The Talon staff sat down with Jasmine Benton, an Oklahoma Christian University freshman who recently won the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s (NFTE) and Shark Tank’s Business Venture Prize for her interior design company Precious Designs, to discuss her win and why she started her business.
What inspired you as a kid to create your business?
I would say my grandmother and my mom. At the age of nine, my parents had gotten divorced. I was angry. I was going down a wrong path, and my grandmother saw that. She started taking me to her clients’ houses, and she would teach me design. I fell in love with it. I was going with her to her clients’ houses for over two years. Finally, at age 11, I looked at my mom and said, “I want to start a business, and I want to do the stuff my grandmother’s been teaching me.” Being able to learn from my grandmother was the reason why I wanted to start my business.
Why did you feel encouraged to take your business to the next level?
My mom. My mom is like 20 people mixed into one. I grew up watching her be an entrepreneur. She was No. 1 in Dallas for having the best runway shows. Knowing that I had a business and passion and talent, seeing her go to the next level and be written about in magazines and following her dreams, that’s what made me want to push forward. I know what my dreams are, and it’s useless if you have this talent and stay on one level. That’s not what God wants you to do in the first place. He wants you to continue and to grow.
How did you prepare for being on Shark Tank, and was it what you expected?
I prepared not in a way I would normally prepare for a competition. I had surgery on both of my ankles this past year, so I’ve been recovering. I’ve had to transition to college—I’m a freshman—running my business all at the same time and having a competition on top of that. Preparing for that was more setting times for it and having people be able to watch me prepare. I had to set myself in a mental state where not only was I watching my health, but I was also watching how I speak.
This is a whole different level. This isn’t the level I was on in Dallas. There were local and regional [competitions], and those were child’s play compared to what was done in New York. I had to mentally get myself prepared for that competition.
Last month you went to New York City and won NFTE’s competition, which included a $7,500 grant to jumpstart your business. What was that experience like?
It was surreal. NFTE, the program which was at my school which gave me the opportunity to even be in this competition, is connected to Shark Tank. They are the link to being on Shark Tank. There’s five levels to being on Shark Tank. The first level is being on the junior Shark Tank, which was the level before me, which was E1. I am in E2. I was in the second level. The judges from the actual Shark Tank show are not there, however, they have their investors come and watch. My investor was Daymond John’s investor. Each judge that was judging my presentation was someone on that team.
It was completely surreal, because they’re like, “Are you worthy enough to be pushed on to the next level so you can be on Shark Tank?” It’s crazy, because you could leave the room if they say you’re not good enough. Or you could leave the room and your dreams just crash. Or you have to find another road. For them to say, “We work for Daymond John, and we want to sign you,” within a weekend, my dreams were pushed toward me. It was surreal. I wouldn’t say it was hard, because this is something I’ve been dreaming of my entire life. It was more about having to change my mindset. When you move to a different level, you’re having to leave certain things behind and make room for new things.
What do you plan on doing with the grant money?
I have to pay some of my contractors back. I’m going to be investing more in my business and my career, which is going to be feeding my business, because I am my business. I’ll be using some of it to pay for my college, since my major is interior architecture. I plan on going to the next level, but that also means feeding back into the business.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Never let “no” let you down. Never let anyone tell you to stop following your dreams and following your passion. There’s going to be so many people who look at you like you’re crazy, like you’re stupid. I’m just taking it one step at a time and following my dreams. You can’t let someone’s “no” or someone’s looks or someone’s attitude towards who you are and what you want to be affect you. You have to know yourself. You have to know your dream, and you have to go for it. If someone says no, there’s always up, there’s always down, there’s always around. You can make a U-turn. There’s other ways. My advice is always follow your passion, which is why I named my business Precious Designs, because every dream is precious.
Why did you decide to come to Oklahoma Christian?
Honestly, [Oklahoma Christian] sent me a great brochure. I saw that there was interior design. At that moment, I only had one school in mind, and I was kind of dead set on it, in all honesty. It was Savannah College of Art and Design, which has been No. 1 in the nation for interior design for the past five years. I got accepted, but I had recently had surgery, as I said. My parents didn’t want me to go so far, and OC seemed pretty good and offered me a few scholarships. My parents said, “Yeah, you’re going.” So here I am. I know this is where God wants me to be. He has a funny way of letting you know that.
Have you met any famous people through your business?
Oh yeah. I was the design assistant for Mikel Welch. He was the interior designer for Steve Harvey. I met his daughter, and I helped design his grandson’s nursery, which is on my website. I have met a few of Daymond John’s workers and other celebrities I am not allowed to disclose as of yet.
Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am the 2019 winning business venture, and I did that all by myself. I am most proud of that.