By John Kregler, StartOut
Melissa Green (she/her) celebrates pride with every cup of coffee.
The founder and CEO of Rise Above Coffee, Melissa is a dedicated coffee supplier who intentionally supports the LGBTQ+ community. Her #coffeewithacause mission focuses on spotlighting a new LGBTQ-focused nonprofit each month, with a percentage of that month’s proceeds going directly to the organization.
With a background serving in the military, a passion for all things coffee, and the spirit of a true entrepreneur, Melissa graciously shared her story with us.
Here’s what she had to say.
Happy Pride Month, Melissa! Would you mind sharing how you started a coffee brand for LGBTQ+ consumers?
Of course! I’m originally from California and joined the military early in my life. I ended up in South Carolina and now I live with my family in Arizona. I have a genuine love for coffee — the drink itself, the bean harvesting process; you name it. I knew it was something I wanted to do professionally, and last January I got the opportunity to partner with a fantastic roaster in the US.
Initially, my focus was on military veterans. I’m a veteran and the spouse of a veteran, so engaging with the military family community was very near and dear to my heart. But then I wanted to do something for another demographic close to me — the LGBTQ+ community. And that’s how Rise Above Coffee was born.
Was there a pivotal moment that pushed you in that direction?
In all honesty, the turning point was when two of my kids came out last year. I identify with the LGBTQ+ community and knowing that my kids did too motivated me to create something for everyone.
I’ve always been interested in providing safe spaces for people. My initial thought was ‘what if someone out there didn’t have those support networks set up? Where would they go?’ To me, coffee brings folks together. Great conversations happen over coffee, and cafes are often seen as safe spaces for folks to get away.
I knew I wanted to not only use this as a way to connect with people, but I wanted to provide information on real support systems out there.
And that’s when you decided to support LGBTQ+ nonprofits?
Absolutely. I want to use Rise Above as a platform to educate, share resources, and inspire people — particularly young people — to get involved with the community. Before January, I vetted multiple nonprofits, and each month, we highlight one’s mission and resources. We also donate a percentage of the month’s proceeds to that nonprofit at the end of the campaign.
In January, we supported the Trevor Project; February and March were the Phluid Phoundation and Matthew Shepard Foundation. Working with these organizations means a great deal to me, and I’m determined to make sure my little stamp on society gives back to these nonprofits and helps queer people find the community they deserve.
What challenges have you faced as an entrepreneur?
Even though I’m an entrepreneur, I still have a full-time job working in IT, so time management has been make-or-break. I never took business classes or web development classes to help with our site but just learned as I went along. Though I’ve learned throughout my career that many organizations are willing to help you, especially if you come from a marginalized group.
My mentor from StartOut has been great in talking me through things and bouncing ideas off. He’s helped me think about various elements of business that I hadn’t even thought about before. And I feel security in his mentorship because he’s walked the walk before. I highly encourage any LGBTQ+ entrepreneur to line up with a mentor from StartOut.
What’s next for Rise Above Coffee this Pride Month and beyond?
Luckily, we’ve had our Pride Month campaign built for several weeks. We’re spotlighting different folks in the community who’ve made a difference and continuing to highlight our nonprofits.
As far as the future for Rise Above goes, we’re focusing on rebuilding our website. I’m looking into opening a Brick and Mortar here in Arizona while we continue to serve customers nationally.
There are so many things we want to do nationally — being the caffeinated voice for the LGBTQ+ community is just one of them. It’s an exciting and tiresome goal, but we’re moving forward one bag of beans at a time.