Finding financing: Know where to look when banks aren’t an option

Mercedes Austin was a photography and psychology student 23 years ago. She was taking an art class for her sanity’s sake, but wasn’t planning on it providing a career.

But a sign she regularly drove by advertising a high-end tile company kept catching her eye and one day she stopped. She ended up working there for three years, collecting nothing more than her own tiles as a paycheck the first several months. Then, after attending one of the tile industry’s larger trade shows, Austin all of a sudden found a career.

“I went from being an irresponsible kid to seeing this huge possibility in tile,” says Austin, who is founder and CEO of Mercury Mosaics. “It was never something I thought I would have any interest in at all. It just kept me up at night.”

So, when a significant tax refund came around the same time she got prepaid for a job she’d been hired for, she added that to funds raised by selling her jazz CD collection and she bought her first kiln. At first, she started simple, working on ceramic light switch covers, accent mirrors, one-of-a-kind tabletops and the like. She’d put them in consignment shops in Minneapolis, where there is no money up front and no system for tracking overall sales, but she was hoping to get noticed.


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