Archive for the ‘ Grant Recipients’ Category

Special Mid-Month Amber Grant Awarded

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


We hope you’re having a fantastic March.

We’re writing to let you know about our special mid-month Amber Grant. That award went to Miranda Stapel, owner of Rule of Pie Bakeshop in Southern Illinois.

We absolutely love her application. In fact, we’d like to share it with you – because this is the type of detail, vision, emotion and passion we’re looking for.

We hope you enjoy reading about Miranda. Remember, we’ll be awarding another Amber Grant at the end of March. And stay tuned for some HUGE news in the coming months …


Website: Rule of Pie (under construction)

WN: Why do you want to be self-employed?
MS: I’ve considered and re-considered what a move like this means for me. I have–up until all this talk of pie–stayed at home with my two kids (ages 2 and 4). Working outside of the home is rewarding in a way that working inside of it isn’t (and vice versa). I’m allowed an opportunity to interact with my community. I’m able to engage with the local environment and local economy in a way that means something. Southern Illinois means a lot to me–I’m a lifer here, just like my parents, and their parents, and their parents’ parents. And I want to contribute to this place in way that impacts more than myself and more than my family.

WN: Tell us about your business.
MS: This whole idea started as an argument. I know that doesn’t sound hopeful, but my husband was eating one of my desserts and remarked about it being the best thing he’d ever eaten. I thought the remark was obligatory, and told him to save it. A few days later, he told me that he’d paid an entry fee to participate in a local farmer’s market (coordinated by a friend of ours), and asked if I could bake him five pies to sell. He took those pies (strawberry, from an old family, in-house recipe) and sold them all. The next week he asked for ten, then for fifteen, then for twenty, and so on. My pies were selling so fast! And here’s why I think the they did:

I bake with the seasons, so my menu is always small. We’re a boutique shop. So, chances are, if you can find it in Wal-Mart, you’re not going to find it in my shop–save for the pies. And we don’t call mass-produced bakery-stuffs pies. We call them Jelly Shells. They’re cheap, box-crust, with colorful gelatinous messes inside of them. We make sure that our customers appreciate artisanal quality, that they know about–which presupposes that they care about–the ingredients in the sweet stuff. Right now, for the Feb-March season, I’m making cheesecakes, sweet chocolate cream pies, and lemon tarts. That’s season-specific, with a few added menu items (i.e. truffles, shortcakes, etc.) around the seasonal staples. We’ll change in April-May, with chess pies and when Strawberries become readily available to us.

To that point, and as to why we start with Strawberries in May as opposed to year-round, I source as much produce as I can locally. From family-owned farms and growers like McGlaughlin Strawberries (i.e. Murphysboro, IL), Blueberry Hill (Cobden, IL), Flamm’s Orchards (Cobden, IL), Demange Farms (Jacob, IL), etc. It’s the fresh, local, hand-picked stuff that makes such a difference.

I’m in talks with a local coffee roaster to stock us with espresso (i.e. for hot pour-over drinks and for our taramisu).

I make everything I can by hand–no shortcuts–with absolutely no additives, preservatives. Our stuff is farm-fresh. Even the whipped cream and egg wash we use; our eggs come from our chickens. The ones we feed and care for daily. I want to showcase Southern Illinois produce, and I think our collective output will perform well. Real well.

WN: If awarded a grant, what are your plans for the funds?
MS: Right now, we cater to larger recreational and corporate events. We provide desert bars for weddings, menus for work parties, favors for parties, etc. All of our revenue has come through this back-end channel. And I call it back-end because it has allowed me the capital to expand. I’ve recently purchased a facility in Downtown Murphysboro, IL to serve as our primary bake-site and (eventually) storefront.

If I’m awarded a grant (of any size) I’m going to put it towards a computer for the shop. I know that might not sound tantalizing, but we’re in such a rural area here, simple things are hard to come by: like internet connections. It took us forever to establish one of those. It sounds so antiquated, but at this point, I’ve had pens, papers, and calculators. I feel like an abacus would be an upgrade.

To the point, I guess: I don’t want to be utterly dependent on someone else to situate my financial house. I’m not trying to be arrogant, or sound like others haven’t helped along the way (they have). It’s just, I feel uncomfortable as being thought of as someone who can’t make sense of the business-side of things. I need technology and software to help me arrange revenue distribution charts, track purchase orders, situate inventory, regulate involuntary outgoing expenses, etc. I know I can handle it, I just need better tools.

WN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MS: Thanks for any time you spent on reading this. I don’t know if what I’ve said is sexy enough to garner any attention, but I’m being honest here: I believe in the products here in Southern Illinois and would like to share the sum of our work with others.

Thanks so much for reading. Have a wonderful day.

Fast Company Features Former Grant Winner, Refresh Water Technologies

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

We just wanted to give a quick shoutout and congratulations to Eliza Becton of Refresh, our Amber Grant winner from last June.

The not-yet-30-year-old Eliza, her team, and their more eco-friendly Refresh water vending machine project were featured in this Fast Co. article, A Water Vending Machine That Minimizes Bottling’s Nasty Side – which is sure to give them a big boost in awareness.

The Refresh uses a collapsible container that allows vending operators to stock five times more bottles in a machine, and that fills up bottles on-site, filtering water from the tap.

Eliza Becton - Refresh Water Technologies Founder

Eliza Becton – Refresh Water Technologies Founder

Can we go ahead and say that we bought into them before they took off? Because we totally did.

We’re really excited to have been a part of this project, even in a small way.

Angle Oar Wins February Amber Grant

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Congratulations to our latest Amber Grant Winner, Meg McCall.

Meg is the Founder of Angle Oar. Together with her father, she aims to bring the joy of kayaking to thousands of new enthusiasts, and get those who thought they had to give it up due to injury, ability or age, a chance to get back out there. Continue reading to learn about what makes the Angle Oar unique. And be sure to check out the Angle Oar demo.

WN: Congratulations on winning the February Amber Grant!

MM: Thank you so much for this grant. It is tremendously helpful!!

WN: How did your dad decide to become a kayaker in his 80s? There must be a story behind it!

MM: Our family, and my Dad in particular, have always loved the outdoors. My sister older sister, Amy, had bought a kayak, and when my Dad saw it, he decided to give it a try, also. He’d always loved to boat and fish, and so at 75 he started fishing from his new kayak.

Unfortunately, my Dad has several serious medical conditions including congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma and poor circulation, just to name a few. So when he would go out using a traditional straight paddle, it wore him out very easily. That’s when he decided there must be a more energy-efficient way to paddle. He subsequently created the Angle Oar.

WN: How long did it take for the design phase of the product?

MM: He crafted his first prototype several years ago, but it wasn’t until I took a keen interest in it around November of 2012 that we began fine-tuning the design in earnest. We made a variety of improvements and tested several prototypes before applying for a patent in March of 2013. After that phase, I had to have the electronic drawings created and new prototypes manufactured based on our latest specs. We’re just now at a point where we’re doing our first large-scale run of paddles. So in total, it took about a year and a half from idea to manufacture.

There have been many bumps along the way, but I always keep in mind the words I received in an unsolicited testimonial from a young woman who has a health condition that affects her shoulders and overall strength. She said, “I’ve been all over the Internet for months looking for a product like this. Please, keep developing your product no matter the trials you may come across. It will impact so many people.” That keeps me going!

WN: What was your previous experience in marketing?

MM: The first 14 years of my career were spent working for a United Way in Madison, Wi. I started out in the program evaluation and funding side of the organization, but for the last six years was the Director of Marketing. After that, I spent five years as a Marketing Manager in the IT division of the University of Wisconsin – Madison. It was there that I gained a deeper understanding of software and technology. This experience laid the groundwork for my last position as Director of Marketing for MINDBODY, which is based in San Luis Obispo, CA. The company provides business management software to health and wellness studios across the world. It was a very exciting and dynamic place to work, and my efforts helped the organization grow 70% for three consecutive years. The company is about to go public in another year or so.

With respect to Angle Oar, my marketing experience has definitely been an asset. It’s been the manufacturing side of the business that has been the real learning curve. I continue to learn more about things like aluminum extrusion, plastic injection moldings and machine tooling each day!

WN: Are your plans to sell it exclusively online to start?

MM: Yes, right now we sell primarily online through our website and Amazon, however we have just begun reaching out to distributors and retailers, so the Angle Oar should be available in various retail spots by the end of the year. We also have another online distributor confirmed, Access to Recreation, that provides equipment and devices to people with disabilities, though the company is transitioning to a new website so our product is not up quite yet.

On a related note, we give away a free paddle on our Facebook page at every major milestone. Everyone who Likes us is eligible to win.

*Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day. Remember that we’ll award another Amber Grant in March!

Solid Ground Shelters Wins First Amber Grant of 2014

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Congratulations to our latest Amber Grant Winner, Lauren Cecil from Maryland.

Lauren is the Founder of Solid Ground Shelters, a company that puts a new spin on the traditional camping scene. Continue reading to learn all about Lauren and her company.

WN: What was the biggest challenge in starting up?

LC: I believe the hardest part of starting a business is just taking that initial leap of faith and doing it. There are always obstacles when you decide to start your first company, but the adventure of overcoming those obstacles one by one is very exciting. Starting a company is thrilling, overwhelming, scary, fun, and challenging.

Luckily, I have had an amazing support system behind me in starting Solid Ground Shelters. Jason (my partner) and myself have made a great team and our strengths and weaknesses balance out well. Our family and friends have been so fantastic, and we could not thank them enough.

I love working on our company every single day and can’t wait to see how it grows and changes every year. Thank you to the team for awarding us with this grant. It helps us to be able to grow our business, and we appreciate all that you are doing for other ladies who are pursuing entrepreneurship!

WN: Any unique stories you can share about any of your guests?

LC: There are too many to count! I think my favorite event thus far has been a wedding we did for a special couple in Maryland. We brought our tents and set up at The Treehouse Camp, which is a campground in the Catoctin Mountains. The couple was so excited about their special day, and our tents were another fun aspect of their outdoorsy wedding. Seeing our customers faces light up when they open their tent doors to see the decor inside is always my favorite part of any event, and this particular couples’ faces were priceless. It was so great to be apart of their special day and make it even more unique.

WN: Tell us about your charity work.

LC: We have partnered with a fabulous charity called ShelterBox because we want to be able to provide solid ground to those who have lost their homes. ShelterBox helps by providing shelter and necessary items to people displaced by their homes due to natural disaster, conflicts, and other tragic circumstances. Being able to help just one family every year brings so much meaning to what we are doing.

WN: What inspired you to create a Safari-Style accommodations camping grounds?

LC: I had no idea how much I loved camping until I decided one day to be a camping guide and lead camping trips across the USA. Camping allows you to enjoy the outdoors, be closer to nature, and always get into some sort of adventure. I love all of these aspects that are associated with camping.

What I don’t love is not sleeping! I like to get my 8 hours a night, and without fail I do not sleep well when I camp. So, Jason and I thought about creating a mobile glamping company where we can bring the camping to any location that you would like to camp. We realized there were a lot of people like myself who would like to be in the outdoors, but would also like to have the comforts of a hotel. So, we have brought our glamping accommodations to music festivals, weddings, wineries, and other events.

WN: How big is the property?

LC: We do not have our own property currently, but that is one of our long term goals. Currently, we bring the glamping tents to whatever property suits your fancy! This is great because people can create their dream camping vacations and events with us, and not have to worry about the details. Solid Ground Shelters is currently primarily operating on the East Coast, but we also plan to expand in the coming year.

WN: Thanks so much for your time, Lauren. All the best moving forward!

Daddy’s Deployed Wins December Amber Grant

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Congratulations to our latest Amber Grant Winner, Bridget Platt from North Carolina. Bridget is the Founder of Daddy’s/Mommy’s Deployed (Daddy’s Deployed, LLC). Her company creates completely personalized children’s books for our countries littlest warriors with a parent deploying. We hope you take a few minutes to read our interview with her below.

WN: Congratulations on winning the December Amber Grant!
BP: I wish y’all could see the smile on my face right now. I feel so honored — thank you so much!

WN: What inspired you to create Daddy’s Deployed?
BP: It was always in the back of my mind…but I didn’t know what “it” was, exactly. I worked at a child development center on base several years ago, and I saw first-hand how young children could be affected by deployments. The father of one of our sweetest two-year-old girls deployed and immediately she changed: she didn’t want to eat, she started having accidents, and would cry out for him at nap time. I wanted to create something that would help young children understand what was happening in their lives. When my daughter was six-months-old her father had already left on three different military ventures, including a seven-month deployment. I wanted her to know who her daddy was, to “see” him on something she could touch. I knew I was on to something when we were shopping on base and she saw men in the same uniform her daddy wears (and that is shown in her book): she started kicking her legs and squealing excitedly in the baby carrier, even though she was only thirteen months old.

WN: How did you get involved with Lone Survivor Foundation?
BP: I knew I wanted to give back to families who have sacrificed so much for our country. My father had just finished reading The Lone Survivor and suggested I research the Lone Survivor Foundation. I believe so strongly in their mission and everything they do: from healing retreats to creating the awareness these warriors and their families deserve.

WN: Do you have a story about a particular family that you’ve helped?
BP: We recently received an email from a father, an Air Force pilot, who found out he was deploying 10 days before he was set to leave. He ordered a book for his young daughter and emailed us to see how long it would take to arrive. After reading his email, I contacted my illustrator in tears, and she created his personalized book immediately. We expedited the entire process and had the book in his hands in record time. He reached out to tell us that he was giving the book to his daughter the following night, her birthday, at story time before bed. It was their last night together and that’s how he wanted to spend it: introducing our book to his daughter. I am so proud of the fact that we were able to help that family. Having gone through two deployments with my husband, I know how stressful it can be when you have months to prepare…I can’t fathom ten days.

WN: What’s new since the application?
BP: We are thrilled to announce that we are developing corporate partnership options this month. We want to get our books into the hands of as many military families as possible, at little or no cost to them. We will be using this amazing grant to ensure that our partnership package is professional and effectively done. We will also be sending out copies of books to child development centers and schools on bases across the country to spread the good word. I believe that 2014 is going to be the “game changer” year for us, and this grant is proving that!

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm Wins November Amber Grant

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

A huge shout out to our latest Amber Grant Winner, Robin Major from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Robin is one of the principals of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm. We hope you take a few minutes to read her interview below. We fell in love with her passion and business sense – and we’re sure she will inspire you!

WN: Congratulations on winning the November Amber Grant!

RM: Thank you! We are so honored and so excited to be recipients of the Amber Grant! The Amber Grant provides much needed opportunities to women entrepreneurs who face many challenges besides funding — culture, history, families, etc. Thank you again for everything you do.

WN: What inspired you to create Stone’s Throw Urban Farm?
RM: To be honest I never thought I would farm in the city. I thought farming in the city was “fake” farming, unrealistic, and for people who didn’t really know the realities of farming. I started farming in the city as a side project and as a stepping stone to eventually farm outside the city. However, the longer I worked and spoke to neighbors, community members, and other farmers, the more I was excited by the challenges and the potential. I began to think more about the bigger picture of why I farm – and what vision I want to work towards. I hope that our project is one small step towards a more equitable food system.

WN: How did you actually launch the business?
RM: Stone’s Throw Urban Farm began in 2011 when three urban farms (I ran one of those farms) merged together to combine resources, market, and land, to build a more lucrative and comprehensive business. In the spring of 2012 we ran a $15,000 kickstarter to buy our truck, trailer, and equipment. Since the kickstarter we have primarily relied on selling vegetables to pay for our labor, insurance, equipment and other supplies. Over the last two years we also received two small research grants.

WN: Tell us a bit about your business partners and the vision you all share.
RM: There are three partners — Alex Liebman, Eric Larsen, and me. Alex and I work full time on the farm and Eric works ¾ time. We all have our own administrative realms of the business, but share the visioning and much of the physical labor. We have weekly volunteers who help out on the farm and they play a large role in keeping us excited and motivated.

We are committed to developing a business with a triple bottom-line: financial sustainability, improvement of the ecological health of the land we farm, and on-farm education and community engagement. I farm in the city because I enjoy the complexities and challenges that it brings. I believe everyone, people of all races and backgrounds, have a right to eat and grow their own food and I believe farming in the city is one step towards a more equitable food system.

WN: How have city officials responded to your business?
RM: Some city officials have been incredibly supportive, some have been neutral, and some have complained. We farm in both Minneapolis and St. Paul so we work within two different city governments. Overall, both Minneapolis and St. Paul have done wonderful things towards allowing urban agriculture to exist in the city — we have access to water from fire hydrants, and we can sell food from our lots. However, there is a difference between allowing urban agriculture and fully endorsing it. Currently, land that is farmed on vacant lots is viewed as a place holder — an activity that occurs while the city waits for something with better tax revenue to take its place. City development and urban agriculture do not have to be at odds with each other; to make urban agriculture a permanent fixture in these cities it must be built into the planning and infrastructure of the city.

WN: What has been the response of city residents — particularly the underprivileged?
RM: Hundreds of people walk by our plots every day. Many do not look around, many do look and keep walking, and a few slow down and throw out a question or stop and chat. The feedback is primarily positive, “what is that big green thing?” or “thank you for making our neighborhood beautiful!” People like good, healthy food and know it is important. We do our best to respect our neighbors, to be welcoming and non-judgmental and to learn from the people around us. However, we are a farm business and the market constraints limit our ability to provide more food for the low-income community. We are a young business with a complex model and we have many flaws to work through. Our intention is to work with community members and the city to build a food system that provides fresh, local food to all people.