Where can Syrian entrepreneurs find startup funding? What U.S. industry is becoming more pet-friendly?

Here are interesting news stories about innovative small businesses, surprising PR choices, and a business competition opportunity in the Middle East.

Penda improves health care in Kenya

Why they made headlines:

The Kenyan capital of Nairobi is becoming known as a great place for startups. Penda, a social enterprise lead by American entrepreneur Stephanie Koczela, makes for a fascinating case study.

Penda is a social enterprise: a for-profit company with the mission of improving the lives of people in the community, in this case via its affordable health clinics. Unlike many of the health clinics and hospitals in the area, they don’t rely on donations and are financially self-sustaining, as well as focused on providing the most affordable care possible for the middle and lower income brackets. They focus on women’s health and offer services for as little as six dollars.

What they had to say:

Koczela says that being a self-sustaining health clinic allows Penda to focus on the patients as customers, and adapt the business to their needs: “Having the patients be the ones who pay, we keep them as the voice in our heads instead of donors.”

Koczela is enthusiastic about the entrepreneurial spirit in Kenya: “You are working from seven a.m. to nine p.m. at least. Most people are working to one a.m. to make phone calls back to the U.S. If you text someone at 10 and say, ‘Do you know how to do this Excel calculation?’ they will call you right back.”

Penda on Twitter: @PendaHealth

Rent the Runway brings high fashion to the mainstreet

Why they made headlines:

Their innovative business model allows people to rent extremely expensive clothing for a fraction of the purchasing price. Previously this startup depended largely on renting clothes and accessories, and raised 60 million dollars in venture capital after only five years in business. Now, they’re looking at expansion into a subscription service allowing members to receive ongoing shipments of rented designer clothes each month.

Another interesting aspect of this business is that their leadership is 80% female, including co-founders Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, and President Beth Kaplan, among others.

What they had to say:

President Beth Kaplan has high hopes: “This new investment combined with our strong leadership team will give us everything we need to take our company to the next stage of growth.”

Rent the Runway on Twitter: @RenttheRunway

The makers of Cards Against Humanity sell people BS

Why they made headlines:

This year, around the holidays, Cards Against Humanity sold people a bunch of BS. Literally. For Black Friday, they advertised boxes of the stuff for six dollars and no bones about it—they told you exactly what to expect: the actual poop from a bull, in a box.

It would be understandable if you thought I was being crass here, but this actually happened. The company made almost two hundred thousand dollars—talk about taking a risk that paid off! The controversial game company has been in the headlines before due to the offensive nature of the game (which bills itself as “a party game for horrible people” and which focuses mostly on politically improper jokes), and a previous Black Friday prank wherein they upped the price of their product five dollars, and still made tons of sales.

What they had to say:

A lot of people had questions after this bizarre poop-selling move—mostly just wondering, “Why?”

Apparently, to teach people a lesson. “If you buy the poop expecting it to be something else that’s not poop, you’re actually buying a valuable life lesson for $6,” co-founder Max Temkin said.

Cards Against Humanity on Twitter: @CAH

Meow Parlour is NYC’s first cat cafe

Why they made headlines:

The unusual business model that combines a traditional cafe with a cat adoption center has drawn attention to Meow Parlour in New York City. They partner with a local no-kill animal shelter called Kitty Kind, so every cat you see there is available for adoption. Of course, if you aren’t looking to adopt a cat, you can still just stop by for a latte and some kitty cuddles! Personally, I say let’s get one of these on every corner.

What they had to say:

Co-owner Christina Ha says, “I think we’ll feel really like we’ve made it when we get our first cat adopted.” The company has only been open for a few weeks.

Meow Parlour on Twitter: @MeowParlour

Jusoor runs an entrepreneurship program in Syria

Why they made headlines:

Jusoor is an NGO (non-governmental organization, often a nonprofit) that is run by Syrian expatriates wanting to provide opportunities to the nation’s youth. They are now accepting applicants for their entrepreneurial competition. Competition winners receive up to $30,000 and the chance to work with the investors and thought leaders of the Oasis500 think tank as part of a three week accelerator program. If you’re interested in applying, you can find the form here.

What they had to say:

Due to conflict in this region, there aren’t a lot of people reaching out to those in the country with entrepreneurial ambitions, who are looking to boost Syria’s economic future. “The statistics say there are almost 20 million expatriate Syrians around the world, almost similar to the number of people inside Syria. We thought why not create this network of expatriates, and connect them to the young talented Syrians to transform these opportunities into realities,” says co-founder Dania Ismail.

Jusoor on Twitter: @JusoorSY

Have you heard any interesting or controversial business news this week? Would you like to see something included here? Let us know on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

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Angelique O'Rourke
Angelique O'Rourke

Artistic + intellectual pursuits. Social justice. Actress. Model. Musician. Eugene // Portland.