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Last week, we revealed our January Grant finalists. After much deliberation, we’re thrilled to announce the recipient — Otehlia Cassidy, Founder of Madison Eats Food Tours.
Congratulations to Otehlia and each of the finalists. A special thanks to Otehlia for taking the time to respond to our interview questions…
WN: What drove you to create Madison Eats Food Tours?
OC: I have always felt driven and inspired by connecting with people, especially people of diverse backgrounds. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to explore the world. I have been fortunate to travel all over the world, including places that many tourists don’t go and where I couldn’t speak the language – indigenous villages in the rainforest of Guyana, remote villages in Mali, West Africa or even towns in South America or Europe.
Even if you don’t speak the same language or have the same beliefs, you can share a meal. Eating and cooking are universal and offer a place for joy and conversation, appreciation and connection to each other. I wanted to build those relationships at home. I wanted to learn about the people in my community and to bring people together around food — who doesn’t love to eat?! Even here in Madison, where I have lived for 20 years, starting a food tour company has allowed me to develop meaningful connections within my community, and support our local economy — all while eating delicious food. It’s a great job!
WN: Some people might be unaware of all of the culinary offerings within Madison. Give us a sample of what one might experience in your city.
OC: Madison has been underrated as a food city for some time, but that is rapidly changing. We have a network of incredible chefs, including Tory Miller, who won the Iron Chef Showdown against Bobby Flay. Madison is also home to a diversity of food producers — we are home to the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country.
Chefs have immigrated here from all over the world, including a large number from Thailand and Laos. What this means is that our food scene is very diverse with quality ingredients and people who truly care about food.
We boast a top notch farm to table scene, and also family run restaurants such as Lao Lan Xang, a restaurant owned by Bounyang Inthachith, who immigrated here from Laos almost 30 years ago. She fled Laos with her 4 children after the Vietnam war. After arriving in snowy Wisconsin, speaking no English, she says that her youngest son cried for rice. She started cooking for him and soon was cooking for other people. Now her restaurant is one of the most popular in Madison. She in turn supports Hmong farmers, who fled the same war. On our food tours we visit these restaurants and learn about the stories of the chefs and owners, forging connections and exploring our community while enjoying a great meal!
WN: How have you marketed the business? What avenues have been most successful?
OC: I have been uncertain about the best marketing strategy. Honestly, that is my weakness. This year I am working with professionals to help work on SEO and developing ad campaigns on different platforms. I plan to put more effort and money into marketing this year as I plan to grow the company. Much of my marketing has been Facebook, Instagram, and my website, as well as word of mouth and Trip Advisor, where we are rated the #1 food tour in Madison! Other people vouching for your product is the best advertising.
WN: What are your goals for the year ahead, and how can the grant money help you reach them?
OC: As I mentioned, marketing has always been daunting to me. I plan to use the money to market more strategically. I will direct market to companies. I have already met with a web designer to make my site mobile friendly and to help develop ads for social media. I also want to grow what I offer and continue to directly support the diverse food producers in our community through developing new tours such as a farmers’ market tour, and tours that directly support minority populations, such as Black and Latino owned business, women and LGBT owned businesses.
WN: Share some advice you would give to an aspiring female entrepreneur.
OC: I have a few mantras that I rotate through my day. As women, we have to believe that we are worthy. You are worthy! It’s easier to be fearful and sit in our safe space that to risk failure or uncertainty, but take the risk, because all you have to lose is you. I firmly believe in a vision board/daily affirmations where the thoughts and wording are key. Rather than saying “I want” or “I will” say it as if it is happening already. “I own a successful food tour company and sell over 3000 tickets a year.” Your words are powerful. And so are you.
Recently, we shared our December Grant finalists.
Today, we’re here to share the recipient of that Qualification Grant — Tiffany Rachann, Founder of Imagiread.
Continue on to read about how she’s impacting the lives of young students.
WN: What purpose does Imagiread serve and what drove you to start the business?
TR: Imagiread was born of out of my love for children’s literature and my passion for education. It started off as a bit of a hobby, happening shortly after I’d wrote and self-published my first children’s book entitled “It’s Water Time, Ma!”. The book is based on the real-life events of my family, where we esteem and revere water experiences in hopes to communicate how valuable the resource is. One day during a reading of the book at a friend’s Lemonade Day event, the director of a prominent educational organization approached me and asked if I would consider co-writing a S.T.E.M based literacy curriculum based on my book. I was excited to explore the opportunity as I’d previously written literacy curriculum for a youth advocacy and mentoring program. That one yes opened up the door to a world of imaginative possibilities.
Immediately after the program was implemented, I noted the reading struggles of many of the program participants. I reconsidered my goal of wanting to implore families to read together for fun and engagement and shifted my attention towards empowering families to strengthen their literacy fluency for fun and engagement. That meant taking a look at what literacy habits are for a variety of families and why. Which led me to conduct my own research.
I learned first hand through a number of experiments, community events, book giveaways and book readings what the challenges were and how they played a part in functional illiteracy as a whole. By in large, I started to analyze how literacy, and the access to quality programming, is a cultural challenge more than an “academic” one. I recognized the need for specialized programming that’s socially responsible, and both culturally authentic and appropriate thereby asserting relativity for all members involved.
I set out to develop my own proprietary program using what I’d learned and am happy to say that I’ve served approximately 725 children to date with Imagiread’s programming. That doesn’t include hundreds of children and families I’ve worked with through library and community partnerships. I’m encouraged to continue to support the community with custom programming and support. There is nothing like seeing a child make literacy connections as a result of interaction you’ve had with them. To have that impact extend to families and communities is invaluable.
WN: What type of response have you received from schools and parents?
TR: To date, I’m still shocked when I see a parent out and about who recognizes me from a program. I’ve had parents praise me for the work Imagiread does, citing how difficult it’d been getting their son/daughter to take an interest in reading before being incorporated. I’ve had dozens of parents inbox me sharing their child’s love for It’s Water Time, Ma! and taking the oath to be more hydrated while conserving water. I’ve had community organizations invite me to speak to their student body and have co-hosted a number of interactive author visits for child care centers and head start programs. Imagiread has been recognized for the programming by two of the local library systems and one of the largest schools districts here in Houston.
WN: What are your plans for the grant money?
TR: Imagiread is a one-woman show. To compensate for the opportunity to conduct thorough research by partnering with organizations and offering reduced-fee programming to schools that meet the criteria, I usually work two part-time jobs to support the company.
At the end of August, Hurricane Harvey devastated thousands of Houstonians leaving the city to rebuild what officials say will take years. Imagiread was effected and lost working equipment, books, inventory and teaching supplies. In addition to replacing some of what was lost, I’ll also be able to invest in a comprehensive digital marketing software tool that will automate the programs I’ve created so that they are available online with a complementary mobile app. Investing in such will not only streamline the research endeavors but also afford opportunities to sell more books and publish three new books that I’m working on. One is a how-to guide for parents; the second is a second practice workbook for kids (I currently have the first out already) and the third being a professional development resource for teachers and child care directors.
WN: Share some advice you would give to an aspiring female entrepreneur
TR: Know Thyself girlfriend! Imagiread is my lifelong dream. I can’t think of a thing that makes me happier than reading with children. Understanding that has helped me to savor that feeling when things have gotten super rough, and I couldn’t afford basic necessities. I understood that through it all that I’d found my mission and my purpose but not without having to get to know who I am and what my expectations for being an entrepreneur, writer, educator and single mom were. Know that your skills are deserving of an opportunity to make a positive impact. Believe in your dreams with all of your heart; creating a life we are proud to live is what this whole thing is about. Find a support circle that shares the same values and learn to create fulfilling relationships with your network — it’ll benefit everyone involved.
Lastly, continue to seek. Life has a way of answering your prayers. Invest in your personal and professional growth while taking care of yourself so that you can progress with ease. Balance is the key. Oh and lastly-don’t be so hard on yourself. Perfection is what you believe it to be.
WN: If you have anything else to share, please do!
TR: Sure thing! I read an article just a few months ago about how many women feel as if they could accomplish more if they had professional mentors. I remember thinking how I, too, wish I had a female mentor to really connect to. Being chosen for the December 2018 qualifying grant is what I believe a win-win dream come true. Not one but a group of women championing for the success of women everywhere is indescribable. I’m so grateful to be a part. Thank you so much again!
***All the best to Tiffany as she continues her journey with Imagiread. Remember that we award at least 1 grant each month. If you’re interested in applying, get started today.
We believe in incredible people with amazing visions.
That was the foundation for our 12 candidates for the 2017 Amber Grant: Mom Made Peeks, ScriptoPro, Levity Products, Gabby Bows, aLoo, Yoga2Sleep, STEMed Academy, Mama Joy Foods, Pepper, Farm.Field.Sea, Omiga and WiGo Trips.
Congratulations to each and every one of you.
After careful and lengthy deliberation, we’ve come to a conclusion on the 2017 Amber Grant recipient ($2,500).
Congratulations to Sarah Olson, Founder of Levity Products. Please take a few minutes to read about Sarah’s impassioned motivation and mission.
WN: You earned a Qualification Grant back in January. Remind everyone of your backstory and mission with Levity Products.
Sarah: My middle son, Levi (5), was born with Spina Bifida. In his five years, he has had 15 surgeries! In 2016, he had 9 of them. It was a brutal year for all of us. Levi endured a lot of pain and infections from the device that had to be used to drain his bladder after every one of his surgeries. We ended up having to spend 60 nights total in the hospital that year, and the majority of it was due to the complication from the device he was forced to use.
By the beginning of April, he had already underwent 6 surgeries/procedures. He was so worn out and I couldn’t take it anymore. To watch my son in that amount of pain was maddening. I felt so helpless, as I would hold him screaming in pain. I was desperate to do something to help him.
By July, his 7th surgery was scheduled and I made an appointment with his Urologist to discuss what was going to happen. I remember sitting in that appointment and asking the doctor, “What else is there? We can’t use that device again. I can’t do it. I can’t watch him suffer like we have. It feels so inhumane! Please tell me there is something else we can use.” I will never forget the words he said next.
He said, “Sarah, there is nothing else. This is all there is to drain the bladder while Levi heals.” Then he jokingly said as he walked out the door, “if you want something different, you’re going to have to invent it.” In that moment, a light bulb went off. I couldn’t watch my son in pain anymore, so I thought, “well, I guess momma is going to invent something then.”
I have zero medical background and zero engineering skills. I was just a momma on a mission to help my baby. I had less than two months to come up with a device that could help him. One day I was thinking and praying about what to do and it hit me like a bolt from heaven. I had the idea. I asked a friend if he would help me bring my idea to life by helping me draw out dimensions to create a CAD for a 3D printer to print a prototype. We got it done in a matter of days and a couple weeks later, we had a prototype printed. I took it to Levi’s Urologist and said, “do you remember telling me that if I wanted something different that I would need to invent something?” He laughed and said yes. Then I pulled out my prototype and said, “So I invented something. Will you try it?”
He looked at me with a blank stare and said, “Sarah! You know I was joking right?” I replied, “I know you were, but I wasn’t. Will you please try it.” He tried it right there in the office and it worked. IT WORKED! He told me he would use it under one condition…I had to file for a patent, and then he would use it on Levi for his surgery that was 29 days away.
I scrambled and worked hard with another friend of mine to prepare and file a patent. 3 days before Levi went in for surgery, we successfully filed for our first provisional patent. What a rush of emotion. We completed what we set out to do and now we would put my device to the test on my own child. I remember waiting in the waiting room while Levi was in surgery, praying that it would work. I was praying that my device would do its job and help my son. Levi’s Urologist came out after surgery to update us on how everything went and the first words out of his mouth were, “IT’S WORKING!!” What took Levi 2 1/2 weeks to heal from in January of that year with the existing device now took Levi 1 observation night in the hospital. He went home and healed beautifully with my invention.
My original goal was to help my son, but my goal has changed. Now I’m on a mission to help children all over the globe feel relief from pain and infection and have a chance to live more independently. I’m a momma on a mission to help other mommas who feel as helpless as I did.
WN: What progress have you made since January?
Sarah: The device is being put through a New Product Development Process for medical devices frame work known as “Stage Gate” to make sure that the prototype I designed will be in compliance with the medical device industry requirements. This Stage Gate NPD frame work is a process comprised of well defined stages. Each stage has a specific purpose within the process. The stages we have completed in this last year are:
a) Conceptualization and Prototyping
b) Market segment Feasibility Study
c) IP protection and branding strategy
d) Raw Material Integration Process
e) Manufacturing Integration
f) Biocompatibility Testing in animals
We are now beginning:
g) Clinical Validation through a Phase II Clinical Trials in Humans
h) Commercialization Process split in 3 stages: i) Pre-Launch ii) Launch iii) Post-Launch
We have come a LONG way. We refuse to cut corners and are dedicated to creating a legitimate medical device recognized internationally as a device that has the potential to change the way children are treated in Urology.
WN: We know the Amber Grant funds will go towards clinical trials. How long do you anticipate that period taking?
Sarah: There are lots of variables to the length of time it can take. We expect anywhere between 1-2 years if we continue to stay on track and move forward the way we have been. Again, we are extremely dedicated to doing exactly what it takes to make the device safe and effective for kids. It’s a process, but a process we are very careful to complete well.
WN: How do you plan to monetize your device?
Sarah: We are in conversations with several straight catheters manufactures to execute a strategic alliance where we can speed up the market penetration process. My goal is to get the LECS to market as quickly as possible so that it can start helping kids the way it has helped my son.
WN: How is Levi?
Sarah: He is doing well. He will always have physical battles, but what matters most is that he’s mentally tough. He can’t control his body, but we teach him that he is able to control his mind and his attitude towards his condition. Let me tell you, Spina Bifida does not slow him down often. He lives with an incredible amount of pain a lot of the time, but you may never know it. He fights hard to turn his pain into power. He desperately wants to be just like any other 5 year old boy. He’s my hero.
WN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sarah: What I’ve accomplished could not have been possible without the incredible talent and genius of the team of people that I work with. They are incredibly gifted and have a heart for the mission of this project. They have an intense focus on giving back and making a difference on this planet with the talents they’ve been given and knowledge they’ve acquired from successfully taking other devices to market. People frequently comment on what I’ve done in inventing the LECS (Levi External Catheter Stabilizer), but I will whole heartedly admit that the main thing I focused on was surrounding myself with people that are far better than me. I’ve worked very hard to become what I’ve had to become to lead a project like this, but I’m grateful for a team that makes me look as good as they do. The entire Levity team deserves an enormous amount of credit for what has been accomplished. As a team, we will complete this mission and give hope to those who suffer as Levi did.
Last Friday, we shared our November Grant finalists.
As always, the WomensNet community made our decision a difficult one.
But today, we’re happy to put November Grant winner Lara Cornell, Founder and Owner of Anahata Collaborative, in the spotlight.
Continue on to read about her truly multidimensional business…
Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Founder/Owner Lara Cornell.
WN: How did Anahata Collaborative come about and what purpose does it serve?
LC: Anahata Collaborative came from my own personal journey into finding my heart centered career path. With a background in retail, management and international travel, I recently added the title of artist and wellness professional (with various wellness certifications) on top of it. Over the past couple years people started to ask me what I was going to do with all my new skills. My answer was always “I don’t know, but I know it’s going to be a space. Some sort of space for art and wellness to come together”. The vision for this space changed throughout the next couple years from a local maker retail shop, to a yoga studio, to an art studio… and eventually I realized it’s just that, a space. Anahata (which refers to the Heart Chakra in sanskrit) Collaborative was to be a space for art and wellness to blend together. After all, art is healing, and healing is art. This space would encourage collaboration, such as a photographer collaborating with a nutritionist and see what they come up with. Or a painter and yoga teacher. Or a writer and an energy worker. The combinations are as endless as the possibilities. Through collaboration we grow and we find new and unique ways to build our careers and reach out community. We aim to explore the intersection between art and wellness and bring our discovery out into the greater community through a variety of ways including “doing good” and giving from our Heart Chakra as well. Our goal is to encourage collaboration, discussion, discovery, and help heart centered entrepreneurs build their own businesses so they can show up to the world as their best selves and be able to make a difference.
WN: What type of response have you received from the community?
LC: My community has been incredible! I’ve been meeting so many amazing people whom I would never have met if I had not started this project. A lot of this is still in the infancy stage since we just opened this fall and we are still meeting and listening with our target audience to better understand their needs. I have begun partnering with non-profits in the area who support the arts, wellbeing, small business entrepreneurs and others. We had our first Local Maker Market pop-up shop this past week, which was a great success. I look forward to having more of these in the future! We are also expanding our collaborations in order to provide more business classes to our members as well as a speaker series for the upcoming year. We have opened up our venue to encourage more events such as Offbeat weddings, and corporate team building events (with offerings in art and wellness). It seems like every day there is a new idea (gallery shows, music series, women’s empowerment offerings, and more), and it’s been incredibly inspiring.
WN: Are there any other collaboratives in your area?
LC: Minneapolis is blessed to have an abundance of creative people and be a community conscious of health and wellbeing. There are many online groups, as well as groups which meet once a month or less, and an active arts district. Anahata Collaborative, however, is unique in that it encourages the blending of art and wellness and strives to bring them together, in addition to helping people in these fields build their businesses and be successful. We also aim to gather and collaborate on a weekly basis helping entrepreneurs keep accountable, inspired, and educated.
WN: Who would you consider your competition (if anyone)?
LC: Coworking spaces are becoming very popular in Minneapolis, but Anahata isn’t exactly a coworking space even if people are working in the space. It’s a true collaborative community with a large focus on helping our members and bringing them together, while doing good in the community.
WN: What are your plans for the grant funds and the future of Anahata Collaborative?
LC: With this grant we will be hosting a farm-to-table dinner for a select group of artists and wellness professionals. Anahata Collaborative will be teaming up with an art non-profit as well as a school of wellness to open up the discussion on the intersection of art and wellness. We will intentionally select different types of artist and different types of wellness professionals so we have a variety of skills and resources. What we want to uncover is how art and wellness intersect, how we can bring it out into the community, the benefits of blending these two fields together, and how to help entrepreneurs in these particular fields build their businesses (unique challenges, obstacles, needs, how they are similar, how they differ). After this dinner, with additional grant money, we would like to implement our findings. We foresee business classes agreed upon to be beneficial, community gatherings/events, and continued discussions/panels/presentations on this intersection through local museums and wellness schools which would also facilitate community outreach. If it permits, we’d really enjoy collaborating with some unique non-profits doing work pertaining to this particular intersection.
WN: What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
LC: Follow your heart. It’s going to be really hard, and bumpy, and you’re going to feel insane at times, but keep going. Your heart knows the way.
Thanks for reading, and a huge thank you to Lara for her time. If you’re interested in applying for the December Grant, get started today.
Congratulations to our October Qualification Grant finalists. Once again, this community has made our monthly decisions extremely difficult. And we’re so appreciative.
A special congratulations to the recipient of the October Qualification Grant, Jaqui McCarthy, Founder/CEO of WiGo Trips.
Jaqui took some time to respond to our interview via video. Her responses are available in text form as well.
If you’re interested in getting involved with WiGo Trips, join them for beta.
WN: What drove you to create WiGo Trips?
JM: In 2015, I was planning a trip to Paris, France. I posted about it on a group community on Facebook. I said, “Hey, does anyone want to go to Paris with me?” I had several people who said “Yeah, we want to go.” Six of us ended up going and we had the most incredible time ever.
One of the participants who joined us has a condition called cerebral palsy, and it made walking through the streets of Paris difficult. When we got back to the US he called me up and said, “I want to say thank you so much for putting this trip together. If it wasn’t for you and you all treating me like family I wouldn’t of had the experience I had. Thank you.” That in itself was not the reason we created WiGo Trips, but that had redefined what it meaned to travel for me. Everything. It just blew me away.
Fast forward four months and I was laid off from my full time job. So I thought ‘this will be my opportunity… I will go out into the world and do photo shoots… it will be amazing and that is how I will make my living.’
Well, life had other plans for me. I started my masters in research psychology, and I had discovered some new information. It sent me on an existential breakdown, and it put me on a crazy trajectory trying to find meaning and purpose in a world I didn’t think had any anymore. So what did I do? I traveled.
I started seeing these interactions, these trajectories happen between people that have never met before. And I knew right then that whatever that was I needed to create more of it. It wasn’t going to be enough to create a trip here or there — I had to create something that was going to set the whole world free.
Trying to figure out this whole thing, I realized the importance of connections. When we are done, when we are all gone… what’s going to be left behind? Memories that we created and the people that we made those memories with. That’s how we are going to live on, and so the idea for WiGo Trips came to be from there.
I thought: ‘What if we create this platform, this place… where other travelers, like myself, are able to create these trips and post them on a marketplace?’ Other travelers are able to see the trips and request to request that trip with me, and experience it with me, and I can make a living doing that. Engaging with other people, engaging with them, and showing them different parts of the world…
WN: Discuss the process and timeline of developing the app
JM: This started last year, and it’s been quite the process. I am not a technical founder, but I did end up teaching myself how to code along the way. I created the first and second prototype.
I’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to find my cofounder Lonnie Laub, who has been leading our technology build with our developers. He’s just been an absolutely incredible business partner to have on board.
WN: Where are your marketing efforts focused?
JM: Our marketing efforts are completely gross rooted. Right now we have a few hundred beta testers. We were actually able to acquire them through spending $50.
The overall approach is social media, engagement and interacting with our fellow travelers.
WN: How will you monetize the business?
JM: WiGo Trips is what’s called a double sided platform, so our travelers represent both the demand side and the supply side. Travelers who create trips are able post the trips — the supply side. On the demand side, other travelers from around the wold who are looking for unique and novel trips can see those trips, and request to join them. The organizer approves, and then they would pay the organizer on the platform and pay a fee on top of what the organizer asks.
When a traveler sees a trip, they are going to see a bundled price with the organizers asking price, which we do not control. (It’s completely controlled by the organizer.) The percentage is how we make money.
WN: What are your plans for the grant money?
JM: The grant funds will go to app development.
WN: Share some advice you would give to an aspiring female entrepreneur
JM: Own your inner alpha. You are in this startup journey for a reason… and that’s because you are a mission-driven woman. Don’t ever be ashamed of that. Don’t ever settle for anything less than that. Own it, and wear it with pride.