Archive for the ‘ Grant Recipients’ Category

December Amber Grant Awarded to Access Trax

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

On Thursday, we announced our December Amber Grant Finalists.

Today, we’re excited to reveal the $1,000 recipient and the 1st qualifier for our $10,000 year-end Amber Grant. Congratulations to Kelly Twichel, Co-Founder of Access Trax.

Their signature product — Beach Trax — is the only foldable, lightweight and temporary pathway designed to provide access over uneven terrain such as sand, gravel, dirt, or grass. In our interview below, Kelly shares how the idea came about, supplies advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs, and more.

WN: Access Trax started as an idea in grad school. Share the story of the company and what problem it’s solving.

Imagine it’s a beautiful Saturday morning and you’re out surfing with your friends. You drop in on a wave and fall off your board, getting swept up in the wave. Suddenly, you know something is very wrong as you hit the sandy ocean bottom. You have suffered a spinal cord injury and can no longer control your legs. Your whole life is now changed, and you will have to overcome many more obstacles than you would have as an able-bodied individual. One of the cruelest barriers is that now you cannot cross the sandy beach in your wheelchair to get closer to the water that you love so much. This can isolate you from spending time with your friends and family – and makes getting back to (adaptive) surfing much more difficult.

That is where Access Trax comes in.

Now, the World Health Organization defines a disability as a product of the interaction between a person and their environment. If we can modify this interaction we can dissolve the disability, and that is exactly what Beach Trax does. It is essentially a portable sidewalk that can easily be deployed and transported for personal or event use. Thirty linear feet of pathway folds and stacks into less than three inches high, weighing only fifty-five pounds! The applications are limitless: events, personal use, resorts, outdoor therapy, ADA compliance, etc. It is not just useful for people who use wheelchairs – the stable pathway is preferred by people with walkers, strollers, carts, canes, or just feet!

The idea stemmed from a class project while in school for Occupational Therapy in 2016. A classmate (now co-inventor and business partner) and I took on the challenge to engineer a product that would help local adaptive surfers cross the sand in their chairs with dignity and independence. Our humble hand-made prototype from Home Depot materials proved itself as 5 adaptive surfers used it to cross the sand at a local competition a few weeks later. That day, my partner Eric and I knew we couldn’t stop after only helping 5 people. We had to turn this into a viable business that could help solve the problem of outdoor inaccessibility for millions.

After earning our Master’s degrees as OT’s, Eric and I officially formed Access Trax in February of 2018. We are proud to produce Beach Trax in the USA and have been growing the business through product sales and event rentals. I consider my customers my friends and family, and I now have family in places like Hawaii, Mexico and Japan. In 2019, I will travel to places like Panama and Costa Rica to volunteer at adaptive surfing events and advocate for outdoor accessibility. I have worked with the most amazing people because of Beach Trax, and I am on a mission to share my product and dream with as many people as I can.


WN: Who’ve you identified as the target market for Beach Trax?

Our initial target market includes families of individuals with physical challenges that are active (or who want to become active) in outdoor recreation. It also includes non-profits and businesses that serve the adaptive surfing and watersports community, since their mission aligns so well with ours. There is a huge world-wide movement in adaptive surfing alone, with surfing being projected to be accepted into the Paralympics in the coming years.

We have just begun our second phase of marketing which includes local government and resorts that are in need of becoming more inclusive and ADA compliant. It is really exciting to get the interest of people in places around the world such as Australia, South Africa, England, and Canada.

WN: Talk about your involvement in the community — and any upcoming events.

We volunteer constantly. I think that is my favorite part of my job: I get to interact with people face-to-face and witness their joy when they experience the outdoors with less barriers. We have volunteered at numerous adaptive surfing events (Stoke for Life, Waves4All, the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championships, the World Adaptive Surfing Championships, Life Rolls On) and community events like the Junior Adaptive Sports Camp.

Our next event is in Oceanside at the January 19th Stoke for Life adaptive surfing clinic.

WN: What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?

I would tell anyone who wants to start their own business that it will seem overwhelming, but it IS achievable. Staying organized and finding the right mentors will help you immensely. I think I’ve used the SCORE resource (Service Corps of Retired Entrepreneurs) 20 times in the last year for things like my business canvas model, taxes, partnership questions, and sales and distribution. Also, don’t forget to set aside time for yourself! Finally, have fun sharing and celebrating your little (and big) victories with friends and family.

3 Additional Year-End Amber Grants Awarded

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Last week, we shared the recipient of the $10,000 year-end Amber Grant — Wasatch Nectar.

Today, we’re delighted to spotlight 3 runners-up, each to be awarded a $2,000 Amber Grant:

Locker Lifestyle (Kat Samardzija)

Amazingly Uplifted (Veronica Crafton)

Imagiread (Tiffany Rachann)

Congratulations to Kat, Veronica and Tiffany as they work towards a prosperous 2019. We’re excited to see what the future holds, not only for these ladies, but for each of our finalists. As always, our job was made incredibly difficult by the people and businesses we’ve been privileged to meet. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

Now, as we head into the new year, remember that our grants will continue to run on a monthly basis. That means we’re accepting December submissions for just a few more days. If you’re interested — or know someone in need of funding — please take a peek at the application page.

Happy New Year,

-The WomensNet Team

2018 Year-End Amber Grant Awarded to Wasatch Nectar

Friday, December 21st, 2018

Our $10,000 year-end Amber Grant finalists are a diverse bunch.

The list includes app creators, educators, musicians and more. They’re scattered all over North America, from Toronto to Houston and from Atlanta to San Francisco.

While we love the variety among these finalists, our multi-week quest to name one recipient has led us to a powerful conclusion: Truly, each finalist is worthy of this grant. Each has undeniable talent and business savvy. Each has encountered adversity — personally and/or in business — only to persevere and thrive.

You’re amazing entrepreneurs and even better people. And we can’t express how fortunate we are to have this opportunity to meet.

So below, we’d love to recognize each finalist for their accomplishment:

Anahata Collaborative

Imagiread

Madison Eats Food Tours

Don’t Forget The List

Norma

Cyant

Amazingly Uplifted

Good Morning Bedlam

Lisnen

Wasatch Nectar

The Skirted Soldier

Locker Lifestyle

Music Therapy St. Louis

A very special congratulations to Kristen Moffatt — owner of Wasatch Nectar — for earning the year-end grant. A dietitian and outdoor enthusiast, Kristen’s honey-based products provide active individuals with healthy, all-natural nutrition. We’re confident her thoughtful business planning and go-getter attitude will produce a bright future.

She shared a few thoughts about the big news in the video below.

Lastly, we’re excited to announce 3 additional year-end Amber Grants of $2,000. We plan to notify each of the recipients by the end of this weekend.

Thank you for reading — and a very happy holidays to you and yours.

-The WomensNet Team

November Amber Grant Awarded to Music Therapy St. Louis

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Last Monday, we announced our November Amber Grant Finalists.  Today, we’re delighted to reveal the $1,000 recipient and the first qualifier for the 2019 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Jaime Wilhite and Tracie Sandheinrich, owners of Music Therapy St. Louis. MTSTL’s talented team offers board certified music therapy services and consultation to their community. You’ll learn about their incredible work — and their plans for the future — in our interview below.

MTSL

WN: Share how Music Therapy St. Louis came about

JW: As a child, Jaime was always a dreamer: a kid with big eyes and big ideas. Too often she was reminded those dreams were too grandiose and unrealistic. But, what is our reality? It’s what we make it.

At the age of 30 years old, with a successful career in marketing, Jaime found herself at a life roadblock. She had done everything perfectly and followed the path of opportunity with the privileges she had. She did what she was supposed to do. At the end of the day, she found herself feeling empty, like what she did didn’t really matter. This feeling was a constant reminder after she lost her mother suddenly at the age of 24. She asked herself, “What did I want to do with my life? How can I make a difference?”

A year before, Jaime shadowed a board certified music therapist in a phase 4 school working with a child with autism. The child walked in, head down, and did not use words to communicate. By the end of the session, the child was making purposeful eye contact; he was engaged and energetically said, “Bye!” That moment changed Jaime’s life. She, literally, cashed it all in for two more degrees: one in music and a Masters in music therapy. She is officially an MMT, MT-BC.

Eight years later, Jaime had the honor to work in various populations: disabilities, memory care, psych, education, brain injury, and the hospital setting. She is also trained in NMT (neurologic music therapy), the study of the brain and music therapy interventions based on scientific outcomes and practice. Specifically, she is one of three board certified music therapists currently working for a non-profit 501c3 under Maryville University’s Kids Rock Cancer. In joining the team, Jaime met Tracie Sandheinrich MA, MT-BC, who helped spearhead Kids Rock Cancer nearly ten years. To say they “hit it off” would be an understatement.

At a very young age, Tracie found herself sitting on a stack of books and magazines just high enough to reach the piano keys. She grew up in a musical family, actively singing and playing music in her home church, and singing at the nursing home where her grandmother lived. It is without a doubt that Tracie knew and valued the power of music. After a chance meeting and introduction to the field of music therapy, Tracie never looked back. Tracie finished her coursework, followed by completing a clinical internship at St. Luke’s Hospital (Adult Rehab) and BJC Hospice. She graduated from Maryville University with a bachelor’s of science degree in music therapy in 2008.​

After her internship, Tracie was hired on with BJC Hospice in Farmington, MO (2007-2009) where she brought music therapy to patients who were diagnosed with terminal illness. In many cases, patients were seen in the home or long-term care facilities. Tracie was able to provide tailored music therapy interventions and work closely with an interdisciplinary team, which has helped groom her formal approach to providing quality services. Tracie believed that even in an unfortunate situation like impending illness, music therapy at its finest, can not only bring physiological and psychological comfort to the patient, but to the family as well.​

In November 2009, Tracie received the offer to help jumpstart a program called Kids Rock Cancer, a non-profit organization affiliated with Maryville University, whose mission is to help children and families facing the challenges of cancer and/or blood disorders through the process of therapeutic songwriting. As the senior music therapist, Tracie actively sees patients, supervises additional KRC team music therapists, supervises practicum and internship students, and enjoys community outreach and program development. Tracie continues to be inspired by these participants and families, and ultimately encourages each and every participant to write their own story. She believes, no matter what shape or form, everyone has a song to sing. In Tracie’s professional years of practice, she was also determined to better her counseling skills. Tracie completed her master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Lindenwood University in December 2018 and will continue to work towards finalizing her clinical licensure.

Jaime and Tracie both had private practices specializing in different populations before they met, but shared the same concern for quality care and woes of the contract-driven side of the music therapy world in our community. In many late night conversations, they asked themselves, “How can we take care of music therapists so they don’t burn out? How can we provide consistent and quality care? How can we be the most reliable resource to our community? How can we advocate and let people know music therapy is a “thing” and it is very much a clinical practice?” Well, no one else was doing it, so they did just that – a brand new company was born.

It felt as if the stars had aligned and they joined forces to create Music Therapy St. Louis, LLC, where the company now serves nearly every population: geriatric, memory care, individuals with disabilities, children fighting cancer, hospice, rehabilitation/TBI and much more. Music Therapy St. Louis is the first company in our area to hire an all women team of board certified music therapists as employees to co-treat and support clients as a team. When the team is not seeing clients, you can find them speaking, advocating and supporting community groups. They have big eyes and high hopes for 2019.

WN: What type of programs do you offer?

JW: Music Therapy St. Louis offers quality board certified music therapy services and consultation to patients, clients and families on both sides of the river of Missouri and Illinois.

They have a hand picked team of therapists specialized in working with children and adults with disabilities, hospice and palliative care, geriatric support, mental health/wellness and medical-related illnesses. Our philosophy is quality and a client-led approach, using music to aid in rehabilitation, enhancement and maintenance of cognitive, physical, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual functioning.

The team travels to facilities, homes, schools, agencies, hospitals, communities, care facilities and more, to bring quality services to the community. They have listened to our community and have heard the need for a space to host group music therapy programs and support services for children and adults of different abilities, especially to enhance our services and partnership with the Pujols Family Foundation.  Private families, agencies like St. Louis Arc and communities have expressed an interest for group services at our future building. This goal is part of our big dream in 2019. For long term, we envision having a safe and carefree environment to host other creative therapists.

Our Programs

Abilities Programs

MTSL works with all ages of all abilities in a variety of settings: private in-home, private small groups, agency hosted groups, employee after-work programming, education and more. They also work in inter-community relationships to coordinate and lead events like Creative Music Making, involving the St. Louis Symphony, St. Louis Arc and Maryville University’s Music Therapy students. Furthermore, they have developed and continue to grow services in the vocational setting in facilities such as Lafayette Industries in Missouri and SAVE in Illinois (St. Clair Associated Vocational Enterprises).

Children Programs

Music Therapy St. Louis works with children of all ages on goals using music therapy in private 1:1 and group settings. Facilities range from integrated early childhood centers like Childgarden Early Childhood Center to the privacy of your living room.

Their philosophy is client-led, meaning every child is unique and requires a custom session plan/goals and objective based on their learning and music preference.

It’s not a one-size fit all. Now that numerous research studies show there is no music “center” of the brain — people’s brains become active in multiple areas with music allowing them to achieve skills where, perhaps, one path of getting there appears to be
a challenge. Essentially, music may get the client there faster. The company also openly welcomes collaboration with other specialties: OT, PT, SLP, ABA and more.

Private sessions are 100% customized to clientele. Therapists bring everything to any site or home, and schedule a time that is convenient for client and family. When they go to homes, they start with an assessment. After the initial session, the MT-BC works with the client to define goals and will recommend a music therapy plan. Therapists have worked off of IEPs and have also customized a tailored client achievement plan based on the family/MT-BC’s goals.

Geriatric/Memory Care Program

Music Therapy St. Louis works within private 1:1 sessions, group settings, as well as specializing in memory care settings in Illinois and Missouri. Group settings range from communities to abilities with non-profit agencies.

Music therapy enhances quality of life and helps prevent or slow mental and physical deterioration. Music is a stimulus that can be adapted to the client’s needs and reach patients in ways other modalities cannot.

Palliative Care/Hospice Program

When working in hospice and palliative care, we focus on specialized support to meet the needs and comfort of clients and family in the home and/or long-term care communities.

Medical Program

Music Therapy St. Louis works with leading hospitals and medical support centers to bring Maryville University’s Kids Rock Cancer program to children and families.

Kids Rock Cancer is a non-profit organization directly affiliated with Maryville University’s Music Therapy Program. More specifically, board certified music therapists, specialize in assisting in therapeutic songwriting sessions with children, teens, and young adults that are facing the challenges of cancer and/or blood disorders. The program also serves participants who are directly affected by a cancer diagnosis, meaning that they have a sibling, a parent, a grandparent, or a friend dealing with cancer.

Kids Rock Cancer officially started back in November 2009 at the St. Louis Pediatric Cancer Centers (inpatient and outpatient), but has since grown rapidly to various community partnerships such as the Cancer Support Community, the Ronald McDonald House, the Washington University Proton Center, SLU Cancer Center, and numerous support camps in MO and IL for children and teens that are coping with some of the obstacles that come with a cancer and/or blood disorder diagnosis. With the affiliation to the Maryville University music therapy program, it’s allowed the company to have music therapy interns and continue to be a clinical site for upcoming music therapists in the program.

Both Tracie and Jaime are trained in NMT (Neurologic Music Therapy) and use these specific skills when working with individuals with TBI or other neuro conditions.
 They welcome prescriptions from neurologists and any other clinical staff. The company also conducted a pilot study providing music therapy in Washington University’s Botox Clinic for children. In addition to Botox, Music Therapy St. Louis, coordinates, collaborates, and leads BeatNF (Washington University’s Neurofibromatosis Center) children groups at Jazz St. Louis.

WN: How do you plan to use the grant funds?

JW: So much happened so quickly in 2018 with the merge and Music Therapy St. Louis is rapidly growing! The more Jaime and Tracie stay focused on the quality of care; it seems to uncover the true demand and need for this service in the area and surrounding communities. Music Therapy St. Louis is hoping to have a brick and mortar home base where the company can host music therapy and community groups. More and more facilities as well as families have inquired a need for this type of space. With a fast pace of growth, it is instrumental to get this piece of the business in place to meet the needs of our community and continue to grow our quality services.

Furthermore, we are working towards building a scholarship program for families and organizations that may not be able to afford services but could significantly benefit from them.

With Kids Rock Cancer, Pujols Family Foundation, St. Louis Arc, Lafayette Industries, St. Francis of Assisi, a plethora of long-term care and hospice organizations (and more), Jaime and Tracie find themselves grateful every day and continue to strive to offer consistent and quality care on both sides of the river in MO and IL. All of this would not have happened without their big eyes, big dreams, and big ambition for a new paradigm shift in local music therapy programs, which ultimately allowed Jaime and Tracie to cross paths.

WN: What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business? 

JW: So much has happened in 10 years. Dreamers are dreamers. Doers are doers. It wasn’t an easy road but both Jaime and Tracie say, “It’s worth the reward.” During trying times, it’s important to seek out support systems. Surprisingly, not everyone in your life will be understanding of your life choices, but it’s important to make the best choice for you. We had to work hard to digest and accept those feelings and be okay with the idea that people are sometimes disapproving of our decisions and to follow the path, even if it means taking a huge leap.  Create your own path.” A favorite quote written by Mark Twain that continues to inspire them, “Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” You never know where your dreams may take you.”

October Amber Grant Awarded to Locker Lifestyle

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

On Friday, we announced our October Amber Grant Finalists.  Today, we’re delighted to reveal the $1,000 recipient and the qualifier for our $10,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Katarina Samardzija, Founder of Locker Lifestyle. A college student and athlete, Katarina’s career path took an unexpected turn due to one unfortunate experience. Read about that — and much more — in her insightful interview.

WN: Share the genesis of Locker Lifestyle — and how that turned into three patent-pending products

KS: I play tennis for my university. I workout and practice six days a week, while managing my full-time student responsibilities.

My story began when one day after practice my teammates and I went to our gym. All we needed was a key & ID, but our locker didn’t lock, gym cubbies were open, and when we had our valuables stolen, I knew I had to do something about it. I envisioned the perfect product but realized that since it didn’t exist, I was determined to create it.

Before starting Locker Lifestyle, I never designed a website, sewed, or knew what it meant to be an entrepreneur. Lucky for me, my momma and (later promoted as Locker Lifestyle’s “Momager”) owned a successful bridal salon with a talented seamstress staff. I drew up designs and after many revisions, the very first product, the Wrist Locker, came to life!

After enormous interest by individuals of all ages, I knew I was on to something. I changed my major from biomedical sciences to entrepreneurship and marketing that year.

I consider myself lucky having found what I want to do with my life. College is a place to discover yourself and your path, and I’ve found mine through entrepreneurship and this company. I strive to run this business after completing college in less than a year, create new products, and build my team. 

Fast forward to the present. I currently sell three patent-pending products-the Wrist Locker, Head Locker, and Little Locker. All are designed to safely stash small valuables such as your cash, keys, ID, phone & more, perfect for concerts, fitness, traveling, or even walking your dog.

Well, one day this blogger messaged me out of the blue. She said how excited she was to find my products because she was going to buy one instantly and for a very good reason. She went out for her typical run and didn’t want to bring a bulky running belt for her ID. She was hit by a car and knocked unconscious for hours. The police couldn’t identify her, and the hospital couldn’t tell her parents. Thankfully she’s okay, but now she never runs without her Wrist Locker. It was then I realized not only am I providing convenience but safety and a piece of mind.

Locker Lifestyle would not have been possible without my mom’s bridal store. I was practically raised there. In January of 2017, my mother lost her store to a devastating fire. Not only did she lose her business of 26 years, but I lost all of my materials, patterns, and equipment to make the product.

After losing everything, I was back to square one. Even with my low student budget, I’ve since found a temporary place to manufacture, develop my website, and sell almost 2000 units of product without a single dollar spent on marketing.

WN: As a college student, athlete, and entrepreneur, how do you manage your time?

KS: Having so many different responsibilities has made me an excellent planner! I rely heavily on my monthly/weekly/daily planner, in addition to the many lists I make. Every morning I craft a list numbered 1-30 (on an average day) to prioritize the tasks that I must accomplish. For example, I do not move on to number five if I have not yet completed the fourth task. This habit forces me to finish something I may not want to do but is extremely important. On my hectic days full of class and tennis practice, I have a sheet that helps me plan my days by the hour. As crazy as that is, it keeps me on task and efficient.

As crazy as my days can be, I love what I do. I am on a mission to help active individuals like myself enjoy a worry-free active lifestyle.

WN: What distribution channels do you currently utilize? 

KS: Lockerlifestyle.com is my primary distribution channel, and I ship across the country. I currently sell in a few retail locations in Chicago, Boulder, and Grand Rapids. One of my most significant, new partners is FedEx where our team is working on a design to co-logo with the brand for promotional opportunities!

WN: How do you plan to use the grant funds?

KS: I craft everything by myself, with the generous help of family and friends. This grant takes my company to the next level. Locker Lifestyle has grown beyond being my dorm-room startup, where I fulfill all orders. My main problem is that I can’t keep up with demand. Therefore, I need the grant money more than ever.

The $10,000 grant would allow me to invest in the first large-scale manufacturing batch and boost my marketing budget to attend local expos!

WN: What piece(s) of advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?

KS: First, my passion stems from the motivation to inspire others. I am not only driven by the hurdles I’ve overcome to develop and market products for the benefit of any individual but to encourage and mentor others to seek their goals, as my mentors have done so for me.

My passion as an individual and a CEO collide because I am working to inspire other young women in business. At a few local pitch competitions I’ve attended, there was a serious lack of female founders. So, I recently created the Locker Lifestyle Ambassador Program. I have 30 incredible women who love to live actively, like me, and even aspire to run their own businesses one day. I am working to provide them the tools to stay fit and learn what it takes to build something out of nothing.

The best piece of advice I would give someone looking to start their own business is to leverage the people and resources you have around you. I would not be where I am with the constant support from my family and mentors. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or feedback because an entrepreneur is continuously improving!

September Amber Grant Awarded to The Skirted Soldier

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Recently, we announced our September Amber Grant Finalists.  Today, we’re thrilled to reveal the $1,000 recipient and the qualifier for our $10,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Rhonda Smith, Owner of The Skirted Soldier.  A veteran of the Air Force, Rhonda was kind enough to share her story, from active duty service to entrepreneurship.

WN: How did The Skirted Soldier come about?

RS: I grew up in a small town in Western PA. I left for the military in 1993 (despite never being on a plane before)!

I quickly realized that the military way of life was very structured, organized and demanding — yet rewarding and something to be proud of. I did a little over 8 years of full-time active duty service. I lived in 3 different states and a foreign country. I learned so much about life, duty, honor — and I carry that with me today.

Honorably discharged in 2001, I moved back to my hometown and started working on a graduate degree (business). I had this disconnect with my military life and always wanted to figure out a way to feel that connection and give back to my fellow female veterans. It took me several years to develop a business plan and model that I was happy to stand behind and promote.

I had this idea of owning my own female veteran focused company of some sort. This past March, I finally felt that I was in a position to make this dream come to fruition. Within about a month’s time, I had an entity, business plan, logo, materials, website, social media platform and product. And then we get to the product!

So, I’ve had this idea for years. I had a business name idea. I had names for my products that were military related. I had criteria for the product such as shelf life, price points, shipping concerns, and the packaging designs of sorts. However, I didn’t have a product! In researching veteran owned companies, it was apparent that certain markets were saturated, and naturally I knew to stay out of those lanes. I knew the timing was right and I just needed to have that perfect product that wasn’t too niche, too expensive or seasonal.

One day on our way home, my daughter was talking to my mom on her phone. We drove past a plaza in town and she mentioned to my mom about missing the tea shop that was in that plaza that is now closed. She went on to giggle about us going there and I would order coffee tea. Part of my light bulb went off on the 30 minute drive home and I started to think ‘hmm, if I can replicate this coffee tea blend, maybe that’s my product.’ Knowing that I couldn’t find a similar product in any store or online, the idea just grew from there.

I started researching reputable cooperatives and community supported agriculture groups, as owning a small farm and being conscious to sustainability, I knew that had to be part of my model. I also wanted to find military owned or member owned cooperatives that shared our same passion for sustainable living, fair trade and integrity in their supply chain. I started sourcing in products from a few member cooperatives, one being local, and a great tea supplier to create my signature blend SNAFU- the coffee, tea, chicory blend.

I loved it — and I just kept going from there. The loose tea product fit all of the criteria I had in mind and it was a great product. From there, I researched how to blend the perfect cup of standard flavors as well as seasonal flavors.  I now carry six standard loose tea flavors to include a seasonal deployment that is only available for a short period of time. I have learned so much about tea, herbs and how to create flavors that blend and steep well together. I am really enjoying my craft and I’ve met some awesome people along the way who appreciate not only our business model, but our quality, integrity and product.

WN: How do you differentiate from competitors?

RS: Most competitors in this category are of the large, commercial type. I vowed to stay rooted in my mission, values and philosophy of hand blending each order in small batches. The quality is amazing and I won’t steer from that.

I also perform my own grass roots marketing. I do not have an advertising budget, so I make calls, send emails and I have sent over 200 samples to businesses that I feel are aligned or would be a good fit with our product. I have had several places wanting to place an order just from my email, but I prefer to send my sample pack out first. I want them to see and try the product before committing to a sale. I feel as if this is just the right thing to do.

WN: Share with everyone the female veteran organizations/events that you’ve donated to or plan to donate to 

RS: Shortly after I got started, I received an email from our PA Troops to Tractors leader, called PA Veteran Farmer Project. She was and is an amazing mentor, supporter, marketer, etc. She’s helped in so many ways to share our mission and guide me in the right direction. Our first-year sales donation will be a grant to female veterans that will funnel through the PA Veteran Farmer project. The parameters will focus on some sort of agribusiness.

Each month, I’ve sent a combat care package out to a deployed unit. This will continue.

I was contacted by a group up near the New York border — a group of female veterans that mostly live in the VA home. I will be reaching out to them to supply them with tea for their monthly meetings.

From a local TV interview, my information was passed along to the Governor’s Council on Military and Veteran Affairs- Women’s Veteran Committee. I am now a proud member of that committee.

I have been invited to receive an award on November 12 from the Women’s Entrepreneurial Day event in Philadelphia. I hope to use that award to help other female veterans see that they can successfully start and operate their own business.

Next year, we are hoping to host an outdoor event for female veterans to join together and fish, hike, kayak, and share stories and a meal. We are in the very preliminary stages of this planning process.

Recently, I donated to a local fundraiser called Sweat for Vets, a race event that raises funds for local veterans. I paid for one registration for a veteran or first responder to attend.

Along the way, we’ve supplied gift baskets for local fundraising events and will continue to do so as we are able. This includes a local nursing home, breast cancer awareness event, and a first responder fundraising event.

WN: What goals do you have for The Skirted Soldier, both short and long-term?

RS: My short-term goals are to continue marketing our product. I’d like to be in every state by my one-year anniversary date. I am in the process of turning one room in my house into my shop. This grant will allow me to do that as well as order stainless steel equipment, packaging and product in bulk. I can also organize my inventory and polish up materials.

My long-term goals are to grow into a successful recognizable brand that is able to employ female veterans. I would like to become a well-known tea company, but only if I can continue to support female veterans along the way.

The experience has been surreal. We’ve come so far and we’re humbled by the awards and support just since March. We won’t let you down! This is just our beginning!

WN: What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?

RS: I continue to live by the Air Force Core Values: Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all you do!

Along with my core values, I feel that in order to be successful, you have to do your homework. You must know the rules and regulations of the industry. You must know how to make smart business decisions, marketing plans, strategic plans, a solid business model and stick to it. Reflect back monthly on your accomplishments and if something isn’t working, fix it. Try another strategy. Don’t give up — work hard/play hard. Starting your own business is hard work and it’s totally worth it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, reach out for help and find any/all resources to learn from.

***Throughout this document, I say “we” a lot. I can’t fulfill my dream of operating The Skirted Soldier without the support and help of my family. I would be remiss to not include that. They have been amazing (and my husband is retired Air Force).

Thank you for reading and congrats again to Rhonda. We wish her the best moving forward.

With October in full swing, we’re already seeking out the next $1,000 Amber Grant recipient. If you’re searching for funding, please consider filling out an application.