’s Favorite Things” and, most recently, “Shark Tank.”
“When you’re in the tank, everything is a blur.” said Graham. “Honestly, as you can see, there are so many questions coming up all at once, but yeah they were, they were all really receptive, and it was great.”
Graham came out of the tank with a deal of two sharks. She can’t share the details of that partnership, but says her appearance on the show was a game-changer, putting more focus on her business.
In addition to exposure, the deal gives Graham funding for black and brown entrepreneurs who often struggle to land. A 2021 analysis of Federal Reserve data by Nerd Wallet found that 80% of white business owners receive at least a percentage of the funding they request from a bank, compared to 66% of BIPOC business owners.
“For entrepreneurs in general, it’s really hard to get funding, being a black female entrepreneur is almost impossible.” said Graham. “So in order for me to be able to grow my business, I started, I got funding from friends and family and now at this stage I’m able to get funding from banks and there’s has a lot of investors that are interested, but the problem is when you’re a newbie entrepreneur, you need money at a lower level, you know, at the start.
Graham says she plans to launch at least three new products this year, including a year-round version of Headlightz that can be worn in cold and hot weather. She says the business is growing tremendously and she is excited to enter the lab and create more products.
One thing Graham can guarantee is that all of his inventions will uphold his mission to make life a little easier.
“When you look at my products, it’s almost, it has to be some sort of biography attached to it because there’s something that would have happened in my life that made me create this.”
Graham says you can expect the first batch of new products in July.