Despite having a stunning career as a competitive volleyball player in the Olympics and being crowned Miss USA of Maryland, Nana Meriwether realized that in 2018 she was neither happy nor healthy. This led her on a spiritual journey and into the wellness space. On a trip to Costa Rica, she learned about the power of plants and botanicals and began studying more about the positive impact of herbalism. Nana wanted to focus on her next big idea as a natural competitor. She thought, why not create a healthy wine for herself and others to consume. Nana stopped drinking years ago because of the negative impact that alcohol had on her body. But after learning about herbal wines, she created Navina formerly known as Cale.
Navina is a wellness company that currently focuses on wines. Their wines are low in alcohol, sugar, calories, and sulfites. Herbal wine is closely linked to a mixture of meade and kombucha. Meade is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey mixed with water that might have added ingredients such as fruits, spices, grains, or hops.
Nana said, "People are more mindful of what they put in their bodies and how they live their lives. So we've created a product—if you're really social and want to go to a dinner party or even, you know, Netflix and chill on your couch and you need a little respite, you can have a glass of Navina. It's so low in everything. It still maintains your health and productivity. So you can have that meeting at 7:00 AM or yoga at 6:00 AM."
What are you most proud of when it comes to Navina?
Starting Navina was a personal spiritual journey. When she experiences self-limiting beliefs and the highs and lows of life, she reflects on what she built. She said, "When I'm like, really like down in the dumps or like having a bad day, it reflects in my company. So it's very much connected. So what I'm most proud of is being able to lift myself up and develop into a better woman."
What fears did you have along the journey?
Nana has a day job, a career in blockchain, working for one of the founders of Ethereum. Navina is a startup that she started as a side hustle. Everyone at her company has a side project, whether it's a podcast, a blog, or something else that they pour into. Nana had a fear that people wouldn't understand her ability to handle her day job and Navina. However, in college, she wasn't just a student. Nana was an athlete and in post-graduate, she also competed in beauty pageants.
Nana said, "So it's very much in my DNA to always have many balls rolling. But there was a fear that my bosses wouldn't understand, but they've been super supportive. Another fear is just stepping out with something into the world and wondering if anyone's going to buy it. But again, it has nothing to do with the product, really. It has to do with my state of mind and finding the confidence to carry this company on and continue to release amazing products."
These fears are natural for most entrepreneurs who step out on faith into a competitive landscape.
Tell us about any major setbacks that you had and how you recovered.
California creates 84% of the wine in the U.S. However, less than one-tenth of those winemakers are Black. The alcohol industry lacks diversity. Therefore, there aren't many role models to look up to. Nana said, "That also motivates me to trailblaze and bring more women into this field." Also, herbal wine isn't new. It's an ancient tradition that she brings back to the modern-day world.
Nana said, "The wine industry is very stoic and seldom innovates. If you're doing something different, they look at you sideways, like, no, no, no, that's not how you make Pinot Noir. So there was a challenge finding a partner—a winemaker who would take on my ideas, but also funding it."
What's the biggest risk you've taken so far?
Like most Black and Brown women entrepreneurs, Nana gave up a lot to fund her business. Her personal life took a significant toll. She left her apartment of eight years in New York City to save money to launch Navina in October of 2019. It took her a year and a half to develop the product, and it officially launched in February of 2021. She didn't have the funds to hire the necessary partners, such as a P.R. person, so it slowed the development of the product.
Nana shared, "I just have to keep pushing, and soon it'll pass like a match catches fire. But just keep going, despite the risk." People weren't around during the building stage of her business but have somehow returned when they noticed what she's built.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
Nana found the Pull Up & Pitch Competition on Instagram. She had always wanted to pitch, but her limiting beliefs prevented her from ever applying. Her mom encouraged her to apply, and she thought, "You know what? I have nothing to lose. I'm going to use this opportunity, whether I make it or not, as a chance to pitch my company. Because whenever you practice speaking and representing what you're building, it always adds, you always learn something new. I'll have that much more confidence in my next V.C. meeting if I can do it in front of Black Girl Ventures and VISA."
Her favorite part of the day was getting to know the women and their businesses. Nana said, "It is so amazing to see the creativity and be in the energy of women building business. It just sparked something in me that I have to keep going. So the community of that day was really, really one of my favorites."
After seeing the line wrapped around the block, she succumbed to her nerves. But standing in line and talking to the women, she became less and less nervous. She said, "I got to know all the other girls and that really, really released my nerves to realize that there are other women in the same boat as me, who looked like me and are ambitious and putting things out in the world." Nana didn't expect to win as this was her first public pitch.
Her advice to those looking to pitch is, "I think it's, "A" having a great product, right? You have to have a product or service or whatever it is that you're creating, and a perspective of the markets and ask does the market actually needs or wants this. What sets your company apart? Find a niche to make an argument. Is it asking for this product, and if not, be willing to change your product around to make it stand out."
Navina used the funds to release a second wine. The first wine they created was a hibiscus wine, and now they'll be releasing a marigold flower wine which will be their white version. The funds helped pay for production because producing out of Napa Valley.
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Nana understands this lack of support deeply. She shared, "As I said, the industry I'm in is not very diverse at all. And so, stepping out as who I am has been very tricky. I'm sure investors that I've sat in front of. I'm probably one of the first African-American women in wine they've ever talked to, in the industry I'm building, there are few people like me. I don't know specifically, like, was it me and the color of my skin, or was it at the time my idea wasn't fleshed out enough?
But regardless, every no I've ever gotten, or every investor I've ever pitched to that has moved along and said, no, I've learned from that experience, and whatever they said no to whether it's, I don't know, like maybe they don't like my branding, or they don't think it's a fit. I take that information and implement the feedback into my company.
So every no, has kind of shifted me towards where I am now, which is I am now two products in, I've launched a company, there's the revenue, there are repeat customers. So, I actually thank all the people who've ever said no to me because it's made me much better. And when it comes to like lack of diversity in investing, you can keep telling yourself that story or do something about it.
You can be one of the first in your industry to make a change and to step into rooms where you are not seen. I highly encourage people to listen to these stories but use them as motivation to change versus just like speaking about it. Let's do something about it and then change the world and use whatever feedback and "no's" you get to progress."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Nana has learned that no matter how many books you read, whether you've gone to business school, there's a difference between reading about it and doing it. In her experience, the best way to learn about business is to dive right in and build. She said, "Just go for it, to just dive in and build the plane as you're flying. Because there's just so much more, you learn from actually experiencing it."
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to succeed in business?
Nana believes persistence is the most critical skill for the business. With the amount of rejection that entrepreneurs face, they must have "tough skin." She shared, "Also, like taking breaks because it's very heavy and hearing no after no after no, like take a second, take a step back from your company to maintain your mental health and then come back and fight for it. So it is important to have the persistence and work ethic to keep going, whether it's a no or yes."
How do you measure success?
Nana explains the difference between raising money and executing on the funds raised. She said, "In investor V.C. business, building land, people often measure success with sales. But I don't find it to be just numbers. There's so much more to numbers. Sales and valuations, especially in the media now, you make so much news if you've raised a certain amount of money at a certain valuation, but that's dizzying because, okay, you may be really great at, you know, bringing money to your company or idea. Still, there's a difference between being able to do that and being able to execute and prove in the market that your product is wanted. Success to me is beyond numbers because there are other quantitative ways to measure."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Nana loves that she's building something from an ancient tradition. The wine industry is very male dominant—all the winemakers and distributors are men. However, herbal wine is something that women, as heads of the household, would make for the house because it was safer to drink than water.
She shared, "And often the herbs and botanicals used for medicinal purposes. So they fortified your health, but it's a women's tradition. The highs are that I'm bringing this back to our womanhood, and I'm hoping to inspire more women to the field of winemaking, which is also—winemaking is just science. It's biology and chemistry and motion. So I'm not only hoping to inspire women to winemaking, I'm hopefully inspiring women to the sciences because this is just an application.
I personally think if chemistry were taught in the context of making beer or wine, more people would stick to the sciences. Because then you see the application of all the equations and experiments you do. But the highs are definitely helping to pioneer, but doing something, that modern-day where there's not a lot of women doing it."
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs?
Nana said, "I think the future is bright. I think there is magic to us, honestly. There's something about us. Look, the highest-paid entertainers are Black women, Oprah and Rihanna. We are starting to rise.
And it's a very interesting time, and we are blessed to have been born African-American women. I know there's a lot that societally holds us back. In fact, we are probably the most held back in that we are women, and we are of certain skin color, but often when you're that restricted when you do make it, it's just, there's just so much opportunity.
So, it's kind of like the biggest challenges are kind of like the biggest wins. And so I only see an upside here, that if more women step into business building, which does take, as I said, very mental preparation as well. You have to know a bit about finance and marketing and all this.
But there is some sort of personnel development as well—I just think it's just a fun time to have been born a Black woman or a Brown woman. We're very blessed. The best part about being a Black woman is that we'll bring our sisters with us. It's the community. We're all rushing through the door. As I'm building, I'm like, how can I help you? Like, let's all do this together. And I think that's very unique to who we are."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Nana hopes that through Navina, people begin to understand what herbal wine is and use it as an alternative to drinking alcohol. Steeped in history, making herbal wines is an ancient tradition that provides modern-day consumers to mindfully partake in drinking without the additives that slow the body down.
Navina will be recognized as a wellness company. She hopes that through their introduction to Navina, people start to ask questions and perhaps take steps towards deepening their spiritual journey where they ask powerful questions about the meaning of life and what their purpose is on this Earth.
Nana said, "I find living the life I'm supposed to be living, I'm in my highest self because that's how it all started for me. And although, as I said, this is a product, the greater thing is that it's a wellness brand, and I'm hoping to inspire people to live bigger, better, healthier, more grounded, and soulful lives. I truly believe that whenever I'm making, it's as if something greater is informing my work, and I'm in a state of flow."
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Nana pulls a lot from what she's learned along her spiritual journey, which she'll have for the rest of her life. With the work that she does, she can't always be on, or her mind will suffer, which means work will suffer, then her soul will suffer. Nana has a morning meditation and breath work practice.
She finds the balance between her wellness practices and making sure that she's always walking in her purpose. Nana said, "When I am in flow, my company's in flow."
Another important aspect of her life is always remaining in alignment with what she's doing. She hears people often wonder what their purpose is or how to find alignment. Nana said, "And like, how do I find the alignment? It's as simple as looking at what brings you pleasure throughout your day; whenever I was around a botanical or plant or women making tinctures or teas or infusions. I was like; this makes me so happy. And those are signs as to what your purpose is here for."
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"Always aspire to things bigger than yourself. We're only here on Earth for a short lifetime."
What is a book and podcast that you would recommend?
Podcast: Oprah's Super Soul
Book: The Celestine Prophecy
What's your favorite business hack or app you can't live without?
The Later app.
What's one food item that you have a hard time saying no to?
Cupcakes, donuts, and cakes.
What's next for Navina?
Nana will continue to produce and develop new releases of herbal wine. She said, "'Cause that's the core of this, it's what I love to do is create wine out of flowers." More importantly, Navina is focusing on raising a Round of Financing. She hopes to gather a group of investors to create a vast pool of money that Navina can access to grow and scale. Nana said, "That's another thing you have to be ready to be able to accept a lot of money, to be able to manage it, to be able to implement strategy, to be able to hire people and manage people." Nana is looking forward to learning the lessons from that next entrepreneurship challenge.