Archive for the ‘ Grant Recipients’ Category

Build & Imagine Wins July Amber Grant

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Congratulations to Laurie Peterson, winner of the July 2013 Amber Grant Award! Laurie is the founder of Build & Imagine, a constructable playset toy company for girls. Laurie has combined her expertise in the toy industry with an entrepreneurial spirit to create a truly unique product.


Through Build & Imagine, Laurie enables young girls to bring out their inner architect with configurable playset pieces. The product line will offer a variety of different settings and scenes to be constructed and interacted with, encouraging girls to use their imagination every step of the way.

We caught up with Laurie to find out more about this fascinating project:

WN: Laurie, congratulations on winning the July Amber Grant Award!

LP: Oh wow, that is excellent! Thank you so much!

WN: What are the differences in which boys and girls play?  And how can you fill in the in the void for girl’s toys?

LP: Construction/building toys such as Legos and Lincoln logs are the fastest growing category in the toy industry. Historically, these toys have only served boys. The themes, marketing, and play patterns have been catered to boys’ interests. Girls are really missing out because construction toys develop important spatial and design skills that are prerequisites to succeed in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). There is a huge market opportunity to develop more construction toys for girls, and a compelling mission to serve.

To succeed in the girls’ building toy category, a lot more needs to be done than to turn existing construction toys pink. You have to design for how girls play, and in the process give girls more options than they have in today’s princess filled aisles. The guiding principle I am using is that construction should facilitate rich storytelling and imaginative play.

WN: Do you have any partners in this project?

LP: I have a very talented children’s book illustrator signed on to the project that I will announce in October. Her characters and scenes are normally stuck in the pages of a storybook, so I am excited to bring them to life as toys in the hands of a girl and her imagination. I also have very talented friends from more than a decade working in interactive companies around the Bay Area. Copywriters, designers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and strategists have pitched in their personal time to help me. In the next 6 months key partners I’ll need to develop include a manufacturer and retailers.

WN: Can you tell us a bit about your educational background and how you got into developing toys?

LP: I was fortunate enough to be around people pursuing careers in interactive toys and games when I was in college. Before that I never even considered it as a possibility. I was on a biology track at UCSD and kept seeing my college roommate working on really fun multimedia projects. I decided to take a class with her, and after finishing my final project 2 weeks early (because I was too excited to wait), I switched my major to interactive art and did my senior thesis on video games for girls. Following college, a classmate of mine invited me to join him at Leapfrog, the leading educational toy company. After my first (and second) product there won Toy of the Year, my mother commented that a career in toys suited me because, “I’ve always been a big baby.”

WN: Do you have plans to launch a website devoted to the product?  Is this where your products will be sold?

LP: I plan to do a kickstarter campaign in October to generate awareness with product evangelists and raise much needed funds. When my kickstarter campaign goes live I will also put up a website at where I will do presales, and eventually, real sales. I’ll meet with retailers at ToyFair next February, and have my line in specialty and gift stores for holiday of 2014.

ReFresh Wins June Amber Grant

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Congratulations to Eliza Becton and the ReFresh team, winners of the June Amber Grant Award!  Eliza and her 3 partners are on a mission to help consumers kick the habit of buying disposable water bottles, while changing the economics and sustainability of how bottled water is sold.

How are they doing it?  By designing and building a network of water vending stations that sell water in reusable bottles. After you’re done, you can deposit the bottle back into their machine for a partial refund, then the machine automatically cleans the bottle for storage and next use.

In comparison to traditional water bottlers, ReFresh produces bottled water at the point of sale to minimize transportation and energy costs, while eliminating extra plastic waste.  They solve the key pain points of feeling wasteful by buying bottled water, and also having to remember, carry and clean your reusable water bottle.  ReFresh provides pure, filtered and safe water that drastically reduces the consumer’s carbon footprint.

We caught up with Eliza to learn more…

WN: How has your educational background helped you and your partners in business?

EB: My education has definitely played a role in helping us get to where we are. As a mechanical engineer and designer, I’m able to make technical decisions while always thinking about the user experience. I need to make sure the machines we’re building not only function correctly and efficiently on the inside, but are also attractive and intuitive to use. I use my learnings from Yale and the RISD’s Graduate Industrial Design Program every day. However, I also think there is nothing more important than relevant experience and the ability to learn quickly. We are all lucky enough to have incredibly supportive institutions and alumni communities from RISD, Yale, MIT and the MIT Sloan School of Management cheering us on. It certainly helps when you are ingrained in an alumni community that embraces entrepreneurship and ambition like they do at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and within the Yale, RISD and MIT Alumni Association Networks, but our collective past projects and work experiences have been critical to our ability to make important decisions.

WN: Can you tell us more about how you found partners willing to help you, and how much support you give each other?

EB: Sean Grundy (a team member) and I were introduced in September by a classmate of his from MIT Sloan School of Management who knew that we were both passionate about sustainability and startups. We began researching, applying to accelerators, and revising our business model based on the feedback we received. Seeing glimmers of success and recognizing that we couldn’t take on such a huge project alone, we recruited Frank Lee and Teddy Toussaint to our team a few months later. Frank is Sean’s best friend from Sloan, and he has an extensive background in marketing and manufacturing – two areas that are crucial for our success. We met Teddy, a mechanical engineer from MIT, at a business plan competition (which we were so excited to go on to win), and he instantly clicked with the team and our mission. Teddy is our all-star mechanical engineer and has incredibly valuable experience having just finished designing and building a patent-pending smoothie machine.

We genuinely support and rely on each other every day. Our decisions are almost always collaborative, and never made in isolation. It takes the full team to make sure that our business model is sound in terms of engineering, design, marketing, and economics.

WN: Is the machine on your website a prototype? How has the test marketing gone?

EB: The machine currently on our website is actually a decade-old, souped-up snack vending machine. We’re using it to sell reusable bottles and partially reimburse consumers who return them. The market test has been interesting. It’s taken a few weeks to raise awareness for what we’re doing, but we’re starting to get some traction. We’re testing out different pricing models, different types of bottles, etc. to better understand users’ preferences. What we learn will definitely go straight into improving our business plan.

Simultaneously to the market testing, we’ve administered surveys and user interviews to validate our hypotheses and understand our users further. In such a marketing-heavy industry, it’s important to know who our ideal user is and what really matters to them. After this, we can adapt our existing branding to really hone in on the best possible branding and messaging.

Please stay tuned because you will see our first prototype on our website by the end of the summer! At this point we hope to take it and start testing with industry experts such as the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), which is the professional organization for vending machine operators.

WN: Are the water bottles made of glass?

EB: Glass is a material we are considering in the future. Currently, we are using a collapsible, reusable, BPA-free plastic bottle which we will wash and reuse within our system to reduce waste. We also are encouraging our users with incentives to return to our dispensers and refill their bottles on their own, thereby saving yet another plastic bottle from ending up in a landfill.

WN: Wonderful! We’re so excited to see what’s next for you and your team.

EB: Thanks again for this great opportunity! On behalf of the ReFresh team, we are incredibly honored and appreciative!

Tillie Polish Takes Home May Amber Grant

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Congratulations to Andrea Matillano-Funkhouser, winner of the May Amber Grant Award! Andrea and her 2 sisters are the founders of Tillie Polish, an organic, toxin-free nail polish start-up.

Andrea and her sisters combined their entreprenurial spirit and passion for cosmetics to create Tillie Polish all on their own. We caught up with the Pittsburgh-area winner to find out more about this fascinating business.

WN: Andrea, congratulations again on winning the May Amber Grant.

AM: Wow! We are beyond touched and just so excited that you choose us as the winners! This grant will just help our business so much. We are so truly thankful and ecstatic!

WN: Tell us a little more about Tillie Polish, and how you came up with the idea.

AM: Tillie Polish is a business that my sisters and I started in November of last year. We all love nail polish, but we don’t love the fact that there are so many chemicals and toxins in nail polish that are bad for you. We decided to create a formula that is free of the four main toxic chemicals often found in polish. We also wanted polish that was long-lasting and trendy. We enjoy working together to create a product that people of all ages can use and not feel guilty about putting on their nails.

Over the past two years, we have developed a slight obsession for collecting different polishes. After trying so many different formulas and brands, we started to see which aspects of each that we liked and disliked. We thought that maybe we could create a formula that combined all of the qualities that we enjoy about nail polish!

WN: How do you come up with the colors?

AM: This has to be one of our favorite parts of the whole process! We like to research the upcoming nail polish trends to give us some ideas for colors for our upcoming lines. We also ask our customers which colors they would like to see in future lines to get a nice idea. Then, we try to picks colors that coordinate well with each other and the season.

WN: Where is the polish made?

AM: Our polish is made in the United States. We work with our manufacturer in Florida.

WN: Are there any other non-toxic polishes on the market?

AM: There are a few other brands of polish that are non-toxic. The thing that sets us apart from all of the other brands out there is that our polish is affordable. Many times, non-toxic polishes are very expensive. We didn’t want our customers to have to sacrifice affordability in order to have a healthier option for their nails.

WN: What are your plans for the grant funding?

AM: Our plans for the funds are to purchase more inventory. We often sell out of our polish quickly. There are some stores and salons that want to purchase our polish, but we just cannot fulfill their orders based on our current inventory.

WN: What’s the best part about being in business for yourselves?

AM: We love that fact that we get to work together in this business. We hear from women every single day that they are inspired to see three young women who are entrepreneurs. We believe that women, no matter what age they are, should pursue their dreams. There is nothing more rewarding than creating your own business and working for yourself!

Thanks for reading about our latest Amber Grant winner! We hope you find Andrea’s story as inspiring as we did.


Nighty Night Nursing Light Wins April Amber Grant

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Congratulations to April Lowell and Patricia Gilbert, winners of the April Amber Grant! They are the founders of Pink Magnolia LLC and the Nighty Night Nursing Light.

For almost 20 years, they have aspired to be small business owners. They’ve shared a vision for numerous ventures, from thoughts of owning a women specific work-out facility in high school, to owning a restaurant in college. It wasn’t until motherhood that their true passion became evident. In the interview below, we see that passion shine.


WN: Who came up with the Nighty Night Nursing Light idea and was it inspired by necessity?

AL: Necessity is the Mother of Invention for sure! The opportunity for Patti and I to become partners coincided with the birth of my second daughter. While serving as Director of Services for a boutique, I gained professional knowledge about pregnancy and breastfeeding. The difficulties many moms experienced during nighttime feedings, as well as my own experiences, was the inspiration for the development of the Nighty Night Nursing Light. Patti has led a successful corporate career for 15+ yrs with a proven track record of success in Marketing and Sales for a Fortune 500 company. She is currently expecting her first baby in July! We developed the Nighty Night Nursing Light with a true understanding of the breastfeeding mom’s needs. Thankfully, we have been afforded this amazing opportunity to create a product to help support night time breastfeeding.

WN: Where is the product currently made? And what’s the reason behind moving production to the USA? Will production costs increase the price of your product?

AL: The Nighty Night Nursing Light is currently manufactured in China. Sourcing production in the US has been challenging. We are working hard to keep costs down, so we can avoid passing along a cost increase to our retail partners, and in turn, avoid increasing consumer costs. Moving manufacturing to our home state of NJ will allow for greater quality control, and faster turn around time for production. And we feel strongly that our customers will agree, made in the USA adds value. It’s a good feeling to support our local economy.

WN: Is the NNNL patented?

AL: We do have appropriate intellectual property in place for the Nighty Night Nursing Light.

WN: Can you tell us what other products Pink Magnolia might be launching? Or is the NNNL enough on your plate for now?

AL: Pink Magnolia will be launching additional products in the newborn care/breastfeeding realm. We are unable to share at this time, but stay tuned!

Exciting times are ahead for April and Patricia. Best of luck to both of them moving forward!

Compassion Travel Worldwide Wins March Amber Grant

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Congratulations to the March Amber Grant winner, Kristina Harutoonian! Kristina is the founder of Compassion Travel Worldwide.

Kristina is truly a one-of-a-kind entrepreneur. Combining her knowledge of the tourism industry with her passion for humanitarian work, Kristina formed Compassion Travel Worldwide. Through her business, she offers the unique ability to let others take unforgettable travels to foreign countries. During this time, teams will find leisure and recreation activity, but also have the opportunity to do some good in the destination city.


We caught up with Kristina to find out more about Compassion Travel Worldwide.

WN: Kristina, congratulations on winning the March Amber Grant Award.

KH: That is so exciting! Thank you very much!

WN: How has the customer response been to your business?

KH: There has been a lot of support and interest in traveling with CTW, and I have been overwhelmed by the positive response. I think people are excited to experience a trip where they will have the opportunity to serve the communities and feel a sense of connection and fulfillment, but also be able to enjoy the adventure, culture and beauty of foreign countries.

WN: Can you tell our readers about a memorable experience of a person you met in your travels that have inspired you to move forward with Compassion Travel?

KH: We have just returned from our trip to Brazil, where one of the things we did was offer our help and support to the charity Esther’s Children. We met numerous young girls, many of whom had been saved from the trafficking industry. Their stories of perseverance, gratefulness, and hope were incredibly moving and challenged me to not ignore the problem of human trafficking, but rather be willing to face that sometimes we do not have the answers. But that does not mean there is no hope. One of the teenage girls named Veronica had grown up in a very abusive household, and though she had had a very hard life dealing with much injustice, she was extremely confident, joyful, and dedicated to studying so that she could graduate and pursue her professional dreams. I think it would have been easy for her to give up and probably no one would have blamed her. Nevertheless, she clearly had no desire to do so and that really impacted me. The founders of the Esther’s Children, Emily & Jenn Sutherland, witness these kinds of stories daily and though it is mentally and emotionally challenging, they refuse to give up on these girls. It is truly amazing to see how the empowerment of women can transform communities and bring healing to the broken.

WN: So you don’t necessarily dislike leisure travel.  You just don’t think people should focus singularly on leisure when they travel.  Is that a fair assessment of your attitude toward travel?

KH: I have always been a fan of leisure travel and have had the pleasure of working in the hospitality industry for a number of years. I have loved visiting other countries since I was a small child, and I believe spending money in foreign nations can support local businesses and job creation. However, I have also always felt that I wanted to do more with my travels and I noticed that everywhere I went there was a need that stirred my heart to compassion. In an effort to bridge together these two desires, I created Compassion Travel Worldwide so that people could start submerging themselves into international communities but also enjoy leisure travel. I think that humility, integrity, and balance are key and the most important factors in creating this business successfully.

WN: Tell us where you hope Compassion Travel is in 5 years

KH: I hope that in 5 years CTW has a strong network of charities and personal relationships where people can feel connected to one another with a common passion to travel and serve. I would love to host conferences where individuals, groups and families who have traveled on our trips or support the causes come together and share the impact on their own lives. Lastly, I would love to attend a UN conference as a travel ambassador…but that could take longer than 5 years 🙂


Interview with January 2012 Amber Grant Winner

Friday, March 29th, 2013

We recently caught up with our January 2012 Amber Grant winner, Valorie Nash of Kavalena Clothing. We thought you’d like to hear her update below. She should inspire women entrepreneurs everywhere!

WN: How is Kavalena doing these days?

VN: Hello Christina. Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I can’t even tell you how much it meant to me to be awarded The Amber Grant last year!…Business has been going great. We just finished out an amazing Christmas season and have continued to grow and be able to impact more and more people. As a part of the grant, we were able to purchase some much needed equipment to better our product, as well as do some much needed branding for the business. We also were able to use some of the money to kick start our internship program which has been an incredible success. Directly and indirectly the $500 Amber Grant has hugely benefited this business.

WN: What’s on the business horizon for you?

VN: As I look to the future I am so excited to continue to grow and be able to help a larger network of people. I’m thrilled about a new initiative we are working on to build a fresh water well in Latin America with Living Water International, and look forward to the day when I can see the faces of children in a village that have clean water because Kavalena exists. Long term, I want Kavalena to be able to provide for more and more people’s needs, and to hopefully inspire others to use their lives to make a difference in the world around them.

WN: Can you tell us the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting Kavalena?

VN: What a huge question. I think I could fill an entire book with everything I have learned since starting a business. One of the lessons that I feel like I’m continuously having to re-learn is that the business doesn’t have to be huge overnight in order to be a success. I always find myself getting frustrated because we are not growing as fast as I would like, but I have found that some of the most meaningful things that have happened have had nothing to do with growth or sales. The people you meet, the relationships you build, and the impact your business has to encourage and inspire is just as significant as all the sales and growth of the business.

Of course another wonderful thing I learned was how great it is to meet with people who have been through what you are going through. It makes a huge difference to find people who have been through starting a business and will share their experiences with you. The best part is that most people want to see you succeed and will help you with any knowledge or information they can pass your way. If I were to give any advice it would be first and foremost, YOU CAN DO IT, stick with it even when it gets hard ( and it always gets hard).

You never know what you can accomplish if you don’t try things you don’t know how to do. When you feel overwhelmed and in over your head, while it feels like a sign to just give up, it is actually the opposite. Keep going, and you will always come out the other side smarter, stronger, and better for going through the experience. Starting a business is hard, some times very frustrating, and most often extremely overwhelming, but it is a challenge that will always make you better in the end. Rise to the challenge and never give up, you will be glad you did! I absolutely am glad I did!

WNN: Anything else you want to share?

VN: I would just like the thank you and everyone at Women’s Net for awarding Kavalena the Amber Grant last year. Being in the beginning stages of my business I was getting a bit discouraged, and feeling very much in over my head. When I was awarded the Amber Grant, not only was it a huge financial benefit, but it truly gave me the encouragement I needed to know that I was not crazy for starting this business. It was the defining clarification that I was not the only one who believed in Kavalena, but someone else ( Women’s Net) believed in Kavalena too; enough to give us a financial tool to help us grow! And grow we did! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in Kavalena and helping us achieve our goals! I cannot even tell you how much I deeply appreciate Women’s Net, and the wonderful work you are doing to help, encourage, and inspire women in their goals to create their own businesses.Thank you, thank you, thank you!