Archive for the ‘ Grant Recipients’ Category

August Amber Grant Awarded to Kateboards

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

Last week, we announced five August Amber Grant finalists. Today, we’re delighted to share the recipient and the 9th qualifier for the $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Kate Adams, Founder of Kateboards. In our interview below, Kate shares the backstory of her company, walks us through her product and its production, dishes on advice for female entrepreneurs, and more.

WN: What led you to launch Kateboards?

KA: Kateboards is the reality of a dream that has been cultivating for the past 25 years. However, it wasn’t conceptualized until the end of 2015 and it didn’t materialize until the end of 2018. Kateboards is the culmination of my innate drive to have a positive & meaningful impact on others coupled with my love for skateboarding.

Born and raised in Southern California, surfing and skateboarding have always been a natural and constant part of my life. I don’t remember my life without a board under my feet. From the moment I started skateboarding, I was hooked. The joy, freedom, self-expression, challenges, fun, awareness, the falling and getting back up, the grace + flow, excitement, the individuality, the camaraderie, the confidence garnered, and the fresh air in my lungs as I cruised down the hill. There is a power that comes with propelling yourself on wheels and plenty of life lessons that come along with it as well.

My love for skateboarding, my experience in the industry, and my determination to have skateboarding be more approachable for women led me to launch Kateboards. I am the girl on the skateboard with all the childhood joy + wonder and I am the woman running the skateboard business. Same person, yet different. 

I’ve always felt like I am on this Earth for a reason bigger than myself – I believe we all are. I believe I am here to share who I am, to encourage and support others, and to lovingly help others grow just as others have helped me. 

I find depth in the simple things in life, things that keep me connected to my being. Skateboarding is one of the simple, yet profound parts of my life. I spent a lot of time searching for my purpose and came to recognize that any dream pursued with 110% effort, passion, and care is worth doing. Sometimes it just takes a little push, a dose of courage to get us to go for something that can lead to greater things, greater life experiences. 

After graduating from SDSU with a degree in business, I worked for the largest longboard skateboard company in the world for 5 years in sales and customer service. The highest quality boards were being produced at the factory and distributed globally from the attached warehouse. From the ground up I was able to see and be a part of how the business operated as a whole and it was an invaluable experience.

At Kateboards, we’re on a mission to create an inclusive and progressive environment for female skateboarders of all levels through community, collaboration, and quality products. I want women to harness the courage that is required to get involved in skateboarding + the confidence they gain from it and apply that to other areas of their lives. Kateboards is for all levels and all ages. 

In my time skateboarding as a kid, parlaying into a career in the skate industry, I saw first hand how many women would shy away from skateboarding due to the intimidation factor of it being male-dominated, fearing they’d get hurt, and not sure how they would even get started. These are all real and perceived barriers that I’m looking to dismantle.

I’ve had countless one on one interactions with women who said they felt intimidated to go into a skate shop, afraid to try skateboarding by themselves, or that they were too old to try. It may seem like women skateboarders are the norm here in Southern California, the mecca of skateboarding, but these are all personal conversations I’ve had with women in our town. What is great to see, though, is the outpouring of excitement from women who have tried skateboarding for the first time or have decided to take it back up. That’s definitely a major motivation for me and it provides so much joy.

It has become abundantly clear that there is a sheer lack of females represented in skateboarding. If women are not represented, then how do we expect them to progress? Representation is at the forefront of creating a larger scale of awareness and involvement. That being said, change has started.

Talented young women are earning sponsorships from the biggest brands in the industry, and women skateboarders will be participating in the 2020 Summer Olympics. It is truly an incredible step for women in skateboarding. However, there is still a lot of work to be done… and fun to be had. 

The Kateboards logo is the delta symbol, which signifies change. The purpose is to represent that change leads to growth, and to represent my goal of increasing the number of female skateboarders.  

WN: What challenges have you faced since launching last fall?

KA: In the 10 months since Kateboards launched, the biggest challenge thus far has been growing the business while self funding and being the only one to run day to day operations. But this has also built character, resilience, and taught me how to be even more resourceful.

Asking for help has not been a strong suit of mine in the past, but it is something I now practice more often. It has been amazing to have people’s support with Kateboards. I am positively overwhelmed by the community and how they have contributed to the business + showed they care through their words, actions, and purchases. My connections in the skate industry have also been so genuine in their support of Kateboards and made it possible for me to pursue this dream. 

WN: Take us through how Kateboards are produced and sold. What differentiates your product?

KA: The first run of Kateboards was all about laying the foundation for what the brand stands for and they were all sold direct to consumer except for the support of one retail location, which I purposely kept as the only retail shop to carry Kateboards. 

We collaborate with female artists to create the graphics for Kateboards and create a brand that it is female-oriented with the quality boards women deserve. Oftentimes women are marketed to with cheaper components and gimmicky reasons as to why the product is better for a woman. Our focus is on clean, bold, meaningful, and quality skateboards. 

With this second run of boards, and going into the 2nd year of Kateboards, there will be a bigger push to have them in retail locations resulting in the mission behind Kateboards gaining more exposure. This company isn’t just about selling boards or being another skate brand – it’s important that the purpose of Kateboards is communicated effectively.

Kateboards are quality boards made from hard rock maple and manufactured locally using state of the art machines. The boards are incredibly stable, fun, and easy to ride. They are perfect choices whether it’s your first skateboard purchase or your 10th board!

The manufacturer I’ve partnered with is one of the best around and I am so excited to be working with them. When it comes to longboards and cruisers, compared to standard street decks, there are countless shapes that affect the style of riding. Cruisers and longboards typically require more precision in their construction compared to street decks. They are easier to ride and we set them up with bigger + softer wheels and trucks that create a smoother ride. With my knowledge and experience in skateboarding I feel confident in the boards I am selling.

WN: What are your plans for future growth, and how will you get there?

KA: There are a lot of plans for future growth and the possibilities are endless. 

I am looking forward to building the Kateboards team, expanding our group skate meet-ups, and increasing our private lesson offering. I am incredibly excited to launch a new series of boards with talented artists and get Kateboards under the feet of more women. There are plans for more sustainable practices as well along with modified board designs. After 10 months it’s clear there is no limit to where Kateboards and women in skateboarding can go. 

The focus will always be on providing the best boards possible, creating value for the customer and community, and maintaining a supportive environment for female skaters. 

In the next five years I’d like to have warehouse space, ambassador programs, larger skate events, philanthropic opportunities through non-profit collaborations, skate team sponsorships, scholarships, after school programs, and Kateboards retail locations to name a few things. I feel strong, enthused, and ready to take this to the next level.

WN: Share a piece of advice you’d give an aspiring female entrepreneur. 

KA: There are several things I’d like to share:

I will say that the idea of not starting Kateboards scared me much more than starting it. It might be good to ask yourself if you feel the same way about your idea/business.

Don’t underestimate the importance of taking excellent care of your health. Without good health, running a business (or doing much of anything) is even more challenging. 

Have a plan for what you want to create and accomplish. Do your homework. Ensure that what you’re pursuing is something you truly value and feel connected to. Don’t shy away from your dream, because you think someone else is doing it better. There is a lot of noise out there – come back to your center. Do it your way. Stay on your own path and trust that what you’re doing is worth it.

Don’t be afraid to ask the big, bold questions. Encourage and support those around you. 

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” —Anaïs Nin.

WN: If you have anything else to share, please do — this is your platform!

KA: Thank you to the WomensNet for believing in me + Kateboards. And thank you for the ways you are supporting women with their dreams. To anyone reading this, please feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear from you. -Kate

July Amber Grant Awarded to Love Again Local

Friday, August 9th, 2019

On Saturday, we announced 5 July Amber Grant Finalists.

Today, we’re delighted to reveal the $2,000 recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant. Congratulations to Elena Mascherino, owner of Love Again Local. Elena’s business story proves that experience isn’t always the be-all, end-all. Her journey back to work — after raising 3 children — shows determination, and how it’s never too late to reach your business dreams.

WN: Share the story of how Love Again Local started.

EM: The doors of my shop opened almost exactly two years ago when I was 45 years old. Although my career background is not in the restaurant business, I always fantasized about opening a place to call my own in my awesome town of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

I believe that the choices you make about what foods you eat are some of the most important daily decisions of your life. Plant based diets are growing in popularity. I wanted people to know that they don’t have to make huge lifestyle changes to incorporate more plant based foods in their diets. So I took a lot of time and energy developing a strong business plan and an all star menu consisting of tried and true classic deli sandwiches that I made to be vegan. 

My vision was two fold. First, I wanted to serve delicious food that people would crave and come back for. And not just people who ate exclusively vegan foods.

Secondly, I wanted to create a positive work environment for my staff members. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what I’m doing to fulfill these two missions. I talk to customers everyday who, whether vegan or not, tell me that they love walking in my door because it’s always welcoming, the staff is amazing, and the food is delicious and satisfying. My staff members, who consist mostly of college students, are bright, positive and love what they do. 

Previously, I chose to stay home with my three children (currently age 12, 15 and 17) when they were little, even though we could have used the extra income. When I decided that it was time for me to start working again, it was tough and discouraging. After about a year of unsuccessful job hunting and a lot of soul searching, I realized that I needed (and wanted) to change the direction of my path. I was itching for something new, exciting and fulfilling. I loved and cherished that I was able to devote those years entirely to my kids, but I was ready to take on a meaningful career for myself.

It started out with some delicious vegan cookies. People have always told me that I should package and sell them. And so that’s what I did! After the first year in business selling my cookies wholesale, I spent some time evaluating the direction I was going.

I ultimately decided that the wholesale business was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to be around people. I wanted to see them enjoying my products. I wanted to have a place for people to gather to eat, talk, celebrate, and be happy. I woke up one morning and the decision was made. I was going to open a sandwich shop — an all vegan sandwich shop that would be so much more.

I spent many months in front of my computer researching how to open a successful restaurant, how to find the best location, how to negotiate a lease, how to fund an entrepreneurial venture, how to hire staff, and so much more. I spoke to other business owners to get advice and gain knowledge. I did all of my homework. 

Here I sit, two years later, and I am in awe that my vision has been realized. This journey has been the craziest, most exciting and exhilarating ride of my life and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

WN: You mentioned you had zero experience in the food business. How have you been able to overcome that?

EM: I’ve never even worked in a food service environment. I probably wouldn’t recommend doing it that way, but in some ways, I think it’s had its advantages.

I didn’t have the “that’s not the way you do it” limitations that come along with having experience. Although I sometimes have to correct certain things I do, I have a fresh approach to how I run my restaurant. There are so many aspects of opening a restaurant from the ground up, so some areas were trial and error. I had to ask a lot of questions to get the information I needed. And I had to overcome feeling insecure because I knew I was asking questions that I should already know the answers to.

Food ordering was a huge challenge in the first few weeks. I had no idea how much of anything I would go through. Do I need five pounds of lettuce for the first week? Or fifty? I ordered way too little of some things and way too much of others. It took a while to get in the grove, but with patience, perseverance and sometimes begging distributors and vendors to deliver overnight, it all fell into place.

WN: What are your plans for future growth, and how will you get there?

EM: Before any of this manifested itself in the real world, I spent many hours hashing everything out in my head and on paper. I made a business plan that includes everything that we have already accomplished as well as where I want to go with it.

Store location number one…check. Next we have location number two and then three. If all goes well, the plan is to franchise. I have designed location number one to look like a franchise. People ask me all the time, “is this a chain?”.

We always keep that idea in the back of our minds as we develop new ideas for the shop. “How will this scale?”, meaning, “how can we make lots of this if we were supplying it to multiple locations?”. We also have plans to eventually wholesale products for other restaurants and retailers to purchase as well as direct to consumer, online retail sales. So there’s lots of work to be done. I have a fantastic small group of staff members, who I consider partners, who believe in what we are doing and are interested in growing the brand. Plant based products and foods are a huge trend and there is lots of room for new products and ideas to succeed.

WN: How will you utilize the July Amber Grant?

EM: I am so excited and grateful to win this grant. When I was researching how to open and run a successful restaurant, the one thing that was consistently emphasized was the high cost of it all. I must have read it a thousand times!  

But it takes timeinvestment and patience. The very appreciated $2,000 will go toward a few updates and improvements to the current location. Sometimes the updates and improvements get put on the “back burner” because there are always more pressing issues that need to come first. But it’s important to keep a clean, fresh and updated appearance in the shop at all times. I have been talking about getting a logo sign for above our counter since day one, but just haven’t had the budget for it. We’ll also be purchasing some new shirts for our team members as well as some other branded marketing materials which will be used in store to help bring together our overall appearance.

WN: What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?

EM: FOCUS, FOCUS and FOCUS! You can do anything if you can focus on your idea, know your strengths and run with it! I have always embraced the bold and simple concept with everything I have done. It’s so easy to get distracted and get off course.

Opening a restaurant has MANY parts to it. There is finding a location, negotiating a fair lease agreement, designing the space, fitting out the kitchen and buying the equipment, getting proper permits, licensing, and setting up your business as an “entity.” There is hiring staff, paperwork and more paperwork. There is menu development, menu pricing, and food ordering. If you don’t focus on one thing at a time, you can get swallowed up. But if you convince your stubborn self that you can do it, then you will do it.

WN: If you have anything else to share, please do — this is your platform!

EM: Love Again Local has been a dream come true for me. I am so grateful to everyone who has been a part of making it a reality. I’m so lucky to have always had the overwhelming support of my friends, family and community who cheered me on from the start. I never experienced any of the negativity that I read about in my research. I read that sometimes well-meaning loved ones will warn against taking such chances on something so risky. I had none of that! Everyone has been so excited, encouraging and inspired that I would go after my dream. I am forever grateful for this entire experience, regardless of where it goes from here. 

Special thanks to all my staff members from the very beginning! They have been the ones who have really made it happen. Without them, there would be nothing. With love, kindness and compassion, we can do anything!

June Amber Grant Awarded to RoHo

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

On Wednesday, we announced five June Amber Grant finalists. Today, we’re thrilled to share the recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Caleigh Hernandez, Founder of RoHo. Our in-depth interview includes Caleigh’s motivation behind RoHo, her goals as a social enterprise focused on marginalized women in East Africa, and so much more.

WN: Share the journey and motivation behind RoHo.

CH: I’ve always been committed to making a difference, especially in the lives of marginalized women. Never did I think that would lead to shoes! I have worked for nonprofits across East Africa, and while their missions were noble, I found my true calling in a craft market in Uganda.

I first came across a pair of beautiful beaded leather sandals while in a craft market in East Africa. I was interning for a local nonprofit in rural Uganda and desperate for some fun, so I thought retail therapy was in order. These craft areas aren’t known for being the most glamorous. They’re dark and a little dingy, rarely have electricity, imagine cracked concrete floors… things like that. But I remember looking over my shoulder because something caught my eye, and it was a pair of gorgeous, glittering, unique beaded leather sandals. And at that moment I was hooked. There was incredible potential to share these with Western markets while doing something meaningful. It took me a year to map out the East African sandal industry and find the highest quality sandal manufacturers in areas with high need.

I first came across our primary sandal supplier, Lydia in Kampala, Uganda after weeks of shopkeepers in the city telling me to look for this woman. “Not the skinny Lydia, she’s a big woman, the Kenyan. You’ll know her when you see her”. So after hours of searching, three motorcycle taxis taking me to the wrong part of the city, and several minutes of me cursing my inability to speak Lugandan and Swahili fluently, I finally found her.

I can only imagine the sight I presented upon arrival – a disheveled, sweaty college student, trying desperately to explain to her how much I loved her shoes, wanting to learn more. And yet we clicked right away. My Swahili and Lugandan might not have been up to muster and her English wasn’t perfect, but we made it work. Beautiful shoes are universal.

We sat on tiny wooden stools in one of her pop up craft shops speaking for close to two hours. I explained my idea about importing her shoes to the United States and creating a social enterprise, she told me about coastal Kenya where the shoes are made, her background as a single mother, the artisans she works with and the intricacies of sandal making. And so the business relationship and friendship started, in a slightly unorthodox manner — and yet it’s worked. I stayed in contact with Lydia and started working on developing a sandal line with her that would work for consumers in the US. That was the beginning of RoHo.

RoHo in Swahili means spirit or kindness and that’s our commitment. We are committed to making social change and we do this in three ways:

1. Beautiful products. Each product is handcrafted and hand tooled using the finest materials available in East Africa. The craftsmanship that goes into a pair of these shoes (and other products) is absolutely incredible! We’re committed to ensuring our artisans are making the highest quality products and consumers see them in the same light, as works of art. Through RoHo products, we tell our artisans’ stories and the situation of those born into poverty in East Africa.

2. Ethical work. We’re committed to our artisans and their well-being through consistent and steady employment. We pay our artisans wages far higher than the industry standard and ensure they’re working in a safe environment. So they have more opportunities in their lives and are less vulnerable to household shocks. Additionally, we provide our artisans with education grants to send their children to quality schools in the area. We are proud to state that we are currently sending 16 children to school, and are only getting started.

3. Economic Empowerment. We’re working to break the cycle of poverty by helping people help themselves. We’re creating opportunities in a place where there are few (unemployment rates can be as high as 30%). By ensuring our artisans are being paid fair wages, we’re breaking the cycle of poverty immediately. By sending our artisans’ children to quality schools, we’re working to break the cycle of poverty in the long term as well. We want to ensure our artisans’ children are able to fulfill their potential.

RoHo’s current line includes: 10 women’s sandals styles and 2 children’s sandal styles handmade by artisans in coastal Kenya, coin purses and reusable bags handmade by a Fair Trade women’s cooperative in Nairobi, traditional beaded jewelry handmade by a Fair Trade women’s cooperative outside of Amboseli National Park, and a line of cowhide totes, clutches & journals handmade by an ethical leather workshop in Nairobi.

We’re frequently updating the line with new designs and styles made by these artisans. We started with 42 artisans and have now partnered with over 400, 95% of which are women.

WN: How do you go about partnering with artisans?

CH: It’s my time working in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania that have really led to my understanding of local contexts, quality products and promising artisan groups that make RoHo possible. We partner with women’s cooperatives, nonprofits, and women-owned artisan groups that have a social mission built in or have a way in which we can collaborate. The products have to be beautiful and unique, but above all else, there has to be good communication and a willingness to grow and adapt together. In this business, relationships are everything. And I see it as my responsibility to listen to the needs of our artisans, often listening for things that go unsaid, and ensuring the impact we’re making is real and continues to expand.

Maimuna, a sandal artisan on the coast of Kenya, is a great example for me for how RoHo can really shape the life of a talented artisan. She is an incredible beader whose designs and quality are always top notch. She always shows up to work and is a consistent and quiet presence in the workshop. The more time I spent with the sandal artisans, the more I came to realize what institutional memory she brings to the workshop and that all our other beaders look to her for reassurance.

Maimuna is also a single mother of three children and has the smallest home of anyone in the workshop. She was struggling financially, especially to send her children to school. Her two eldest children are twins in secondary school, and the school fees were proving prohibitive. She herself only has a primary school education, but she’s committed to sending her children to school. I’m proud to say that we’re now sending all three of her children to school and they are thriving. Because school fees are no longer a burden, Maimuna has more flexibility to spend money on fixing up her home and ensuring there’s quality food on their table. This is why we do what we do! So women like Maimuna have the opportunity to help themselves — and ensure they’re making a better life for their children.

WN: What are your plans for the June Amber Grant?

CH: I recently returned from an exciting trip to Kenya, where we began the process of pursuing a new sandal style, a four strap slide. This trip was largely focused on quality control and production of this new shoe (and a few other meetings and projects). My relationships with our artisans and the quality of our products has never felt stronger. I’m more motivated than ever by the beautiful work that our artisans are creating, and this shoe is the perfect fit and challenge for our artisans’ skills. This four strap style is beautiful, elegant, and matches the simple and clean aesthetic of our ideal clients. It feels like we’re going to knock it out of the park moving in this direction with our sandal style. And the more sandals we sell, the more artisans we can employ and the more consistent work we can provide!

I’m investing $1,500 in finalizing, shipping and photographing this new shoe style. And then spending an additional $500 marketing it through our social media channels, including Facebook and Instagram ads. This is a new direction for our company that’s really going to resonate with a wide audience — we just need to get it out there!

WN: What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?

CH: Too often I let my perfectionism and fear of failure lead to inaction, and I don’t want others to do the same! Especially for women, we often attribute successes to external factors and failures to internal qualities, which I’ve found prevents us from really going for what we want. The fear of failure in a business is no reason to stop you from taking a leap of faith! I’ve found that reframing “failures” as learning opportunities has made all the difference.

You just have to accept that you’ll never be 100% prepared for everything and that’s okay. Ask for help and surround yourself with supportive, knowledgeable and impressive women.

May Amber Grant Awarded to Synaptek

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Last week, we announced five May Amber Grant finalists. Today, we’re delighted to share the recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Kate Van Pelt, Co-Founder of Synaptek. In our interview below, Kate reveals how and why she’s entering the concussion care space, shares excellent advice for female entrepreneurs and more.

WN: What led you to create Synaptek?

KVP: Synaptek is a culmination of my personal experience playing ice hockey and studying concussions for my PhD. I grew up playing ice hockey and saw first-hand the negative impact of concussions during those years, which motivated me to become a scientist studying concussions.

During my PhD, I studied why certain people were more at risk for a concussion and what factors influence someone’s recovery after a concussion. During this study I was fortunate to work with many colleges and U.S. military service academies. I was surprised to see how much clinicians struggled with concussion data management. In a time when most healthcare is being digitized, much of concussion-related care is still completed with pen and paper. This is a problem because concussion management is complicated, requiring multiple tests per athlete per year. Without a digital system, all this concussion data becomes a large burden for clinicians to manage and interpret.

Therefore, I came up with the idea for Synaptek, a concussion data management system. Synaptek will address the issues clinicians have with concussion testing and data management by digitizing the currently recommended concussion tests. By putting the concussion tests onto a tablet system we solve three problems: 1) We can ensure proper administration of tests, 2) Clinicians will directly enter data into an electronic system, 3) Data will be accessible to clinicians anywhere and anytime they need access. We believe this core feature of Synaptek will reduce clinician burden, saving them time and money. Most importantly, we believe Synaptek with further improve athlete safety. However, my vision for Synaptek is not just to digitize the status quo. We will leverage my scientific and statistical background to drive new innovations related to concussion care and recovery. We will use the data collected via Synaptek to better understand concussions and how we can improve an athlete’s recovery. Synaptek will drive innovation and hopefully guide the future of concussion care and management.

Luckily, Synaptek is not just my vision. My co-founders are my husband, Doug Van Pelt and our friend James McCollum. Doug and James have been invaluable assets to the Synaptek team. Doug brings his expertise in exercise science and also has his PhD. We will be working together to apply for SBIR grants and other funding mechanisms. Additionally, he will help develop Synaptek’s system to track recovery after a concussion. James is an award winning product manager who has extensive experience with user experience within healthcare, athletic, and government industries. James has thrown himself into developing our Synaptek prototypes and our marketing strategy. We are excited to be working together to get Synaptek into the hands of clinicians.

WN: Are there certain partnerships you’re pursuing? More broadly, how are you marketing Synaptek?

KVP: We are currently working with local athletic trainers, organizations, and physicians to test out Synaptek prototypes. Recently, we demonstrated Synaptek to members of the Kentucky Athletic Trainers’ Society. The athletic trainers and physicians at this meeting discussed with us their difficulties with concussion management. These discussions highlight the problems we want Synaptek to solve. We are still seeking out any clinicians that deal with concussion management to hear and learn from their experiences. This process will ensure we build Synaptek as a tool that addresses the needs of our clinicians. While Synaptek is research-based, it is clinician-driven.

This process has resonated with the clinicians we have met. They appreciate the time and thought we are putting into building Synaptek. The time we take to discuss Synaptek with clinicians will be a part of our marketing strategy because we feel that this process is one aspect that makes us unique.

WN: How are you monetizing the platform?

KVP: Synaptek will charge institutions like colleges, high schools, or professional team for Synaptek. Synaptek will be a subscription-based service, which will ensure that Synaptek can be scaled for athletic programs of all sizes.

WN: What are your plans for the grant funds?

KVP: First, we are grateful and honored to the Amber Award recipient for May 2019. We are inspired by the work of current and previous Amber grant winners and are excited to share Synaptek with the WomensNet community.

The monthly and annual Amber grant awards would help Synaptek meet our upcoming milestones. The monthly $2,000 grant is going to support beta testing of Synaptek with a local university and possibly local high schools. More specifically, these funds will enable us to purchase server space to host the data we collect, purchase software for the development of the Synaptek platform, and hire developer time to build a beta version of Synaptek for testing. Additionally, a portion will be used for networking with potential customers, investors, and advisors.

The annual $25,000 grant would enable us to further develop the digital Synaptek platform and obtain our first customers. In addition to further software development fees and networking, the $25,000 award will fund travel to the 2020 National Athletic Trainer’s convention. Attending the 2020 National Athletic Trainer’s convention will allow us to have a vendor booth at the largest athletic trainers conference. This exposure will demonstrate to a massive set of potential customers the Synaptek platform and how Synaptek will address their concussion care needs.

WN: What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?

KVP: My biggest piece of advice would be to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being an entrepreneur forces you to wear a lot of hats and learn a lot of new skills. These roles and duties can be out of your comfort zone but you are absolutely capable to taking on these challenges and succeeding. Pushing yourself to be okay with doing things that make you uncomfortable will open more doors and possibilities you could ever imagine. To help you push open these doors, build a community of fellow entrepreneurs and mentors that you can learn from, lean on, and support. Knowing you are not the only one experiencing a problem can empower you to tackle whatever challenge is in front of you.

I had to learn to be comfortable with testing out my idea for Synaptek. For a while I was afraid to let anyone know about my idea because I was worried they would think it wasn’t viable. However, I learned and realized I had to think more like the scientist I am. I had to be okay with making a hypothesis about my company, testing this hypothesis, and evaluating whether I was on the right track. I quickly saw how valuable this process was. My perspective quickly changed, and fear turned into passion. Instead of being afraid of criticism, I welcomed it. Because understanding someone’s criticism is just a tool to make Synaptek even better.

 

April Amber Grant Awarded to Atlanta Music Education

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

Last Friday, we announced five April Amber Grant finalists. Today, we’re excited to share the recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Elexa Bancroft, Founder of Atlanta Music Education. In our interview below, Elexa tells the history of AME, shares what sets her business apart from others and dishes on advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs.

WN: Share the story of how Atlanta Music Education came about.

EB: I founded Atlanta Music Education almost 10 years ago after working as an educator in my city and constantly thinking to myself “wait, I think I can do this better.” I found myself working for companies and programs as a teacher that were all about profit at the end of the day — and not about the children.
I started the business by simply teaching music lessons in my own style in the back closet at the local music bookstore. Over the last nine or so years, I have now grown my idea to a full-fledged children’s music school with over 100 enrolled private music students and five co-teachers offering group lessons, summer camps and private lessons in all sorts of instruments.

WN: What does Atlanta Music Education instill in its students, and how would you describe your teaching philosophy?

EB: When I grew up taking music lessons, sometimes I would dread the day I had to go to class. I didn’t find my piano lessons fun and felt a ton of pressure. My main goal in my school is for students to constantly be looking forward to Mr. Pedro or Mr. Gabriel or whoever their teacher is to come over to their house for music time. And I think we accomplished that. Our philosophy surrounds a strong music theory foundation but with fun games, modules, songs the students love from the radio and lots of performance opportunities.
My program encourages more performance opportunities than any in our area. We put together two formal recitals, a winter and spring, (four shows per recital day) annually included in tuition. We also have many other opportunities like studio outings to see local theatre, opera and movie musicals to attend with the teachers.
One performance opportunity we are well known for is Kids open mic nights. This event I open up to any kid in the entire Atlanta area who wants an encouraging safe space to perform anything from classical to pop music.
I remember a few years ago at our first Kids open mic, we had only six students perform. But it always grew each few months and this year at our Spring Kids open mic, we had over 60 kids attend and perform!
We run this program for not only our own students but for the community at no charge. We enjoy coming up with fun themes like St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween and supplying costume boxes and photo booths for the children to enjoy in between the sets of songs. We also do three group songs for children who don’t feel like they are ready to perform a solo. This gives them a chance to come up on the stage and grab an egg shaker and be a part of the show.
My music school also has almost a dozen vocal students participating in a nonprofit (Performing Arts Conservatory of Atlanta) voice competition each April. In addition to sending students to this annual fundraiser and competition, all of our teachers volunteer as judges to help vocal students in other schools and studios get feedback for their performances.
One performance that happened last month that I am especially proud of is my inaugural Young Atlanta Music Club classical student performers concert. The Atlanta Music Club was hosting an annual concert called Young Performers; teachers in the area can nominate three students to perform a memorized classical piece for no charge at a beautiful recital hall. This year, we were excited to participate for the third time. However, when we submitted our students’ information, we received an email that they decided to no longer accept performers that were not at an advanced level.
I tried to explain the importance of having beginners and intermediate students perform their very short pieces and then be able to watch the older students’ more challenging songs as encouragement. But we were still turned away.
I decided to call the venue hosting the Atlanta Music Club and explain the situation. I proposed an idea to begin a new club called the “Young” Atlanta Music Club, where any child — no matter what level of performance they are at or their age — is accepted to perform at a free concert. The managers of the venue were incredibly generous and allowed me to have the inaugural performances two hours before the Atlanta music clubs concert. The concert was a hit with 14 kids performing, and I took all of the families out to an ice cream social afterwards.
I strive for my business to be the leading example of creating opportunities for children in music education. You can learn more on Facebook and Instagram.
WN: How do you acquire customers/students?
EB: I think the large and swift growth with our studio is attributed to the genuine love that myself and my co-teachers put into our weekly lessons and events. Parents can really tell we have an honest passion for music and for education. What makes us stand apart from the dozens of other similar music schools or after-school activity options is that students have a plethora of opportunities to shine in our program.
Our social media presence, along with word of mouth referral, are big factors. I work hard daily to post events, pictures and videos of our students and their accomplishments. We also have a full staff of actively performing musicians and that’s exciting to share with our online community, too.
Teaching private music lessons is a unique experience. We stay with these kids and families for years. We grow up with them, bond and connect, share meals, share milestones and attend their school concerts. It’s a relationship that puts a stamp on your heart forever and we are so grateful that so many families invite us into their homes each week.

WN: What are your plans for the grant funds?

EB: We are completely floored and honored to be the April 2019 Amber grant award winners. With this grant, we’re going to be investing in a sound system and a weighted keyboard for all of our events (instead of renting them). We’re excited to launch more locations and more opportunities for kids in our community to be able to showcase their talent and find a fun space to use as a creative outlet after-school.

With the annual grant of $25,000, I wish to launch a scholarship program to be able to give students with financial hardship the opportunity to study music.

My big project is to commission a female composer to write a short musical about a fun historical event from our city of Atlanta. We would premiere this show at some of the iconic halls and theaters in our city to highlight our talented kids and teachers. I want our students and all young people in the world to see that females can be bosses; they can be leaders in the creative and performing arts.

WN: What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?

EB: Don’t give up. There are going to obstacles, building losses, nay sayers and turnover. But keep going.
Find your “tribe” and lean on them during difficult times. Seek advice from your fellow entrepreneurs. People offering similar services are your allies, not your competition. Create a sisterhood of business owners and lift each other up in marketing, programming and even just post-work personal fun. Stay involved in your community. Find ways your business can better the lives of those around you. Use all your local news outlets, Facebook groups and newsletters to share your company’s exciting milestones and offers to get them involved in your passion and growth. And lastly, when someone says no, just find another way to do it — and do it with a smile. 🙂

March Amber Grant Awarded to TheraV

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

Last week, we announced five March Amber Grant finalists. Today, we’re thrilled to share the recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Amira Idris Radovic, Founder of TheraV. In our interview, Amira discusses her unique product, shares her biggest obstacle, and much more.

WN: Share what issue your product addresses and how you’re providing a solution.

AI: Over 2.1 million people in the United States are living with limb loss, and 80% of amputees suffer from a condition known as phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain is ongoing nerve pain in a missing limb after it has been amputated because the brain cannot recognize that the limb is no longer there.

The pain can be so severe that it leads to loss of sleep, an inability to function, and a decrease in quality of life. On average, it can cost over $3,000 annually per person to manage phantom limb pain. The most common method to treat this requires consuming a combination of medications, including opioids, antidepressant, and anticonvulsants, which have severe side effects. Other methods include repeatedly hitting the limb, mirror therapy, and surgery, which are ineffective, inconvenient, and invasive.

Unfortunately, phantom limb pain affects over 8 million documented people globally. With the limited resources available to the amputee community, the financial struggles of limb loss, and the stigma tied to pain in a limb that is no longer there, many amputees suffer in silence. To address these issues, we developed our first product, TheraV ELIX, a patent-pending drug-free wearable device that uses customized vibration therapy technology to stimulate the nerve endings of the residual (remaining) limb, disrupting the pain signals that are sent to the brain. The TheraV ELIX provides a drug-free pain management alternative for amputation pain suffers.

WN: How are you reaching your target market?

AI: To raise awareness about our solution to amputation pain, we work with prosthetic clinics by giving sample devices to clinics to trial with their customers. We also present the TheraV ELIX at amputee support groups across the country, in-person or through a video conference call.

When financially feasible, we attend the Amputee Coalition of America National Conference to showcase the TheraV ELIX and have attendees interact with our device. This usually leads to a customer referral or purchase of the TheraV ELIX. In addition, we use our social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and our website) to share our journey, share our customer testimonials, and connect with everyday people living with limb loss. With these channels, we have been able to raise awareness of TheraV in the limb loss community.

In the future, we plan to purchase advertising space in magazines that are provided to the amputee community, and attend more conferences where we can meet amputees, family members, prosthetists, clinicians, and supporters of the limb loss community. We have found this to be the most effective way to reach a larger number of people in the amputee community.

WN: What feedback have you received form those who’ve used your product?

AI: Since launching TheraV ELIX in the summer of 2018, we have helped over 100 amputees overcome phantom limb pain, with 83% reporting a reduction in the intensity and frequency of their phantom limb pain. We have also been able to serve 53 Veteran amputees through crowdfunded public donations of TheraV ELIX devices. Since launching, we continue to collect feedback from our customers on how our device is performing and how we can improve. Here are a few testimonials from current users of the TheraV ELIX:

“I put it on at level 2 or 3, and it (ELIX) gets the nerve pain to subside and I’m able to go to sleep.” – Josh H., Veteran

“I cannot believe how well this thing (ELIX) works! I didn’t want to take gabapentin, so I put the device on and after a few seconds the pain went away!” – Hanbert F., Veteran

“You forget about the phantom limb pain.” – Harry S., Veteran

“My body relaxed more. My leg relaxed more. I was just able to sleep more comfortably.”- Gabriel M., Veteran

WN: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced while running TheraV?

AI: My biggest challenge is building a talented and visionary team that can help me scale the business. TheraV recently became a team of three, with me, Amira Idris Radovic, as the CEO, Chris Wells as our hardware engineer, and Horitius Jen Lee as our director of outreach, who is also an amputee and a Veteran.

Finding and keeping talented people like Chris and Horitius has been challenging due to our lack of funding. We have had talented people reach out to us about working with TheraV, only to get disappointed when we mention a lack of funding to pay them (which is understandable). However, this means we must rely on bootstrapping as a funding method, while our current team takes on other jobs to supplement their income. This prevents TheraV from rapidly growing and expanding.

We are currently seeking an investor that understands our mission, our market, and is willing to actively work with us to scale TheraV.

WN: Share some advice you’d give to an aspiring female entrepreneur.

AI: I would advise aspiring female entrepreneurs to not be afraid to take a step forward and explore the business idea they have, even if it means failing. I believe it is better to try, fail, and pivot or perish an idea, rather than regret never taking a chance on yourself.

Aspiring female entrepreneurs must keep in mind that the dictionary definition of entrepreneurship is “the activity of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”. It is also worth noting that the risk is not only financial but can also be emotional, mental, and physical. To make this risk-taking process easier, I would advise female entrepreneurs to purse business ideas and opportunities they are deeply passionate about. This is because I see passion as the fire that fuels entrepreneurs and hardens their will to pursue their business ideas.