Hoodwinked Escape’s Michele Ware has been awarded the 2019 Interise Company to Watch Award. The Award is presented to a small business owner who has demonstrated exceptional growth and community engagement in his/her first 3 years of operations.

Hoodwinked Escape, the winner of Interise’s 2019 Company to Watch Award is an escape room founded by Michele Ware and based in Harlem.The company has been in operation since February 2015 – 3 months after Ware experienced her very first “escape room” adventure with her coworkers. Ware, whose job in corporate finance included planning yearly adventures for her teammates, loved the collaborative and team-building aspects of the game so much that she decided to leave her job and start her own escape room business.

Since the very beginning Ware has had a voracious appetite for knowledge, and has sought it through various workshops and training programs. In 2018, she took the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ program through the Harlem Commonwealth Council and for the first time since starting her business, was presented with the idea of developing a growth plan. “At that time I didn’t know what a growth plan was… So being given that opportunity made me feel like it was the perfect time for me to look at my business a little deeper,” she says. Ware explains that her experience in the class didn’t just equip her with the knowledge she needed to run her business, it also exposed her to a network of business owners who were willing to be transparent about the challenges they were facing. “The diversity of experiences represented in the class was invaluable to my growth… It taught me how important it is to be authentic and transparent about what’s really happening with my business, and to be okay with asking for help” she says.

Shortly after graduating from the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ class, Ware obtained a MWBE (a Minority and Woman-Owned Business) certification, through which she’s secured various funding opportunities, including a contract with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. Ware credits her experience in the SWMBA for enabling her to recognize and prioritize the needs of her customers, and for giving her the tools to be more strategic about catering to those needs. As such, Hoodwinked, through partnerships with local restaurants and businesses, has expanded its offerings to include staff and youth development workshops, as well as dining options to its visitors.

Ware has been forthcoming in leveraging her position as a minority and female business owner to reach the youth and aspiring entrepreneurs in her community. Since two years ago, Hoodwinked has provided mentorships to several High School students – 3 of whom have been hired as full-time employees. The company hosts workshops where Ware and other facilitators “create a space for people to talk about what it means to be a black entrepreneur,” and donates generously to local nonprofits.

In looking ahead to the future of the company, Ware plans to develop a more robust relationship with her customer-base, and to expand her team.

Congratulations to Michele Ware and the Hoodwinked team for being awarded the Interise Company to Watch Award! We hope the company continues to thrive in light of this recognition!