Chamber recognizes 2019 Small Business Leader of the Year

GREENVILLE, NC – The Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce presented Ileana Maria Rojas-Bennett, owner and designer of Maleku Jewelry, with the 2019 Small Business Leader of the Year Award during its Small Business Leader of the Year Awards event on Wednesday, September 2, 2020.  The event was broadcast via a live stream from Opendoor Church.

Maleku Jewelry is a locally owned jewelry store in Greenville, NC with handmade items carefully crafted using 22k gold, sterling silver, fine silver, copper, first quality precious stones, and gemstones.  CEO and Designer, Ileana Maria Rojas-Bennett, has been making jewelry in Greenville since 2006 and is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the “Beyond the Runway” award at New York’s Fashion Week in 2010.

Bennett, a former educator in North Carolina, began her business as a hobby in her home and quickly outgrew the space.  Following her time at Pitt Community College, learning more about jewelry and metals, Bennett opened her store and expanded her product line.  Maleku, meaning Indian Love, is an indigenous tribe from northern Costa Rica and most of the proceeds from the store go toward assisting the tribe.  Bennett’s work has been showcased in the Latin Grammy’s, Academy Awards, Emmy Awards and Golden Globes.

Bennett is actively involved in the community through her support of local non-profits and organizations, including the Greenville Museum of Art, The Oakwood School, Saint Peter Catholic School, and the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina.  She donates custom jewelry to raffle off, generating financial support in return from donations from the raffles.

“Small businesses are vital to our community and make up over 75% of the businesses in our Chamber and community – it is our honor to celebrate their hard work and contributions to the Greenville-Pitt County area,” said Kate Teel, president of the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.  “This year’s finalists have not only had successes in launching and running their respective businesses, but have also invested their time and talents outside of their businesses in the effort to make our community a better place to live.”

The Chamber hosts the Small Business Awards event each year to honor leaders in the Pitt County business community who have demonstrated successful operations of their business as well as made a significant impact on the community.  Finalists are selected based off of nominations from their peers and later recognized at this event.  In addition to Ileana Maria Rojas-Bennett, Chris Godley, owner of Chris Godley State Farm Agency and Carrie Lewis, owner of Pink A Lilly Pulitzer Signature Store, were also recognized as finalists for the 2019 Small Business Leader of the Year Award.

The 2020 Small Business Leader of the Year Awards was presented by the City of Greenville and First Citizens Bank.  Gold Sponsors for this year’s event included the Pitt County Development Commission, Executive Personnel Group and WNCT.

For a list of past recipients of the Chamber’s Small Business Leader of the Year award, visit

Ileana Maria Rojas-Bennett, CEO and designer of Maleku Jewelry, accepts the 2019 Small Business Leader of the Year award on September 2, 2020. Photo courtesy of Aaron Hines - City of Greenville