Entrepreneurs thrive on adversity: We identify problems, create solutions, and hear the word “no” as a challenge. Adversity often becomes a catalyst for transformation, pushing us to discover new levels of inner strength and resilience.
That rings especially true for Saichelle McNeill, an EO Charlotte member whose remarkable journey of entrepreneurship is a testament to the power of determination and the importance of second chances.
Saichelle wasn’t a born entrepreneur. After college she worked her way up in the corporate world, managing managers in a manufacturing setting. Then she hit a significant setback: a 27-month stint in the federal prison dubbed “Camp Cupcake” because it’s where Martha Stewart served time.
Upon release, Saichelle began the daunting task of rebuilding her life. She endured the same discrimination that all justice-involved people face but was determined to rejoin the workforce. After applying to multiple companies, she got a decent job offer, only to have her hopes dashed when the offer was rescinded via certified mail the evening before she was scheduled to start.
Despite her hopes being crushed, what could have been a moment of defeat instead became an inflection point.
Entrepreneurship by necessity
Saichelle needed a job. She worked briefly at Waffle House and in a college dining facility. While driving around with a friend who owned a tow truck business, she had an Aha! moment.
“My prison hustle was doing other people’s laundry, because it involved walking half-a-mile each way to the laundry facility. Older women and people with disabilities couldn’t do it,” she recalled. “So people paid me to take their laundry.”
Inspired by her “prison hustle,” Saichelle saw an opportunity in the laundry business. With the support of a friend who gifted her a van (she paid $1 for it) and a mentor in the dry cleaning business, she built a website and embarked on her entrepreneurial journey as founder of WashRoom Laundry.
“I needed a job,” she said. “So I created one for myself.”
She knocked on doors for a year before signing her first client. But Saichelle’s never-give-up attitude prevailed, and she eventually secured her first client and lay the foundation for her business.
Through a scholarship from ScaleUpCLT, Saichelle had the opportunity to join EO Charlotte’s Accelerator (EOA) program. ScaleUpCLT is an initiative of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance® Foundation that accelerates the growth of minority-owned businesses, in partnership with EO Charlotte and the City of Charlotte.
“EOA took a chance on me.I was learning new things every week, and applying them to my business, but I had the lowest revenue in my accountability group,” she recalled. “It was intimidating. I would spend 30 or 40 minutes in my car deep-breathing before I could go in and be with this group.”
“Everybody has always been so kind. The coaches would greet me and pull me in,” she continued. “I’ve learned to carry my own bag. I truly believe ‘You get out of it what you put into it’.”
When Saichelle joined EO Accelerator in 2021, she had the lowest revenue in her accountability group. By working hard to implement the strategies she learned, in 2023 WashRoom Laundry crossed the US$1 million dollar revenue threshold and Saichelle graduated to full EO membership in EO Charlotte.
Saichelle’s unconventional journey taught her invaluable lessons that shaped her approach to entrepreneurship:
1. Resilience in the face of adversity
Instead of letting setbacks define her, every rejection strengthened her resolve to succeed. Ironically, the company that once rescinded her job offer is now a client. “We treat our largest clients like we treat our smallest clients: We’re grateful for them,” she says. “I just want to do what’s right. And I want people to think positively of me and our service.”
2. The power of second chances
After struggling to re-enter the workforce after imprisonment, Saichelle is passionate about providing opportunities to people facing similar challenges and paying employees a living wage. “We are a second-chances employer. Men and women who are justice-involved have everything to prove. And so you give them one opportunity,” she explained. “Most people will give you their best and show you exactly what they can do to prove themselves. That is their spirit and attitude.”
3. Courage to embrace vulnerability
Saichelle wasn’t afraid to share her story, even when it made her feel vulnerable. Her openness created a culture of acceptance and empathy within her company, allowing others to feel valued and supported. “I don’t want anyone to feel ‘less than’ because they were justice-involved. Figure out what you learned – because there was some learning involved there — then move forward.”
4. Lead like a woman
As a female leader, Saichelle believes in leading with empathy and compassion. She understands the importance of connecting with her team on a personal level and fostering a culture of trust and collaboration. “When I say I lead like a woman, I mean it’s all right to make decisions from the heart and not from your head. Because whenever I make decisions from the heart, 99% of the time, whether right or wrong, I feel good about them,” she says. “As women, we are natural nurturers. When we lead with that, we get better results.”
5. Give back
Saichelle finds fulfillment in making a positive impact by coaching aspiring entrepreneurs and supporting organizations that help formerly incarcerated people. “I coach entrepreneurs through Central Piedmont Community College’s Small Business Center where 90% of the people are black and brown. I also work with City Startup Labs. I’m always trying to lend my support when I can because I know it’s difficult, especially for someone who is justice-involved,” Saichelle explained. “Even if I made no money but made an impact, I think I might be all right. It’s that important to me.”
6. Celebrate Black History Month every month
We asked Saichelle what being a successful entrepreneur and an African American means to her. “I celebrate Black History Month every month,” she said. “I make it a point to do business with Black entrepreneurs. I’m excited to be at the table where other African Americans can see that EO is an organization that will support them from the inside, out.”
“For all the women and men who look like me, I hope the message is, ‘If she can do it, I can do it’,” Saichelle said. “I hope my story gives people some hope.”
Contributed to EO by Saichelle McNeill, a member of EO Charlotte, where she will serve as the chapter’s Accelerator Chair for FY2023/2024, and the founder of WashRoom Laundry. WashRoom Laundry is a mobile laundry service providing a wide range of quality dry cleaning and laundry services for all commercial, private, apparel, and household needs. Photo shows the team at WashRoom Laundry: Silvia Castro, Desmond Dinkins, Saichelle McNeill, Devonte Curtis, and Liliana Acevedo.