APPLE PODCASTS | SPOTIFY From teaching children to starting a non-profit and launching a small business development program, Jessica Hotz has always had one goal in life: to elevate people. Jessica is the co-founder of Elevate, a social enterprise focused on empowering families through small business development and expanding the reach of the gospel through high-quality leather […]
From teaching children to starting a non-profit and launching a small business development program, Jessica Hotz has always had one goal in life: to elevate people.
Jessica is the co-founder of Elevate, a social enterprise focused on empowering families through small business development and expanding the reach of the gospel through high-quality leather goods.
In this episode, Jessica shares a behind-the-scenes look at her journey – including a life-altering trip to India, the ins and outs of product design, and navigating shifts in the market post-pandemic.
Don’t miss this insightful conversation with Elevate founder Jessica Hotz! Press play for the full interview or keep reading below.
Jessica’s business journey began when she moved overseas at 22 years old. She and her husband Brandon, both originally from small towns in Nebraska, met on a previous trip to India. As Jessica says, “You can’t go to India and not be changed in a really profound way.”
After returning home for a year and getting married, the couple felt compelled by God to return to South Asia and serve the local communities.
“I realized that business and income-generating activities could be a force for change in the world,” Jessica says. That initial spark fueled the idea that would eventually become Elevate.
While teaching children in India, Jessica and her husband became good friends with a local family who shared their faith. The couple dreamed of starting a leather goods business – Jessica and Brandon offered to help get things off the ground.
Not long into the process, they discovered the leather industry in Asia was one of massive exploitation. In order to pay workers a fair wage, it pushed the costs far beyond what the local market could afford. But Jessica and Brandon realized there may be another option.
The couple moved back to the States and started drawing up plans for a new business that would help elevate people, lifting families from disadvantaged communities up to a higher position.
“That’s what Elevate has continued to be about, is hearing those dreams in people’s hearts and getting to be a part of actualizing those.”
Jessica used her previous experience in the fashion industry to design innovative products, then sent her ideas off to their local partners in India.
“I wanted to design real bags for real life,” she says, referencing the functional style the brand has become known for. “I love designing around solving people’s problems.”
To fund their new initiative, Jessica and Brandon reached out to friends and family to ask for donations. “It was kind of like a Kickstarter before Kickstarter was a thing.” They used the proceeds to fund their first launch, and it’s only grown from there.
The business saw traction right away. People resonated with Jessica and Brandon’s mission to elevate people and after seeing the bags at pop-up events, they saw the superior quality.
“For us, it was about having conversations with people. We needed people to touch the bags, feel them, and smell them.” Those first few years were all about in-person pop-up events, but as Elevate grew the business also ventured into paid ads.
“I have such endearing memories of the beginning. We worked all day, we worked a lot for the night – and it wasn’t a drudgery, it was purely fun.” Elevate has grown at a steady pace since then, but scaling brought a new set of challenges.
With pandemic-related price increases, Jessica and Brandon realized their margins weren’t sustainable. They wanted their products to be accessible, but the costs associated with producing high-quality leather goods made it difficult to compete with other fashion brands. It was time to recalibrate.
One of Jessica and Brandon’s friends in the social enterprise space introduced them to the Profit First mentality, which they used to identify their most successful products. From there, they doubled down on what was working and cut the rest.
“To be honest, I would say that finance is an area we should have gotten help with a lot sooner,” Jessica says. “I don’t think we realized how much that was a part of the difference-making in the lives of the people we wanted to serve overseas.”
If you need help pricing your products or services for profit, check out The Blueprint Model, my finance course for entrepreneurs!
Between running Elevate and traveling back and forth to India multiple times a year, Jessica and her husband spend a lot of time together. They’ve found that work-life integration works better than work-life balance. “The challenge has been, when do we switch gears?”
To make intentional time for their relationship, Jessica and Brandon carve out weekly “connection time” that’s just for them. “It’s all about finding the people in your life who will be safe and supportive, and we’ve always been that for each other.”
On the business side, Jessica says they each bring different strengths to the table. She’s the visionary, in charge of leading people and building a team, while Brandon is the one who handles the numbers side.
Since that first trip to India, Jessica’s commitment to serve and elevate people hasn’t wavered. Elevate remains a registered non-profit, working out of small-scale workshops in South Asia – but Jessica felt called to grow her impact even further.
As Executive Director for Activate Global, she’s helped kickstart hundreds of small businesses overseas, allowing more people to create sustainable income for themselves and their families.
If she could go back and tell herself one thing at the beginning of this journey, it would be to stop chasing the next milestone and focus on serving the people in front of you.
To hear the full story and more about Jessica Hotz, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Jessica Hotz is the co-founder of ELEVATE, a social enterprise focused on empowering families through small business development and expanding the reach of the gospel through high quality leather goods.
She also co-founded and currently serves as the Executive Director of Activate Global. A missions organization committed to taking the love of Jesus to 15 of the hardest to reach countries in the world.
Together, Activate Global and Elevate have launched 384 small businesses, trained 637 leaders, established 568 new churches and engaged 142 Unreached People Groups with the gospel.
When she isn’t traveling, you can find Jessica on her front porch in Lincoln, NE enjoying a book with her pup Winston!
November 23, 2023