Meet the Lady Whose Company Was Born From Her Pregnancy


Founder, BornFit

Lisa Welch, founder BornFitFor Featured Lady Lisa Welch, finding hip, comfortable maternity fitness wear wasn’t a challenge she anticipated with her first pregnancy. As a mother who remained active while pregnant, Lisa knew this was a niche that needed attention. She founded BornFit in 2007 with the mission to create a fitness line that would make women feel inspired, empowered and confident. Since its launch three years ago, BornFit has been featured by media outlets including The Today Show, ABC 7 Chicago, Good Morning Arizona, Fox Houston, NBC Houston, South Jersey Mom, Oxygen, Pregnancy, Mothering, Women’s Running, Shape, Women’s Health, Walk! Magazine and Today’s Parent.

“What I quickly discovered was the need for quality and stylish clothing for active moms – not just those who are expecting,” Lisa says. “I wanted to create products that not only made women look good, but also made them feel strong, confident and inspired.”

Armed with her idea, a marketing degree and no experience in retail or manufacturing, Lisa spoke with people in the industry for advice. “I surrounded myself with those who had more knowledge than me,” she explains. ”I’m a determined person. I always think, ‘How can I make this happen?’”

Knowing what she’d want in maternity active wear, Lisa developed a line that was stretchy, moisture-wicking, didn’t look like pregnancy clothing and could easily be worn long after the baby was born. She introduced BornFit Maternity with an informational website and a maternity collection only available in stores. “Surprisingly, once the line launched we quickly discovered that women wanted more than maternity active wear, and we could provide it. We were getting such great feedback on our technical performance and quality garments,” Lisa says. “Women wanted clothes that had the same, comfortable fit in an all-new fitness collection.”

“They wanted it for running, biking, tennis, yoga and everything else. So although we initially designed the line to suit pregnant women, we evolved and launched the fitness line.”

As a result of BornFit’s successful debut, Lisa expanded to a full active wear collection eighteen months later and added the ability to buy direct from the website. Today, the company offers fitness and maternity fitness apparel for running, golf, tennis, yoga and cycling. BornFit’s tops, jackets, pants, shorts, capris and signature skorts (a combination 14” long skirt with no-chafe undershorts) come in a variety of styles and colors.

sunlight_tee_boxedThe company name, BornFit, came to Lisa while she was running. “That’s my alone time when no one is pulling at me,” she says. “It’s when God allows me to listen. Ninety-five percent of the time, ideas come to me when I’m running.”

“BornFit reflects the idea that all of us are truly born fit, it’s in all of us,” Lisa says. “It’s about getting back to that core and implementing a fitness lifestyle.” BornFit was founded on the solid belief that a strong body produces a confident spirit. Lisa explains, “When we feel confident, anything is possible!”

BornFit experienced a period of transition when the person with whom Lisa shared business responsibilities decided to leave. “We had things split fifty-fifty, so when she left it created a lot of change,” Lisa says. “I absorber her half of the responsibilities, in addition to my own. It’s not easy growing and running a company, but now I’m managing many more areas at once. But I like to think there’s always a silver lining.”

Lisa’s vision for BornFit is to reach as many women as she can domestically and internationally to make them feel good about themselves. “Fitness is a foundation, it affects every aspect of our lives. Your first 10K race leads to the confidence to go back to school and earn that degree,” she says. “Life is like fitness, you take it one day at a time.”

What sets BornFit apart from other fitness apparel brands is that their active wear is completely designed by women for women. Lisa says, “Also, our focus is completely on the clothing. We’re not a shoe company that happens to manufacture a line of apparel.”

In the end, Lisa believes it’s all about attitude. “When you love what you do, it’s really not work at all. It’s about passion,” she says. “My passion is not to sell as much clothing as possible. It’s about getting women to exercise, to stay fit. So it’s the movement behind the message that’s most important.”

What we learned from Lisa: “As moms we need to give ourselves a break.”

Say Thanks
“Show gratitude and acknowledge that you don’t get to where you are all by yourself.”

Get Going
“If you have an idea, just start! Jump right in. Don’t get caught up in analysis paralysis.”

Family First
“Balance is a really tricky word. BornFit hasn’t grown as fast as it could because my family is my priority.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Susan Gregg Koger

Meet the Lady Who’s an Expert on Love, Marriage and the Baby Carriage

Carley RONEY

Co-Founder, CCO, The Knot

Carley Roney, Co-Founder The KnotFeatured Lady Carley Roney started The Knot with three partners after recognizing an opportunity to modernize the old-fashioned, white glove wedding industry. Since its launch in 1996, The Knot has become the Internet’s most trafficked one-stop wedding solution with over 3.4 million unique visitors a month and more than 125 million monthly page views. As the country’s best modern wedding and lifestyle expert, Carley helped develop TODAY’s interactive wedding planning series “TODAY Ties The Knot” and appears each year as the series’ expert. She has been on <i>Oprah, The View, LIVE! With Regis & Kelly, The Early Show, E!, CNN, Inside Edition, and The FOX News Report, as well as featured in Vogue, Elle, Glamour, InStyle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal</i> and <i>USA Today</i>.

Carley was speaking at the Ladies Who Launch Global Conference in New York City on November 8 – 9, 2010.

“The bridal world was outdated, cluttered and chaotic. Bridal magazines hadn’t changed in 20 years and weren’t in touch with modern brides,” Carley says of her decision to start The Knot with her husband, David Lui, and two others. Recalling feelings of frustration when planning her wedding to David in 1993, Carley knew the The Knot’s time had come. “There were no central resources and no etiquette for modern couples. There wasn’t any information on planning a wedding with divorced parents, multicultural weddings, or how to pay for a wedding yourself.”

The Knot launched with funds from strategic partners and seed money – $1.7 million from a venture arm of AOL. “We’ve always been extremely careful about using our money wisely and that’s what made The Knot, Inc. ride through the highs and lows of the economy,” Carley says.

One of those lows occurred in April 2000 when the dot com bubble burst right after The Knot, Inc. went public. “We were losing about $9 million a year and had about $5 million in revenue,” Carley says. “We were close to being profitable, but then delisted.” She admits that financing in the first half of The Knot’s existence was a major challenge. “We had a continuous line of near death experiences, but through persistence we were able to overcome the challenge successfully.”

The Knot earned more recognition when a TODAY producer called Carley to discuss partnering for an interactive wedding series. “I still remember having a brainstorming meeting in the basement of the NBC studios,” Carley says. Eleven years later, is the cornerstone of “TODAY Ties the Knot” – the number one wedding series on national morning TV.

Carley and David pride themselves on listening to their customers, so when they noticed many of The Knot’s brides coming back to the site to chat as newlyweds, Carley created four message boards dedicated to newly married life. The web traffic exploded. “That’s when we knew we needed to create another brand for life beyond the wedding, and was born in 2005,” she explains. “Now we have The Nest magazine which is distributed four times a year nationwide, and two books, The Nest Newlywed Handbook and The Nest Home Design Handbook.”

Knowing that after love and marriage comes the baby carriage, Carley felt there was a huge market for The Knot to create a site for first-time moms that was down-to-earth, local and ultimately, fun. Inspired by the birth of her daughter, Carley launched a web community called “Now, we have The Bump in magazine form, a Facebook application called ‘Mommyhood by The Bump,’, the #1 website for moms looking for breastfeeding advice and local lactation consultants and, which has the best local listings as voted by real moms in twenty top cities around the country.” Carley also just published her first-ever baby book called The Baby Bump.

Carley’s ultimate vision for The Knot is to be the world’s best resource for weddings, pregnancy and everything in between. “We also want to be the blueprint for the media company of the twenty-first century. A brand that can live in any medium, that’s multi-platform and multi-revenue,” she explains.

What we learned from Carley: “Don’t be prideful. You will have some humbling moments, but don’t be ‘too good’ for anything when you’re getting started…and even when you’ve made it.”

Give It Up

“Be willing to make sacrifices. It will come in the form of free time, money, your social life and friends. Once you have your feet on solid ground, you can regain some.”

Clear Cut Roles

“Divide and conquer. You must be willing to let go and trust your partner. You can’t do everything, and certainly won’t be efficient or effective if you do.”

Mission Accomplished

“One of our early investors told us, ‘We didn’t invest in you to be number two, we want you to be number one.’ You have to declare victory over something no matter how small it is. This will help you clarify and focus your mission.”

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This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.
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Susan Gregg Koger

Meet the Lady Who Went From Weather Girl to Covering the World.


Award-winning television journalist, best-selling author, motivational
speaker, inventor, entrepreneur –

Joan Lunden Featured Lady Joan Lunden, one of America’s most recognizable and trusted TV personalities, built her career looking at things differently. From her days as a female pioneer in the news world and ascent into early morning network television to most recently offering women’s wellness retreats, launching a child safety product and introducing her home goods line, this former co-host of Good Morning America believes in the possibilities of an idea.

Joan, an award-winning television journalist, best-selling author, motivational speaker, inventor, entrepreneur and mother of seven, will be a speaker at the Ladies Who Launch Global Conference in New York on November 8– 9, 2010.

Before Joan paved the way the way for female broadcast journalists and became the longest-running host on early morning television, she was a 21 year-old college grad intending to work in the business world. That is, until a family friend encouraged her to explore TV news. With the Federal Communications Commission putting pressure on media companies to hire women in the early 1970s, Joan called a local Sacramento station and asked for an interview. Although her on-camera presence impressed the news director, he didn’t have an available position. However, the weatherman saw her audition and offered her the opportunity to be…a weather girl.

“Weather reporting was uninteresting to me but I had the good sense to say, ‘Yes,’” explains Joan. “There were no females and the industry needed smart, savvy and self-confident women.”

“My career afforded me the opportunity to cover some amazing, challenging and scary stories, like jumping out of a plane, climbing the Tetons and being at the controls of an F-18,” she says. “There were times when I’d leave my driveway in the morning, and think to myself, ‘I’m on my way to do what?’”

Joan quickly rose through the ranks at the station, which led her to leave California for a position at WABC New York and eventually become co-host of Good Morning America in 1980 – a role she held for almost 20 years. Although Joan was initially given the softer home and family beat to cover while the hard-hitting news went to her male co-host, during her tenure at GMA she reported from 26 countries, covered four presidents, five Olympics and two royal weddings.

“In the early years, I took the assignments they gave me and made them shine,” she says. “Actually, covering those stories on parenting, health and wellness have very much shaped my career.”

Since leaving GMA, Joan focused many of her projects on sharing wellness information and encouraging people, especially women, to take charge of their health and happiness. One such venture is Camp Reveille, a wellness getaway held in the Sebago Lake region of southern Maine for the past four years. Defined as “a wake-up call,” the program Joan developed allows women to energize their spirits, jump start a fitness program, connect with other ladies, renew sense of self and learn the tools needed to achieve a healthier balance in their lives.

“I saw a unique category that wasn’t being offered in the marketplace, so I created a new opportunity for women to travel to a nurturing and comfortable environment devoid of criticism,” Joan says. “Camp Reveille is a place where women motivate and inspire each other.”

KinderkordA big proponent of family, like many parents Joan knew the challenges of staying connected to her two sets of young twins while out in public. Knowing that it can only take a second for a child to vanish and not thrilled with the products available to keep kids close, Joan and her husband Jeff Konigsberg invented their own. Joan says, “We knew there had to be a better way.” After a year of designing, developing, testing and manufacturing, the couple introduced KinderKord, a retractable, wrist-to-wrist hands-free connection that keeps a child physically attached to an adult without the stigma of a leash or harness.

When it was time, Joan called the Babies-R-Us headquarters and got an appointment to show KinderKord to the buyers. “Jeff and I were there with 40 other people also hoping to sell their product,” Joan says. “We had 30 minutes to pitch KinderKord. They bought it and we launched two years ago.”

Adding to Joan’s entrepreneurial pursuits aimed at making women’ lives easier, in May she debuted her home goods collection on QVC. Joan Lunden Home represents luxury, style and comfort at an affordable price point and each bedding collection is inspired by Joan’s travels during her 30-year career as a journalist. “QVC approached me to launch my line on their channel,” she says. “Why QVC? I’ve made my living on television, so this was the perfect choice. Plus, QVC really knows its customers.” Next year, Joan Lunden Home will add throws, towels and tabletop accessories.

Park AvenueUnlike celebrities who just license their name to products, Joan has been very involved with the design and production of her home goods line. “I wanted to align myself with a good manufacturer that uses quality materials that I can stand behind,” she says. “I don’t have to be as hands-on as I am, but it’s a lot more fulfilling for me in the end.”

A multifaceted career woman, Joan’s best-selling books include Healthy Cooking, Healthy LivingA Bend in the Road is Not the End of the Road, Wake Up Calls and Growing Up Healthy. She also has an exercise video, Workout America, a skincare line, Resurgence by Murad Skin Care, and hosts Lifetime’s Heath Corner on Sunday mornings.

What we learned from Joan: “If you want to be in the game, just say YES and then figure out how to do it.”

Just Imagine
“One of the most important traits a person can have is to find within themselves the ability to be open to possibilities. Most people greatly limit themselves and don’t see the possibilities in front of them.”

Decorating Made Simpler
“I’ve developed Joan Lunden Home to help make life a little bit easier today’s woman – so that she can have style in her home and still have time for herself.”

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This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Susan Gregg Koger

Meet the Lady Who Can Tell You What’s Up Down There

Dream It! Launch It! Live It!

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Dr. Lissa RANKIN

Founder and Pink Director of Mojo – Owning Pink

Lissa RankinWhen Featured Lady Dr. Lissa Rankin experienced what she dubbed “Her Perfect Storm” in January 2006, it threw her into a tailspin. Already unhappy at the busy San Diego Ob/Gyn practice where she was a physician, Lissa quit her job and moved her family to the country to live a more balanced, creative life. Today, Lissa is the Founder of Owning Pink, a thriving online community and social network she launched in 2009 that helps redefine health from a “lack of illness” to vitality, wholeness and owning all the parts of your authentic self. Earlier this year, Lissa opened the Owning Pink Center in Mill Valley, California and her new book, What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend comes out in September. In addition to being a doctor and author, Lissa is a professionally represented artist. She is also one of the featured speakers at Ladies Who Launch’s Seattle Global Conference on November 7-9, 2010.

What was Lissa’s “Perfect Storm?” Imagine if all the following events happened in a two week period: giving birth, the family dog dies, your brother goes into liver failure from an adverse reaction to an antibiotic and your father passes away. Combine the shock of those occurrences with Lissa’s already growing dissatisfaction with her job and general unhappiness and you have the makings of a major life change. As Lissa describes it, “I lost my mojo.”

“In the busy group practice, I was double-booked every 15 minutes, which gave me 7.5 minutes per patient, which I didn’t like,” she confesses. “I’m a nurturer and the system was hardening me. I vowed I’d quit but I was the breadwinner for my family.”

What's Up Down There So, Lissa took a “Pleap” (a pink leap of faith) and decided to leave medicine completely. She and her husband sold the house, liquidated their assets and moved to the San Francisco area with their daughter. Lissa then spent two years focusing on her art and writing. While she enjoyed this time away from the medical field, Lissa still felt a need to serve others.

“You can quit your job, but you can’t quit your calling,” she says. “I wanted to go back to practicing medicine, but do it on my own terms.” Those terms meant integrating all the parts of her fragmented life – creativity, health, relationships, spirituality, sexuality and interaction with the planet – to finally become whole.

In the fall of 2008, Lissa had the idea for Owning Pink, but back then it was for a teen gynecology website. She joined the four-week Ladies Who Launch Incubator Intensive Workshop in Monterey to gain clarity, support, inspiration and momentum about her concept. Ultimately, Owning Pink was launched in 2009 as a blog chronicling Lissa’s journey back to herself.

“All my coaches told me, ‘You need to be more focused. You need to pick one topic and become an expert.’ But I was just writing a blog and I had no idea where it would go,” Lissa says. “I did feel that if I just got out of Owning Pink’s way, it would show me what it was to become.”

Within three months of going live, Owning Pink gained hundreds of thousands of readers all looking to get their mojo back, live authentically, serve others and be loved. Lissa had also returned to practicing medicine. “I got offered a job in Marin County to join an integrative medical center, which I did for a year,” she says. “I learned that health is more than the wellness of the physical body. It also involves vitality of the mind, body and spirit.”

Lissa relaunched the Owning Pink website and opened the Owning Pink Center in 2010. The facility gave Lissa the freedom to practice the kind of medicine that she wanted to provide. The wellness professionals at the Owning Pink Center include a naturalopathic doctor, acupuncturists, fertility specialists, nutritionists, psychologists, life coaches and a Reiki master.

Described as “a community of women dedicated to celebrating all things feminine, successful, sexy and pleasurable,” Owning Pink draws not only those looking to rediscover their mojo, but also wounded healers. “It’s interesting that I started attracting a lot of doctors. They’re looking for a way to heal the profession,” Lissa says. “Those San Diego doctors I worked with lost their mojo, but they don’t know it.”

What we learned from Lissa: “Have faith in yourself and put everything on the line.”

Mission First
“Money is always the hard thing, but when you put your mission first, that works. If your mission is pure, the money will come. Money can’t be the driving force.”

Business Direction
“Let your business become what it was meant to be. Get out of your own way and let your business guide you… I created Owning Pink, but it’s not mine. The community owns it.”

Live and Love
“Live fully, and love ourselves and our girly parts.”

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This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Meet Kyle Smitley, Barley & Birch

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Kyle Smitley

President , Barley & Birch

Kyle Smitley, Barley & BirchIf you were a recent college graduate with a liberal arts degree in environmental science, philosophy, chemistry and Spanish, what would you do? Start an organic children’s clothing line, of course! Twenty-five year old Featured Lady Kyle Smitle did just that, launching Barley & Birch in 2009 during her first year of law school. Boasting favorable mentions on Daily Candy and Cool Mom Picks, and popular with celebrity moms like Jessica Alba and Sheryl Crow, Barley and Birch has appeared in OK! and Us Weekly. In 2009, Barley and Birch earned $500,000 in annual revenue. This year, the Oceanside, California company is on track to reach $1.5 million. Kyle was also featured on Inc. Magazines’s Top 30 Under 30.

Growing up, Kyle wanted to be a trainer at Sea World; however, after hanging up her cap and gown she headed to Washington, DC for an unpaid internship with a federal agency focusing on historic preservation. As a side job she started doing scientific research consulting for a high-end clothing boutique. Kyle explains, “I just knew I wanted to stay out of a cubicle in a corporate environment.”

What the DePauw University grad uncovered through her research was alarming. “There were a lot of businesses in the organic children’s clothing market that were outright lying,” Kyle says. “They claimed to be eco-friendly, great for the world and safe for baby, but that wasn’t ever the full truth.”

Determined to make a difference, and at age twenty-two, Kyle decided to start her own organic children’s clothing line, Barley & Birch. “I wanted to give parents and children the safest and most environmentally friendly clothing possible,” she says. “I also wanted to use any profits that that business created to help improve the global community.” So in 2008 she postponed law school for a year and, with no apparel industry experience, built her business structure. “I saw there was a gap in the market and wanted to bring attention to this issue, so I decided to launch. It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Kyle says.

Barley and Birch

Despite having flawless credit, Kyle was turned down at every bank she approached. No one would lend the budding young entrepreneur the $10,000 she needed, until she found Accion, a microfinancing organization. “What I liked was that the interest I paid went to funding other loans and not to a large corporate bank,” Kyle says.

With her start-up capital in-hand, she hired a web designer and worked with a children’s clothing designer to produce the t-shirts, onesies and pants. Next Kyle embarked on a major marketing campaign, sending 500 hand-signed letters with sales sheets to environmentally conscious stores. “I felt like, ‘We’re so cool, we’ll sell out in 48 hours!’” Kyle says. When that didn’t happen, she tried a “desperate attempt to sell inventory” by reaching out to mom bloggers. Soon, moms were asking for the brand in boutiques. Kyle recalls it was a crazy first four months, because of how fast Barley & Birch took off and that she was starting her first year of law school. By the end of 2009, Barley & Birch was in over 30 stores.

As a result of her internship experience, Kyle knew exactly the kind of fabrics she wanted to use. Barley & Birch’s clothing is 100% certified organic cotton and dyed with water-based inks so it doesn’t pollute the air and water with chemicals. Because the clothes are produced domestically, the company does not contribute to the massive amount of carbon associated with trans-ocean shipping. Socially, Kyle gives at least 15% of the profits to a variety of organizations working all over the world to improve the lives of others. Barley & Birch’s contributions have funded everything from educating rural farmers on sustainable agriculture to providing shelter to victims of abuse.

With six people now on staff and poised for rapid growth, Kyle’s vision for Barley & Birch is clear. E-commerce on the website will be available this summer. In the fall, the company will expand into bedding. She eventually wants to open store fronts and evolve into a major lifestyle company. Even with a million dollar business, Kyle remains committed to completing law school. “I always had the goal to become a lawyer,” she explains. “I want to find a way to use my brain to help others.”

What we learned from Kyle: “My dad told me, ‘You really need to look and plan out exactly how much money you need.’ I didn’t listen, started too low and ended up working crazy hours. Whatever you think you’ll need, double it.”

Proceed with Caution
“As a young entrepreneur with no experience, I was a sitting duck. There were people that either didn’t take me seriously or wanted to take my money.”

Be Aware
“Do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Meet Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larsen, Vibrant Technologies, Holland Center and St. Croix Solutions

Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson

Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson

Founder and CEO,
Vibrant Technologies, Holland Center and St. Croix Solutions

Did you ever “play Dairy Queen” as a child, taking turns serving and receiving delicious, imaginary ice cream treats? Featured Lady Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson did and her entrepreneurial aspirations were apparent early on – she always declared herself owner and boss, telling her friends and sisters what to do.

As an adult, Jennifer launched four companies in a myriad of industries ranging from health and wellness and computer hardware to pediatric mental rehabilitation services and information technology. Jennifer’s Minneapolis-based companies include Momentum Pilates Studio, Vibrant Technologies, Holland Center and St. Croix Solutions. She was named to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” and has appeared in Fortune Small Business, The New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, Computer World, Inc. Magazine, and on and CNN Money.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in marketing, psychology and speech communications, Jennifer sold educational software until opening Momentum Pilates Studio in 1996. Two years later, along with her husband Dave, Jennifer started Vibrant Technologies, a company offering refurbished IT hardware equipment for resale worldwide. They financed Vibrant Technologies by tapping into their savings and selling their house and a car. The Larsons moved into Dave’s grandfather’s house and launched the business from his basement.

“I learned that a lot of people aren’t willing to sacrifice their quality of living to go for it,” Jennifer says. “We were.” Vibrant Technologies topped $5.1 million in sales in year one, even as the dot-com boom waned.

In 2002, despite growing her Pilates studio’s annual revenue to $500,000, Jennifer closed its doors after her son, Cade, was diagnosed with autism. This event led Jennifer to found her third venture, Holland Center, a pediatric habilitation treatment center for children with autism.

Frustrated that she couldn’t find the care that Cade needed, Jennifer opened a different kind of autism facility. She wanted to offer the safest environment with the best therapy possible for the most sensitive immune system kids, like Cade. Holland Center was built in 2003 with chemical-free resources, providing a non-toxic environment. The paints, floor, adhesives and materials were all selected to be the least toxic possible. No pesticides or herbicides are used at the location and all cleaning products are non-toxic. Holland Center is also gluten, casein and peanut-free. Also unique to Holland Center is its investment in the Board Certified Behavior Analysts on staff as supervisors, a level of care other centers don’t have.

Located in Minnetonka, Holland Center is one of the only facilities to offer comprehensive treatment that includes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)/Verbal Behavior (VB), speech, occupational therapy, music and medical treatments with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. “I wanted to provide what I felt was the best for my son. There wasn’t a facility locally that offered it, and I knew other parents would want the same,” explains Jennifer. “I saw a need for the kids and knew I could help by opening Holland.”

In conjunction with the not-for-profit Holland Center, Jennifer also started a 501c3 nonprofit called C.A.D.E. (Children with Autism Deserve Education), which is named after her son. C.A.D.E. raises money for local children’s therapy and medical treatments, donating the proceeds to various clinics around the Twin Cities.

Less than a year after starting Holland Center, the serial entrepreneur debuted another company, St. Croix Solutions, an Information Technology solutions provider delivering innovative, cost-effective and manageable corporate IT solutions. “I saw a need with clients for a solution provider that could offer services, new hardware and software. I had the right staff, and it was the right timing,” explains Jennifer.

Jennifer recognizes that actively running three companies is a big challenge. “It takes a lot of commitment, time and organization to be effective for three entirely different businesses,” she says. “I know we have a winning work ethic.”

What we learned from Jennifer: “Understand the risks and go for it. A true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”

Setbacks and Opportunity

“All my organizations have had setbacks at some point. I once told someone that I’m on a trampoline and the harder you push me down the higher I’ll bounce. Setbacks can help you re-focus and challenge you to become even better.”

Know and Understand

“I lead the team by being part of the team. I know and have done every job here at some level. I lead by understanding their job, giving solid feedback and empowering my staff to want to make a difference.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning

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Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning

Julie Azuma

Founder and CEO, Different Roads to Learning

Featured Lady Julie Azuma and her husband adopted a beautiful four month-old girl, Miranda Cho Hee, from Seoul, Korea right after the 1988 Olympics. Over the next several years their daughter missed development milestones and her learning progressed slowly. It wasn’t until Miranda was six years old that her parents finally received the diagnosis: autism. Julie struggled to find the right tools to support Miranda’s development, so she created makeshift materials that were never quite right. Julie, who previously worked in the fashion industry, saw an opportunity to start a business to help other families while working at home, close to Miranda. Determined, she searched stores and catalogs for suitable materials, purchased samples and tracked down distributors worldwide. In 1995, with an online store offering 30 applied behavior analysis (ABA) products, Julie launched Different Roads to Learning. Today, Julie’s company offers over 450 items carefully selected to support the autism community.

Julie grew up within a small community of Japanese American families relocated to Chicago’s South Side from World War II Internment Camps. Julie acknowledges that there was nothing in her background that indicated she’d commit to starting a business. Actually, Julie wanted to work in a large corporate setting. She says that she barely knew what the word entrepreneur meant and didn’t have the confidence to start anything on her own.

However, that all changed with the revelation that Miranda was autistic. When Julie conceived the idea for Different Roads to Learning, she didn’t know she had a winning idea because no one approved of the company or was willing to support her business plan. She even asked three people to partner with her because she wanted “a hand to hold,” but everyone turned her down.

The mompreneur persevered.

Julie financed her business with small amounts of cash and a credit card. She bought some inventory, got supplies and found a talented website person who didn’t charge an arm and a leg. Julie says, “That was a real coup to find someone in 1995 who had actually designed a website. People were just learning the technology at that time.” The total expenditures for her first year were around $40,000.

When she started her Manhattan-based business, Julie thought she might be able to make $30,000 a year. In 2009, Different Roads to Learning’s revenue will be around $2.25 million. Julie has been featured by MSNBC, WE Magazine and Altra Magazine, and appeared on Inc. Magazine’s 2005 list of the 26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs (along with Richard Branson and Michael Dell).

On the Different Roads to Learning site, Julie offers everything from basic flashcards, books and timers to advanced social skills tools that will support parents at every step of their child’s program. Products are available online and via a catalog. Julie and her team provide personal attention and lightning-fast service to every one of their customers. Julie also started DRL Books, the publishing arm of Different Roads to Learning.

The success of her company is very validating, but what has meant the most to Julie is when a parent says that their child is speaking or developing and they attribute it to Different Roads to Learning.

Moving forward, Julie is seeking to branch out with the Different Roads to Learning catalog. She is considering whether to focus completely on a young learners’ model, thereby selling more products for early intervention, or concentrate on young adults or adults diagnosed with autism. According to Julie this is a growing population that needs age-appropriate materials and support but without educational funding, the market for these products is small.

Julie has been honored by the Eden II Agency and the Elija Foundation in New York. Both of these honors have meant a lot to Julie because “it is an acknowledgement of our autism community. This wide and varied community dealing with autism means so much to me.”

What we learned from Julie: “Understand how a profit margin works. I find that many women do not price well to include dealers and are taking away from the margins that they could be earning. Most women also undersell themselves and/or their product. They should research the market and work out their numbers.”

Where the Customers Are

Marketing has been my biggest challenge so far. It’s just tough some times to figure out where the market is. There were LISTSERVS a while back, now it’s Facebook. We put out a postal catalog that helps our business enormously but we do get a lot of business online. Reaching out to new customers in new ways is a challenge that we face every day. Technology is constantly changing.”

It’s a Wonderful Life

“Being an entrepreneur is beyond my wildest dreams or goals. I had no idea that I could create a company and find an audience, a customer base, and they approve of us. It takes a little courage but if you have an idea and a true passion, it’s worth the effort to create your own entity in your own style. It’s an act of bravery that is within you.”

Group Decision

“We have a small group of people working in an open room. When we hire, I ask others to sit in on the first interview to make sure that there will be a good fit. We also take about three to four months to decide if a new employee is working out. If we feel it’s not working out sooner than that time period, it’s easier to let them go before you love them too much.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Julie Dix and Danielle Ayotte, Taggies

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Julie Dix and Danielle Ayotte, Taggies, Inc.
Founders Taggies, Inc

One day, Julie Dix noticed that her infant was more interested in the satin tags on toys than the actual toy itself, so she created a soft blanket with tags along all four sides. The moms in her child’s playgroup all wanted one, including Danielle Ayotte, who suggested they start a business together. When the blankets sold out in two hours at their first craft show, Julie and Danielle knew they had a winning idea and Taggies, Inc. was formed. The family of Taggies products, which now includes toys and apparel as well as blankets, is based on scientific data published in The New York Times Science section proving the calming effects of security blankets on infants. Lauded by caregivers and parents, Taggies has been featured extensively in a variety of print and electronic media, including, USA Today, Time Magazine, Entrepreneur, People, Parenting, Fit Pregnancy and Women’s World.

Julie Dix was a stay-at-home mom with a master’s degree in elementary education who had taught school for ten years. Danielle Ayotte was also a stay-at-home mom with a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature with experience working for a home health care company. Neither one had entrepreneurial aspirations until Taggies. Julie says, “An idea presented itself and we took it.”

Using personal funds from their savings accounts to launch Taggies, Julie and Danielle made the satin-tagged blankets in Julie’s basement and sold them for profit right on the spot. They sunk all the money back into the company, fostering its growth from those profits. In addition to participating in craft fairs, the women handpicked local shops to sell Taggies and were excited to hear from owners that they “hadn’t seen anything sell this fast since Beanie Babies.” Still, Julie and Danielle paced themselves and the business, taking things slow and doing it on their own. After all, they were juggling preschool children along with running Taggies.

After a few years of Taggies sustaining itself and growing solely through its own profits, it was time to expand. Around Taggies’ third year, Julie and Danielle sought financial support from a local bank, signing the credit line application “with great anxiety.” Throughout ten years of continual growth, they moved from Julie’s basement into five different locations and finally in their current office location they are outsourcing the product manufacturing. Taggies is still a privately held company.

Ironically, the choice to obtain a loan created Julie and Danielle’s biggest business challenge – managing Taggies’ growth; specifically, having enough inventory and staff to keep up with the demand. They have expanded their business at their own pace, being very selective about where to offer Taggies, often saying “no” if the opportunity didn’t promote Taggies’ premium brand status as a top floor company.

Being mothers themselves, Julie and Danielle have always made sure their products exceed all applicable safety standards set by the regulatory bodies in the United States, Canada, Europe and all territories where their products are sold.

Julie and Danielle are also committed to giving back through Taggies’ Tags of Love™ Charitable Giving Program. When a customer purchases an item from the Tags of Love™ section of the online catalog, Taggies matches it with another item, donating both to a facility or program of Taggies’ choice.

Julie and Danielle’s ultimate vision for Taggies is to continue their success, grow the company and expand globally to reach new markets. Admittedly, they “still have a lot of little hands to reach,” but the duo is ready for the challenge. After all, Taggies speaks a universal language.

What we learned from Julie and Danielle: “It’s important to keep your eye on the big picture and not get consumed by the stress of the moment. Always know your big goal at the end of the day. Entrepreneurs can get really muddled down with day-to-day tasks. After all, in any given day an entrepreneur can be writing checks, cleaning toilets and making sales calls.”

On Being Entrepreneurs

“It’s not about the money. For us, being entrepreneurs is about the creativity and challenge of bringing a quality product to market.”

Ask, Learn and Grow

“We’ve been fortunate to be able to make strategic decisions and had the luxury of growing slowly. Part of that was learning about intellectual property, such as copyrights, trademarks and patents. Today that’s an important part of business. We had to learn everything as we went along, so ask for help when you have to. Leverage your networks.”

When Recalls Happen

“A few years ago there were a number of recalls happening for toys and children’s products. There were many concerned parents out there. We always have a focus on safety, and we’ve done a lot that wasn’t required of us. This conscious, sincere commitment to quality and our customers’ kids’ well-being has established us as a trusted brand.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Ricki Lake

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Actress, Host, Birth Advocate, Documentarian, Author

Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, the documentarians behind the critically-acclaimed film The Business of Being Born and authors of Your Best Birth, will exclusively preview clips of their new film on as a webisode series. Beginning on July 6th, 2009, the series will feature never-before-seen interviews from Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington Melissa Joan Hart, Alyson Hannigan, Laili Ali, Kellie Martin, Sarah Wayne Callies, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Joely Fisher and others, discussing their personal birth experiences. Crawford’s birth story will begin the series, airing over four weeks and culminating with an online chat with Crawford on The other celebrity stories will immediately follow.

The new film, titled My Best Birth and scheduled for release this fall, is a new educational video that will further explore the American maternity care system, while providing women with more in-depth information about their childbirth options; information not covered in Lake and Epstein’s previous projects.

“After releasing The Business of Being Born and Your Best Birth, Abby and I started receiving numerous requests from parents and parents-to-be yearning for additional information, which lead to the launch of our social networking site,, last month” said Lake. “Since launching the site, we’ve seen how powerful and healing the sharing of birth stories can be for many parents. This demand spearheaded the new film and gave us the idea to ask celebrities to share their very personal birth stories.”

About Ricki

Actress, producer, filmmaker and author Ricki Lake has reinvented herself at every stage of her 20 year career. Lake has gone from starring in the 80s classic Hairspray to hosting the long-running Ricki Lake talk show for 11 years—while continuing to star in feature films and appear in television projects. Lake has again evolved her career—this time to include birth advocate, documentarian and author with the recent releases of the critically-acclaimed film The Business of Being Born and pregnancy guide, Your Best Birth. Proving that her entertainment influence will always be multi-hyphenated, she presently hosts and executive produces the Vh1 hit series, Charm School with Ricki Lake.

About Abby

Director and Producer Abby Epstein helmed the acclaimed documentary The Business of Being Born, executive produced by Ricki Lake. The success of the film inspired Abby and Ricki’s recent book, Your Best Birth. Abby made her film directing debut at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival with the documentary feature, Until the Violence Stops. On Broadway, Abby spent four years as the resident director of the musical RENT, overseeing the London premiere and two National Tours. She directed RENT in Mexico City, Barcelona and Madrid. Off Broadway, Abby directed over 100 celebrity actresses in The Vagina Monologues along with the National tour and premieres in Toronto and Mexico City.

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Karen Booth Adams

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CPi of Richmond, Tekna, Posh Tots, Genesis Marketing

Karen Booth Adams has never met a technology company she couldn’t grow into a multi-million dollar venture. In 1993, she took over technology consulting business, CPi of Richmond, at the tender age of 23, and has since launched eight companies, all of them profitable. Two of her technology-based startups have been publically acquired. And she grew one interactive Internet firm from zero profitability to a $10 million valuation in ten months. Today, Karen and her partners head three technology consulting firms, a software company, and an angel investor organization that funds technology startups.

Adams is such a wiz that she even launches successful companies in her downtime. One of her most triumphant ventures, Posh Tots, was begun as a hobby in 2000 with launch partner Andrea Edmunds. Adams had just sold a company that built e-commerce applications for Fortune 500 companies and found she wasn’t very good at being retired. After doing set dressing for the Stuart Little film and Friends, and being featured prominently in People magazine, Posh Tots sold for $12 million in 2006.

Just as passionate about her family and community as she is about her professional undertakings, Karen has continually sought new ways to bridge these various areas of her life. Posh Tots had an onsite playroom for employee’s children who needed a place to go during the workday. Karen has also sought new ways to reward her employees for their hard work — party bus, anyone? And with the current recession decimating her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, Karen has turned her attention to supporting other local technology businesses, in order to save as many local jobs as possible. As Karen clearly demonstrates, growth and profitability are just two ways to measure an exceptional career.

What we learned from Karen: “I think a good leader knows when the team needs to have fun. It’s a work-hard, play-hard mentality. Particularly in the first few years [of a startup], you are working long hours. It’s really fun, but it’s really stressful. You need to get the team out of the office, and have some fun, and don’t lose perspective. Everybody is trying to juggle work, and family, and find that balance.”

Passion Creates Profitability

“I had worked for consulting companies who, in my opinion, weren’t very loyal to their employees. And I thought that they had the profitability to be much more loyal, and they had the responsibility to their employees to keep them on the bench in-between assignments, if they could. I was really passionate about that one specific issue, and that’s what led me to start my own consulting company. I thought that there was an opportunity for a consulting company to have that kind of commitment, and that kind of loyalty to their consultants, and if they did, their consultants would be that kind of loyal back. That was our mission, and that was the passion behind what we got up and did every day. And that, financially, ended up working really well. But that’s not what the original motivation was.”

Have Heart, Hang Tough

“We looked at starting up Posh Tots in 2000-2001; those were our early years. The Internet had crashed, all of these e-commerce sites were just going down in flames, and it was rough. And so, here we were, saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to start up an e-commerce business, selling luxury children’s furniture.’ And people looked at us like we had three heads. I mean, there wasn’t a single person, not one, that told Andrea and I, ‘That’s a great idea. I’m sure you’ll make it a success.’ And that was after I had built and sold two companies, so obviously, we kind of had to know what we were getting into. But still, there was so much negativity out there, and so many people saying why it wouldn’t work.

And that’s a challenge, because even though you’re passionate, and even though you do it, and you’re committed to it, sometimes the negativity makes you second-guess yourself in those early days. And just staying the course, and not listening to it, and staying positive, is sometimes harder than it sounds, particularly until you’re profitable.”

The Sigh of Relief

“You start out thinking that you have a great idea, but until you see it on your financials, you really don’t know for sure. For us, it takes that concrete financial verification that, yes, our idea must be a good one….You kind of know, when you turn the corner, and that fear gets alleviated in your mind. And it’s different in every business. Sometimes, it’s landing a key long-term customer that you know is going to provide you with that steady revenue, that you know you’re going to be able to cover your costs, and you just have a huge sigh of relief.”

Use Your Crystal Ball

“The management team, and their experience, is huge. We look at the financial projections. And we have to make a determination whether they’re realistic, or not, and a lot of times that involves a lot of due diligence, a lot of financial modeling, a lot of going out and researching other competitors in the space, or people who have a good understanding of that kind of business, and pulling in outside expertise to help us make that determination. Can they really do what they are projecting, a year out, three years out, five years out? How realistic is that?

The third thing we look at is: ‘Is it defensible?’ You can have a great business model, a great business plan, but unless you have a unique differentiator about your product, your service, or your model, you’re going to, at some point, probably face some really harsh, fast competition from a hundred pound gorilla already in the space. How do you defend your brand or your business from it?”

Build Your A-Team

“A lot of companies that are really young, they put together advisory boards. They go out, and they find executives, sometimes retired executives, or sometimes investors, who are willing to serve on the advisory board. It’s a little bit of work, I guess, to go out and find those folks.

And then, as an entrepreneur, you have to be really open and willing to listen to those folks, who have a lot of experience in that particular field. If you can’t afford, up front, to hire some of your dream management team, a lot of startup entrepreneurs meet with those folks on a regular basis. They take those folks to lunch. They kind of, informally, pick their brains, and keep them up-to-date, and get advice from those folks, until they’re at a point where they can start hiring.”

How to Stand Out

“I’ve seen companies build their differentiator on the quality of their service, the consistency of their service, their unfailing, uncompromising commitment to their customers. I guess, by doing that, [they’re building a brand], although not a brand like we would think of in the apparel business….I’ve seen a lot [of companies] that have become defensible [from competitors], just by way of their intellectual property rights. They spent the time and money to trademark, or patent, their ideas and their specific marketing language.”

Working Moms Work It Out

“I think it’s that constant juggle. I am definitely not in the office on a regular schedule, 40 hours a week. I try to pick my daughter up at two o’clock in the afternoon, when she gets off of school….It’s a lot of emailing until two or three o’clock in the morning, sometimes, after they’re in bed, and a not-very-orthodox-schedule, that’s for sure. But, it goes back to, if you’re doing something that you love to do, you just figure it out.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Sarah Tomlinson, a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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