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STARTUP

She Needed $25,000 to Adopt Her Son–and Lost It in the Recession. Her Fundraiser Became a Successful Startup

In 2008, Jessica Honegger couldn’t afford to adopt an orphaned Rwandan child. Now she runs one of America’s fastest-growing companies.

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BY Cameron Albert-Deitch - 10 Jul 2018

She Needed $25,000 to Adopt Her Son--and Lost It in the Recession. Her Fundraiser Became a Successful Startup

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Jessica Honegger had been trying to adopt a Rwandan child. But when the Great Recession hit, she and her husband suddenly found they couldn't afford the fees. An idea to raise funds turned into Noonday Collection, a 2015 Inc. 500 winner that designs jewelry crafted by artisans in Asia, Africa, and South America, and sells it at trunk shows throughout the U.S.--As told to Cameron Albert-Deitch

I met my husband while working for an NGO and training to live in Guatemala. We came back to Texas, got married, had two kids, and then we took a trip to Africa. There, I held a newly orphaned baby whose parents had died of AIDS. "The most basic human right is being able to have a parent," I thought.

We started the adoption process. We paid some of the initial fees. We'd been flipping houses. Then the market crashed in 2008 and nobody was buying homes. International adoption costs $25,000. We had it. We totally had it. But eventually, we were living off that money. I thought, I need to do something.

Some friends had moved to Uganda to help the people there with entrepreneurship. They'd asked this talented young couple to make some jewelry. But they hadn't thought about how to sell it, so it sat in storage. "Why don't you open your home and sell this stuff?" my friends asked me. "You can use the money for your adoption."

So one night, at home, I sold those goods, along with my clothes, my grandmother's dishes--anything salable. Around 60 women showed up. They loved the African jewelry. They were emailing me: "Can you get more of those necklaces?"

We made about $4,000 that night. If I could do more at other women's homes, I'd be well on my way to $25,000.

I began a relationship with the artisans, and was able to get product from them really quickly. Then I began to ask other women to open up their homes. For the next several months, I drove all over Texas. I slept on couches. If you wanted to open your home, I'd be there.

We made the money we needed. And I realized: This started as a fundraiser, but this was now a business.

In 2011, we traveled to Rwanda to meet our new 2-year-old son, Jack. The dirt road leading to the orphanage's big, blue metal gate was filled with potholes--our car barely made it. A nun greeted us. Then, we saw him. Another nun was holding his hand, walking up a long stairway to meet us.

I'm crying just thinking about it. You hope, and you're so determined, and the adoption process is insane. It was a long, hard year of not being sure. But he's our little miracle. Definitely a world-changer. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be running Noonday Collection.

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