As Black women, we’ve all experienced not having access to personal care products, like Black haircare, while traveling. Whether it’s hotels’ shampoos and conditioners drying out our hair, or our travel-sized products running out mid-trip with no access to more — it can be hard out here. 

Orion Brown knows the struggle too well. While on a trip to Japan in 2017, Orion had a full meltdown when her travel-sized conditioner was running out. There was no access to Black haircare products, and she knew something had to give. Orion saw the need for Black beauty products in the travel industry and created BlackTravelBox

According to the brand’s website, it’s “hair and skincare products are made for life on the go, with travel friendly packaging and formulations that make packing, carrying(on), and using them simple and easy.” All of the products are TSA-friendly and help Black travelers #travelincolor.

Last September, Orion won two pitch competitions at Denver Startup Week, including the DSW’s 1st Annual Equity Pitch Competition. After winning, she received resources to grow and support BlackTravelBox. 

We had an opportunity to chat with the Chicago native about her experience with travel, her journey as an entrepreneur, and winning two pitch competitions at Denver Startup Week. She also shares tips for perfecting your pitch as a business owner.

Orion Brown, BlackTravelBox
Courtesy of Orion Brown

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TN: Tell us about when you were first bit by the travel bug and how it impacted your career as a travel entrepreneur?

OB: I didn’t get a passport until I was 25. My ex-husband is Jamaican and when he would tell me about Jamaica, it sounded like the most magical place on earth. When I got my passport, I started traveling to Jamaica like a native. When I was there, I felt so grounded and at home. There are very few places on the planet where I feel peaceful and at home. I was astonished by it. I found it fascinating to be in a place, surrounded by Black people, and see the stark differences as well as similarities between us. Jamaica was the beginning for me. 

In the past 15 years, I’ve been to twenty countries and counting. I’m going to Antarctica this winter! 

Travel has been the impetus for my journey as an entrepreneur. I didn’t grow up wanting to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship came because I looked at the market and couldn’t believe that there was nothing out there for Black travelers needing beauty products.

TN: What inspired you to start BlackTravelBox?

OB: I went on a trip to Japan in 2017 and had a full meltdown because my 1-ounce bottle of conditioner wasn’t going to last. I went to Okinawa and it was so humid. My hair immediately frizzed up. 

After this experience, I knew we needed to have something for us. I spent 2017 and 2018 working on BlackTravelBox. I tried to imagine the brand I wanted to see, particularly for Black female consumers. 

I set up our website and wanted to see how people reacted to our product. What I found was that people actually liked the products. We take in the feedback and tweak it accordingly. 

TN: You secured funding for your business with your pitch at Denver Startup week, how did those funds help you scale to the next level?

OB: At the time, we were talking with Macy’s about going in-store. It enabled us to put together the in-store merchandising plan, assets, and design work. It takes quite a lot of investment to go into a physical location. We are now live on!

TN: In addition to securing money and resources for your business, you won two pitch competitions at Denver Startup Week — what does that mean to you?

OB: I was so nervous! I was shocked when I won the first pitch. I realized that telling my story authentically was the way to go. I was so excited and grateful. 

Denver Startup Week was September 2021, after a year and a half of hardly anyone traveling. It was such a challenging moment, that I started questioning if I was able to continue my business. After winning the first competition, they let me know that I was a finalist and would have to come back the next day to pitch again. 

I don’t have words to describe how I felt. God knew exactly when I needed encouragement. 

TN: How did you find out about Denver Startup Week and how can other entrepreneurs find out about opportunities like this?

OB: I subscribe to a lot of newsletters that talk about the topics I’m interested in. Start with your local Chamber of Commerce, or local SBA office and find networks from there. Going to in-person and virtual events about entrepreneurship is great. Ask people what newsletters they signed up for. 

I highly recommend Black Women Talk Tech, IFundWomen of Color, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). There are great resources out there.

TN: Can you share any tips for perfecting your pitch?

Orion Brown, Denver Startup Week
Courtesy of Orion Brown

OB: Start with knowing your elevator pitch. Have a solid story — that’s what’s going to structure everything out. Have a master pitch deck and tailor it depending on what the pitch is. Don’t overthink the deck, focus on the story. Understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. 

TN: Where are your fav places to travel with your BlackTravelBox?

Courtesy of Orion Brown

OB: I take BlackTravelBox everywhere with me. I keep it in my car — our lip balm and body balm are with me at all times. I’m excited to take BlackTravelBox to Antarctica. 

You can keep up with Orion and BlackTravelBox by following them on Instagram.

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