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An Artistic Outlet: Mary McKinney

In Downtown Raleigh, Mary McKinney is helping children express their vibrant creativity at her art studio, Hello Yellow, Raleigh’s first process-based art studio.  

A former schoolteacher, McKinney opened Hello Yellow in 2021 to create a place for children to come explore, learn, and create through artistic discovery, rather than under the heavy stress of a curriculum and product-based art instruction.  

“I was feeling like there wasn’t an opportunity for kids to be able to express themselves freely,” says McKinney. “When I was teaching, I found that on days where I would give students total freedom to just use materials and be creative, they would light up in a way I had never seen before. That was the fire that was lit for me. I wanted to create a space where kids could come and just purely enjoy the process of creating.” 

And with that spark lit, Hello Yellow was born. McKinney initially tested the idea out in a space a friend allowed her to use on weekends while she was still teaching, but as things started to grow, she felt like it was the right choice for her to venture into entrepreneurship and the right time for it.  

For McKinney, the idea of entrepreneurship was something that had always been present. From selling popcorn and other items on her street as a kid to having her parents get her business cards as a child just because she wanted to have a business card, that itch had always been there for McKinney.  

However, getting started in small business ownership was new to McKinney, so she reached out to SCORE and was connected to a mentor to help her begin that process. “I always had that itch but never knew how to quite get there,” says McKinney. “My SCORE mentor, Mark England,  helped me early on as I learned about the business side of running a small business.” 

Working with SCORE, McKinney gained valuable insight and knowledge into building a small business. She worked together with her mentor to better understand the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur. 

“Working with Mary was a joy,” says England. “She is so passionate about what she’s doing, and she’s very determined to get there. I was impressed with how much she knew about her business and how in control of things she was. I knew from the start that she was going to be successful with Hello Yellow.” 

As McKinney worked through that process and as Hello Yellow continued to grow and expand, her business began to outgrow its space. Knowing that she would need funding to continue the necessary expansion, McKinney was connected to Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF) by her mentor.  

Working with the team at CSBDF, McKinney continued to learn about the processes involved with small business ownership and accessing small business capital. 

“The people at CSBDF were incredibly kind and helpful because I felt like I had created a business but wasn’t sure what all to do on the business side of things,” says McKinney. “Through the entire application process CSBDF’s team really taught me everything and guided me. Now I feel fluent in things like cash flow projections and business goals. They walked me through the process step by step so that I would understand both my business and financial goals inside and out. By the time my lending application was submitted, I felt so confident in both my business and my future thanks to the work I did with CSBDF.” 

McKinney was approved for a loan from CSBDF in October of 2023, which has provided the security and confidence needed for Hello Yellow to continue to expand. Since receiving the loan, Hello Yellow has moved into a larger space in Downtown Raleigh, and the growth of the business has been rapid.  

“I was outgrowing my space, but I don’t know that I would have felt confident enough to take that step without the partnership with CSBDF,” says McKinney. “The new space is bigger, and it’s a space that I couldn’t have been in without my loan. In that new space, I surpassed my 2023 sales in just the first two months of 2024. I’ve hired two new staff members. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the security of the loan.” 

For McKinney, this is hopefully the first of many steps of growth for Hello Yellow. Her vision is to expand and grow the business, hire more staff to continue to host regular classes and camps, and she is even thinking about the possibility of opening new locations in the future.  

As Hello Yellow does continue to grow, McKinney is confident that the partnership between SCORE and CSBDF helped her immensely in forming the foundations of her business. For McKinney, having those free resources working together for the shared goal of helping small business owners thrive was so impactful.  

“It’s hard to find the words to express how valuable it was to have organizations like CSBDF and SCORE working together for small business owners,” says McKinney. “For a person who didn’t have a background in finance nor the money to hire people who may be able to help, their understanding was crucial. They provided me with so many resources. It was just a wealth of knowledge, and it was a seamless progression working with both organizations.” 


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