Congratulations to our 5 finalists for the 2018 February Qualification Grant. We’ll announce the winner next week…
DC Design Tours
YERU STEM Education
Don’t Forget The List
Last week, we revealed our January Grant finalists. After much deliberation, we’re thrilled to announce the recipient — Otehlia Cassidy, Founder of Madison Eats Food Tours.
Congratulations to Otehlia and each of the finalists. A special thanks to Otehlia for taking the time to respond to our interview questions…
WN: What drove you to create Madison Eats Food Tours?
OC: I have always felt driven and inspired by connecting with people, especially people of diverse backgrounds. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to explore the world. I have been fortunate to travel all over the world, including places that many tourists don’t go and where I couldn’t speak the language – indigenous villages in the rainforest of Guyana, remote villages in Mali, West Africa or even towns in South America or Europe.
Even if you don’t speak the same language or have the same beliefs, you can share a meal. Eating and cooking are universal and offer a place for joy and conversation, appreciation and connection to each other. I wanted to build those relationships at home. I wanted to learn about the people in my community and to bring people together around food — who doesn’t love to eat?! Even here in Madison, where I have lived for 20 years, starting a food tour company has allowed me to develop meaningful connections within my community, and support our local economy — all while eating delicious food. It’s a great job!
WN: Some people might be unaware of all of the culinary offerings within Madison. Give us a sample of what one might experience in your city.
OC: Madison has been underrated as a food city for some time, but that is rapidly changing. We have a network of incredible chefs, including Tory Miller, who won the Iron Chef Showdown against Bobby Flay. Madison is also home to a diversity of food producers — we are home to the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country.
Chefs have immigrated here from all over the world, including a large number from Thailand and Laos. What this means is that our food scene is very diverse with quality ingredients and people who truly care about food.
We boast a top notch farm to table scene, and also family run restaurants such as Lao Lan Xang, a restaurant owned by Bounyang Inthachith, who immigrated here from Laos almost 30 years ago. She fled Laos with her 4 children after the Vietnam war. After arriving in snowy Wisconsin, speaking no English, she says that her youngest son cried for rice. She started cooking for him and soon was cooking for other people. Now her restaurant is one of the most popular in Madison. She in turn supports Hmong farmers, who fled the same war. On our food tours we visit these restaurants and learn about the stories of the chefs and owners, forging connections and exploring our community while enjoying a great meal!
WN: How have you marketed the business? What avenues have been most successful?
OC: I have been uncertain about the best marketing strategy. Honestly, that is my weakness. This year I am working with professionals to help work on SEO and developing ad campaigns on different platforms. I plan to put more effort and money into marketing this year as I plan to grow the company. Much of my marketing has been Facebook, Instagram, and my website, as well as word of mouth and Trip Advisor, where we are rated the #1 food tour in Madison! Other people vouching for your product is the best advertising.
WN: What are your goals for the year ahead, and how can the grant money help you reach them?
OC: As I mentioned, marketing has always been daunting to me. I plan to use the money to market more strategically. I will direct market to companies. I have already met with a web designer to make my site mobile friendly and to help develop ads for social media. I also want to grow what I offer and continue to directly support the diverse food producers in our community through developing new tours such as a farmers’ market tour, and tours that directly support minority populations, such as Black and Latino owned business, women and LGBT owned businesses.
WN: Share some advice you would give to an aspiring female entrepreneur.
OC: I have a few mantras that I rotate through my day. As women, we have to believe that we are worthy. You are worthy! It’s easier to be fearful and sit in our safe space that to risk failure or uncertainty, but take the risk, because all you have to lose is you. I firmly believe in a vision board/daily affirmations where the thoughts and wording are key. Rather than saying “I want” or “I will” say it as if it is happening already. “I own a successful food tour company and sell over 3000 tickets a year.” Your words are powerful. And so are you.
Congratulations to the 5 finalists for the 2018 January Qualification Grant …
Snow Day Productions
Madison Eats Food Tours
Wildflower Learning Community
Recently, we shared our December Grant finalists.
Today, we’re here to share the recipient of that Qualification Grant — Tiffany Rachann, Founder of Imagiread.
Continue on to read about how she’s impacting the lives of young students.
WN: What purpose does Imagiread serve and what drove you to start the business?
TR: Imagiread was born of out of my love for children’s literature and my passion for education. It started off as a bit of a hobby, happening shortly after I’d wrote and self-published my first children’s book entitled “It’s Water Time, Ma!”. The book is based on the real-life events of my family, where we esteem and revere water experiences in hopes to communicate how valuable the resource is. One day during a reading of the book at a friend’s Lemonade Day event, the director of a prominent educational organization approached me and asked if I would consider co-writing a S.T.E.M based literacy curriculum based on my book. I was excited to explore the opportunity as I’d previously written literacy curriculum for a youth advocacy and mentoring program. That one yes opened up the door to a world of imaginative possibilities.
Immediately after the program was implemented, I noted the reading struggles of many of the program participants. I reconsidered my goal of wanting to implore families to read together for fun and engagement and shifted my attention towards empowering families to strengthen their literacy fluency for fun and engagement. That meant taking a look at what literacy habits are for a variety of families and why. Which led me to conduct my own research.
I learned first hand through a number of experiments, community events, book giveaways and book readings what the challenges were and how they played a part in functional illiteracy as a whole. By in large, I started to analyze how literacy, and the access to quality programming, is a cultural challenge more than an “academic” one. I recognized the need for specialized programming that’s socially responsible, and both culturally authentic and appropriate thereby asserting relativity for all members involved.
I set out to develop my own proprietary program using what I’d learned and am happy to say that I’ve served approximately 725 children to date with Imagiread’s programming. That doesn’t include hundreds of children and families I’ve worked with through library and community partnerships. I’m encouraged to continue to support the community with custom programming and support. There is nothing like seeing a child make literacy connections as a result of interaction you’ve had with them. To have that impact extend to families and communities is invaluable.
WN: What type of response have you received from schools and parents?
TR: To date, I’m still shocked when I see a parent out and about who recognizes me from a program. I’ve had parents praise me for the work Imagiread does, citing how difficult it’d been getting their son/daughter to take an interest in reading before being incorporated. I’ve had dozens of parents inbox me sharing their child’s love for It’s Water Time, Ma! and taking the oath to be more hydrated while conserving water. I’ve had community organizations invite me to speak to their student body and have co-hosted a number of interactive author visits for child care centers and head start programs. Imagiread has been recognized for the programming by two of the local library systems and one of the largest schools districts here in Houston.
WN: What are your plans for the grant money?
TR: Imagiread is a one-woman show. To compensate for the opportunity to conduct thorough research by partnering with organizations and offering reduced-fee programming to schools that meet the criteria, I usually work two part-time jobs to support the company.
At the end of August, Hurricane Harvey devastated thousands of Houstonians leaving the city to rebuild what officials say will take years. Imagiread was effected and lost working equipment, books, inventory and teaching supplies. In addition to replacing some of what was lost, I’ll also be able to invest in a comprehensive digital marketing software tool that will automate the programs I’ve created so that they are available online with a complementary mobile app. Investing in such will not only streamline the research endeavors but also afford opportunities to sell more books and publish three new books that I’m working on. One is a how-to guide for parents; the second is a second practice workbook for kids (I currently have the first out already) and the third being a professional development resource for teachers and child care directors.
WN: Share some advice you would give to an aspiring female entrepreneur
TR: Know Thyself girlfriend! Imagiread is my lifelong dream. I can’t think of a thing that makes me happier than reading with children. Understanding that has helped me to savor that feeling when things have gotten super rough, and I couldn’t afford basic necessities. I understood that through it all that I’d found my mission and my purpose but not without having to get to know who I am and what my expectations for being an entrepreneur, writer, educator and single mom were. Know that your skills are deserving of an opportunity to make a positive impact. Believe in your dreams with all of your heart; creating a life we are proud to live is what this whole thing is about. Find a support circle that shares the same values and learn to create fulfilling relationships with your network — it’ll benefit everyone involved.
Lastly, continue to seek. Life has a way of answering your prayers. Invest in your personal and professional growth while taking care of yourself so that you can progress with ease. Balance is the key. Oh and lastly-don’t be so hard on yourself. Perfection is what you believe it to be.
WN: If you have anything else to share, please do!
TR: Sure thing! I read an article just a few months ago about how many women feel as if they could accomplish more if they had professional mentors. I remember thinking how I, too, wish I had a female mentor to really connect to. Being chosen for the December 2018 qualifying grant is what I believe a win-win dream come true. Not one but a group of women championing for the success of women everywhere is indescribable. I’m so grateful to be a part. Thank you so much again!
***All the best to Tiffany as she continues her journey with Imagiread. Remember that we award at least 1 grant each month. If you’re interested in applying, get started today.