Meet the Lady Who Tells You What’s Hot In Paris

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President and CEO, Girl’s Guide to Paris

Doni Belau, Girl's Guide to ParisFeatured Lady Doni Belau is passionate about Paris. In 2000, after many visits to the city of lights, Doni and her husband bought an apartment in the 6th Arrondissement during an impulsive moment. After many return trips to Paris with family and friends, Doni decided to share her inspiration, knowledge and love of the city with other women. Since launching Girl’s Guide to Paris, Doni has grown her website to include shopping, dining, culture and art, guides, travel tips and offers, Parisian bloggers and a membership option. Girl’s Guide to Paris has been featured by many magazines and blogs, as well as on The Martha Stewart Radio Show.

A University of California Los Angeles theater major, Doni spent ten years in the film business producing TV commercials and music videos. After taking time to raise her two children, she returned to the labor force and spent eight years doing political consulting (including Eliot Spitzer’s New York Gubernatorial campaign) and not-for-profit work. “After all of that, I finally decided to do what I truly loved and started Girl’s Guide to Paris,” Doni says.

Although she always wanted to be an actress, which evolved into being a director, then to working in politics, what Doni has always loved is doing something new, exploring new worlds and traveling. “I decided to launch Girl’s Guide to Paris so I could leave politics and combine what I love with my work – all things French and Paris, in particular.”

A trip to her local bookstore, along with some searches on Amazon and web surfing, convinced Doni her idea was viable. “I found an art lover’s guide to Paris, a wine lover’s guide, a shopping guide, etc., but no guide for women,” she says. “Women are drawn to Paris in a very strong way, because Paris equals beauty.” Doni also did research to determine whether or not the market was there. “As it turns out women make 90% of all leisure travel decisions and women 40 – 60 years of age are the largest growing niche market in travel,” Doni says.

A friend of Doni’s, who she took with her on a girl’s trip to Paris, suggested that the site be called a Girl’s Guide, and so it was. “Plus I had an apartment in Paris for about six years and everyone already asked me where to go and what to do there, so it seemed natural,” Doni explains.

Girl’s Guide to Paris focuses on what women want in the city of lights. “Since we’ve started, we’ve seen a few competitors, but our site continues to grow and expand,” Doni says. “We think we are on to something. We’ve noticed that women feel safer in a community of like-minded women giving and receiving advice, like you do with your girlfriends.”

Bringing authenticity to Girls’ Guide to Paris are the bevy of women bloggers on the ground in Paris who experience and write about the most up-to-date information regarding what’s hot in Paris.

The resources on the website are free, but a membership option is now available for women interested in getting discounts on tours, classes, hotels and Girl’s Guide merchandise purchased through the site.

Today, Doni has an agent working on selling the Girls’ Guide to Paris Guidebook. She’s also taken the Girl’s Guide to London, New York, Barcelona, Rome, France, Africa and Asia URLs. “We’d love to take it around the world via website and in book form,” Doni says.

Doni is also involved in Ubuntu Africa, a non-profit she founded. The organization is dedicated to providing lifesaving healthcare and support services to HIV positive children and teens in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

What we learned from Doni: “In the beginning you want to do it all, fast. Building something big takes time and must be done with care.”

Take Your Time
“Don’t feel you need to try everything all at once. Experiment and learn along the way.”

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

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Meet the Lady Who’s Helping Oprah Produce a Ten-Week Webinar

Elizabeth LESSER

Co-Founder, Omega Institute

Elizabeth Lesser, Omega InstituteFeatured Lady Elizabeth Lesser, a former midwife and birth educator, was ahead of her time when she launched Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in 1977. Today, Omega is the nation’s most trusted source for wellness and personal growth. Elizabeth worked with many eminent thinkers of our time, including Zen masters, rabbis, Christian monks, psychologists, scientists, and an array of noted American figures (from L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson to author Maya Angelou) and discovered that by combining psychological, religious, and healing traditions, everyone has the ability to quench their spiritual thirst.

A senior advisor at Omega, New York Times best-selling author, and host on Oprah Radio, Elizabeth was speaking at the Ladies Who Launch Global Conference New York location on November 8 – 9, 2010.

Omega Institute offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. With the mission to help people awaken the best in the human spirit, Elizabeth’s organization helps people uncover their inner power, grace, joy and goodness in a multitude of ways. “We’re holistic, which means we understand that there are many dimensions to a human life,” she says.

A student of the Sufi master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan since 1971, Elizabeth was captivated by the eastern philosophy movement beginning in the United States. “I remember when the Beatles went to India. I was very interested in that,” she says. Omega Institute grew out of Elizabeth and her first husband’s (Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D.) association with Khan and the community of young people who studied with him in the 1970s. Despite being in their early twenties with no business experience, Khan put the couple in charge of Omega. “We didn’t know anything, we weren’t business people,” admits Elizabeth.

Elizabeth on Oprah

Watch Elizabeth lesser on Oprah’s Soul Series Video

Omega Institute’s concept quickly took off and within four years the organization expanded from rented facilities to its current site, a former children’s camp in Rhinebeck, New York. Renovating and developing Omega’s new location was somewhat slow due to cash flow and the condition of the facilities. Financed on a wing and a prayer, Elizabeth explains, “My husband and I were fortunate in our own naïveté and the times. Had we known the stress and the challenges with finances, we probably wouldn’t have done it.”

Today, Omega welcomes more than 23,000 people annually to its workshops, conferences and retreats in Rhinebeck, New York and around the world. The organization employs 100 full-time people, which triples seasonally from April to October, and operates with 300 speakers as part of the faculty.

When Elizabeth co-founded Omega thirty-three years ago, yoga, meditation, natural foods and acupuncture were considered voodoo-like by the mainstream. “Back then, the concept of holistic studies was very fringy stuff,” she says. “Our faculty and staff were just so thrilled to have a place to share their services.”

“Now you can go into any hospital and they’ll have massage, Chinese medicine, therapy and a prayer room,” Elizabeth says. “You can find a yoga studio on any street in any-town, USA.” She believes that holistic studies’ infiltrating our culture is a good sign. “Diversity of thinking and healing traditions from around the world are good for us. The movement itself has evolved enormously and it’s been a thrill to be part of it.”

Although Elizabeth and her co-founder accepted the challenge of starting Omega without any business experience, they grew it into a successful, thriving company. “Omega is a non-profit, but we’ve always acted like it was a business,” Elizabeth says. “For the first twenty-five years, we never fundraised a penny. All our capital was generated from housing and fees. Now we’re using our non-profit status to raise money for specific projects and a capital campaign.”

Elizabeth is the author of  The Seeker’s Guide and Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.

Her recent work includes helping Oprah Winfrey produce the 10-week webinar for Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth.

What we learned from Elizabeth: “I love combining business with my purpose in life.”

Be True
“In the business world, karma is instant.”

Lead with Spirit
“I like to think that if you’re interested in spiritual growth, you’ll be a better leader.”

Make it Happen
“I’m such a self-made person and not a big reader of business philosophy, but I live by Gandhi’s edict, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’”

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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 Wants You to Get a Second Opinion

Lisa OZ

Founder and President – Ozworks, LLC; writer, actress, producer, and co-host of The Dr. Oz Show on Oprah Radio, Sirius and XM –

Lisa OzFeatured Lady Lisa Oz considers herself a professional dilettante. An actress, screenwriter, producer and frequent co-host of The Dr. Oz Show on Oprah & Friends XM radio telecast with her husband, Dr. Mehmet Oz, she is also the founder and President of Ozworks, LLC, a media investment consulting firm and directs Pine Room Pictures, a production company specializing in family-friendly media. Lisa focuses much of her life on health, well-being and spirituality, and co-authored three New York Times best sellers, including YOU: The Owner’s Manual series. A health advocate and Reiki master, Lisa is a spokesperson for HealthCorps, the organization her husband founded to work with schools to prevent childhood obesity. Lisa and Mehmet, married for 22 years, have four children, Oliver, Daphne, Zoe and Arabella.

Lisa was speaking in New York on November 8-9, 2010
at Dream It! Launch It! Live It!

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, Lisa attended Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary. A pre-med major while in school – her father and brother are both surgeons – Lisa dreamed of being an actress, which was not a favorable vocation in the eyes of her family. “Katharine Hepburn was an alumna of Bryn Mawr and she spoke at my graduation,” Lisa recalls. “She was so smart, talented, independent and really headstrong. She motivated me.”

Growing up, Lisa’s mom also inspired her. “My mother was brilliant, she was very much her own person,” she says. “I have six siblings, but my mother always maintained her own life. She earned two advanced theology degrees, was a minister and a local politician.”

Lisa eventually enrolled at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, which led to her appearing in a few television pilots, commercials and movies during her decade-long acting career. However, Lisa’s occupation was never number one in her life. “My priority has always been my family,” she says. “I was never willing to go to Los Angeles for pilot season, or be part of traveling shows.” However, her exposure the industry gave her the insight to later spearhead the show Second Opinion with Dr. Oz.

US_Lisa_Oz_1As someone who never pitched a television show to a network before, Lisa believes that one of her best moments was when she “had the guts” to approach executives about her idea. “I felt strongly that my husband could make a big difference,” Lisa recalls. The series ultimately launched on the Discovery Channel and, with the support of a network executive who was also Dr. Oz’s Harvard roommate, aired in 2003 – 2004. The show helped viewers wade through confusing and contradictory medical advice, while combining both non-traditional and modern medicinal practices.

For Lisa, the show was a result of her wanting to spend more time with her husband. “I dragged him into the media so we could be together,” she explains. “The message was patient empowerment and playing an active role in your own well-being.”

The YOU: The Owner’s Manual series resulted from the discussions on Second Opinion. “After the show went off the air, we had all this information, so Mehmet, Dr. Mike Roizen and I decided to put it into a book,” Lisa says. “Usually, medical books are either dry and technical, or are filled with heart-wrenching stories. My vision is to make health and medicine accessible, fun, approachable and easy to comprehend.”

Lisa was heavily involved with the first book and the diet book, and thrives in creative outlets. She feels strongly that doing what you love is more important than making money. “I knew that I’d wither in a nine to five environment, so I went where my skills lie,” she says. “I do what I enjoy the most, what I love and am most passionate about.”

“We have friends who are in their careers for the money. There never seems to be enough to justify the misery. Be happy to wake up to your role, if not, then switch jobs,” Lisa says.

“Being in the entertainment industry working on films and writing was something I really enjoyed. I would do anything, work as a production assistant or a grip, for no money because I loved it!”

She also advocates that it’s important to make a difference in the world while having fun. “We need a higher purpose. It needs to be fulfilling for us as well as fill a need in society and on the planet,” Lisa says. “Think big and do good in your venture.”

What we learned from Lisa: “Do what you love. Even if you’re in a job you dislike, find an aspect of it that you enjoy.”

Health Plan
“You hold the power to enhance your health – making even simple changes can have such a positive impact on one’s health. Value your body more. Buy a pedometer and count the steps. Make it fun.”

Vison Quest
“What ever you’re doing, look twenty years into the future.”

It’s All Good
“Most women juggle a mix of responsibilities and neglect taking the time to just stop and take a gratitude break. Good or bad, it’s relevant to say ‘thank you’ to everything that happens.”

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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 Whose Idea Helped 20,000 People Affected by Cancer

Dream It! Launch It! Live It!

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Founder and Executive Director- The Gathering Place

Eileen SaffranThe Gathering Place is the realization of a dream for Featured Lady Eileen Saffran, LISW-S. In over two decades as a clinical social worker facing the constraints of health care, she envisioned a place for people touched by cancer to find the services and resources they needed integrated with their medical care and focused on enhancing quality of life with dignity and hope. Through a grassroots movement, Eileen followed her vision to launch Cleveland’s The Gathering Place, a community of sharing and support that promotes healing and wellness – all free of charge. Since its inception in 1999, The Gathering Place has helped over 20,000 people, which translates into more than 115,000 visits. A new member of the prestigious Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Eileen is also a speaker at the Ladies Who Launch Global Conference in Cleveland on November 8 – 9, 2010.

Immersed in the big business of medical care since beginning her career in the mid-1970s as a social worker for psychiatric and oncology patients, Eileen knew the non-revenue aspects of the industry were disappearing; specifically, support and education services. “In my role, I kept finding it difficult to develop support relationships due to cuts in those programs,” she says.

Paralleling her professional perspective, Eileen personally encountered the health care system’s realities because she knew many women affected by breast cancer. Eileen’s parents also received cancer diagnoses within six months of each other and passed away three and a half years apart. Eileen, who was fortunate to find the resources she needed through her job, recognized a lot of critically important information was missing. “Based on the experience I had, I knew there were gaps in my journey.”

In 1999, with her daughter in college, her son beginning to drive and her husband traveling, Eileen set out to change her career path, do something that would allow her to help others and experience something different each day. In other words, make her dream of The Gathering Place – a reality. “It blossomed through my contacts,” she says. “The cancer experience touches us all and by pulling together as a caring community and family, we enhance learning, comfort and healing.”

The Gathering Place“The grass roots effort was remarkable. I spoke to anyone who’d open their door to me and invited them to join us,” says Eileen. “Cleveland is an incredibly philanthropic community, I can’t emphasize that enough. From generous financial donations to fabulous in-kind support, people invested in me and my idea.”

For its first three and a half years, The Gathering Place’s home was a 6,100 square foot rented space on Cleveland’s east side. Thanks to a capital campaign that gave the organization financial momentum, The Gathering Place was able to purchase a building and moved to a 12,000 square foot facility in Beachwood. The new location, with a healing garden occupying its third of an acre, enabled The Gathering Place to increase services and help more people. In 2008, a second location was opened in Westlake, on the opposite side of Cleveland, to serve individuals across the river.

The biggest challenge Eileen has faced is maintaining an organization in these economic times that is 100% privately funded. “Eighty cents of every dollar goes to programming. We’re about helping people and work with a slim margin,” she says. “We don’t get any government funding or reimbursements through insurance. Our services are all free. We raise all the money we spend.”

Eileen believes that The Gathering Place is a phenomenal example of a thriving non-profit organization. “We employed sound business principles since the opening, which led us to a strong financial position,” she says. “For any business, large or small, for profit or non-profit, transparency is crucial. Our stakeholders always knew where the money was being spent.”

Eileen says one of her best moments with The Gathering Place was being accepted as a member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center earlier this year. “This was huge! As a result, The Gathering Place has been legitimized in the eyes of top cancer researchers. I have the utmost respect for these people.”

She also has tremendous respect for those people who handle the increasing volume of people needing The Gathering Place’s support and services, including its crème de la crème staff of nineteen, fifteen contract professionals, active Board of Directors and 400 dedicated volunteers.

“What I’ve learned from launching The Gathering Place is that people really want to do good and help others,” says Eileen. “Especially if they’ve been touched by cancer.”

What we learned from Eileen:
“When launching an idea, build understanding with people in the trenches. Start at the bottom and work your way up.”

The Ol’ Two Step
“Remember that being an entrepreneur is three steps forward and two steps back.”

Outside the Box
“I’ve never been a square peg in a square hole. I’m an independent thinker. Some entrepreneurial qualities have always been a part of me.”

Remain Open
“Always err on the side of inclusivity. Don’t judge a person by what you see, get to know them.”

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 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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Nancy Taylor, Gifts that Give

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Nancy Taylor, Founder of Gifts that Give

Founder and CEO, Gifts that Give

After over twenty-five years in the retail industry, eleven of them as a Vice-President of Neiman Marcus, Nancy Taylor was ready for something new. One day, she was approached by her future business partner who, at the time, was involved in fundraising for her children’s school by buying wrapping paper. The question was, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get fundraising money from things we’d buy anyway?” At that moment, the idea for Gifts that Give took shape. An online store that enables individuals to combine their philanthropy with upscale shopping, Gifts that Give returns a generous 20 percent of merchandise purchases back to the school or non-profit the customer selects. In 2009, NJBIZ named Nancy one of the Top 50 Business Women of New Jersey.

On a mission to transform the shop-for-a-cause experience, Nancy and her partner launched Gifts that Give on October 2008 – the same month that Wall Street crashed. Since the timing was close to the holidays, Nancy dove right in, admitting that she didn’t have a lot of money to pour into the venture. Nancy learned from experience that she needed capital to do what she and her partner wanted with Gifts that Give, especially since the business gives nearly 50 percent of its profit back, which equates to 20 percent of the gross revenue. Eventually, Nancy found an angel investor to flush additional cash into the business.

Nancy, who also has remarkable fundraising experience, created the philosophy for Gifts that Give: charity first. She recognized that all non-profit organizations need donations, and that traditional methods have become inefficient due to the economy, shrinking volunteer pools and antiquated methods of attracting donors. Her objective is to help donors support organizations while buying fine products to enjoy having and giving as presents. Gifts that Give accomplishes this by offering a wide selection of products from luxury, highly recognizable brands such as Bungalow, Lilly Pulitzer and Royal Copenhagen.

Described as “the perfect storm” due to her retail experience, discriminating taste and ability to understand the non-profit world, Nancy developed a very different model for Gifts that Give than that of traditional businesses. It was created to be a simple, yet modern way to give and give back. For example, it’s risk-free for schools and non-profits to sign up because they are not charged a participation fee. Once registered, the organization is eligible for free, untapped money based on purchases. All shoppers also have the opportunity to key in their charity or school of choice if it is not already listed on the site.

However, Nancy ran into challenges getting the attention of people to hear about Gifts that Give, as well as those who didn’t understand the concept, thinking there was some sort of catch. Once she explained the concept, as well as how quickly the money adds up just for shopping on Gifts that Give, people came around.

According to Nancy, “Traditional retail is changing and technology is driving more Internet shopping. Is your organization positioned to take advantage of this rapidly growing trend? By partnering with Gifts That Give, schools and non-profits have a new and exciting way to encourage donations.”

Using the relationships she built while at Neiman Marcus, Nancy has more than 40 luxury vendors participating on the Gifts that Give website. However, she is quick to point out that luxury doesn’t automatically mean expensive, but it always means quality. For example, Nancy offers fine gifts under $30 and $50, as well as a $10 onesie packaged as a Lollipop, that has been a best-seller.

So far, Nancy’s biggest challenges have been having enough capital for the website start-up, getting the word out about Gifts that Give and the current economy. The financial crisis even prompted Nancy to change the online wording of the products from “luxury” to “upscale.” Despite these obstacles, Gifts that Give has written checks totaling $25,000 to various schools and non-profits in its first year of business. Nancy’s vision for Gifts that Give is to become nationally known as THE new fundraiser as well as for giving millions of dollars back to non-profits. She has done business in almost every state with the endorsement of national non-profit organizations, and aspires to eventually go international.

What we learned from Nancy: “You must be committed early on to your plan. You cannot develop a business from concept to be a national company on a part time basis. It’s all you, so fully commit yourself and be sure to inform your family. They must be committed to your efforts whether they are involved or not. Also, look at what you need to accomplish during the first two or three years and stay focused.”

On Second Thought

“When things get tough don’t second guess yourself. You know your talents and you know your business. If an issue or problem arises, take it seriously, but don’t second guess yourself.”

Point the Way

“In an entrepreneurial career, you have to start with a plan and keep your eye on the goal. It’s like going on a trip – you need that direction. You have to know where to start, how to get there and what it will cost.”

Customers are King

“Whatever you do, do it well. You have one chance to impress the customer and it’s always about them. If the client is happy, they’ll take care of you. Be known for giving really great customer service and be committed to give each client the ‘wow’ experience they deserve”.

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

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Preeti Vasudevan, Artistic Director, Thresh

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Choreographer and artistic ambassador Preeti Vasudevan bridges cultures, continents and centuries as easily as other dancers might execute a plie. The original works performed by her New York City-based dance troupe, Thresh, have earned international acclaim for their fresh juxtaposition of traditional dance forms from her native India with modern theories of movement and expression. And now, she’s connecting Eastern and Western perspectives through an interactive educational initiative that includes a research and development center in Chennai, India and the Web site,, which is a comprehensive online resource for the traditional Indian technique of Bharatanatyam.

Having begun training in Bharatanatyam at the age of four-and-a-half and studied modern dance in New York City, Japan and London, Preeti exemplifies a new kind of artist and entrepreneur who mixes and matches a plethora of international ideas and experiences in all new ways. Since forming Thresh in 2004, Preeti has channeled her struggle to define her artistic and cultural identity into work that has garnered acclaim in the international dance community. In March 2009, her stage production, “The Absent Lover,” which she adapted from a fifth-century Indian play, “Vikramorvashiyam,” was one of 10 finalists chosen from 209 productions to be performed at the prestigious META Awards in New Delhi. The production won three awards, including best choreography.

As passionate about teaching as she is about performing, Preeti found herself longing to reach more dance students and educators than she was able to with her individual workshops. She and her husband spent two years in India gathering resources related to Bharatanatyam. The resulting Web site and DVD-Rom is the first step in what Preeti envisions as an ongoing dialogue between India and the U.S. and includes a curriculum for teaching Indian dance in American schools, which she developed in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education. Preeti will spread her message even further when she presents a workshop at the National Dance Education Organization’s annual meeting this June.

Having already distinguished herself as a visionary artist, educator and entrepreneur, Preeti clearly has a few lessons to teach others about the importance of balance, and not only when it comes to the art of dance.

What we learned from Preeti: “Routine is very important. So you think, ‘So many hours a day, I dedicate to this, and no more.’ You have to learn to say, ‘No,’ more. And you have to learn how to say, ‘Stop,’ and, ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t do it today. That’s it.’”

Deciding Where to Hang Out Your Shingle

“I’ve always felt that…when you are embarking on your business, and for me, it’s the art business, you need to be right in the thick of it all, because you’re constantly bombarded by great creativity. There are few cities like that in the world, and for dance, basically, it’s New York City.”

Not Indian Enough

“I went to a very established dance management company in New York. They looked at my work and said, ‘It’s really good.’ I thought, ‘Oh great, I’ve got myself an agent.’ But they said, ‘We can’t take you on.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ And they said, ‘Well, you’re not Indian enough, and we already have an Indian company.’ And I said, ‘Do you say that to American companies? I’ve already got an American company.’”

Don’t Box Me In

“Presenters and organizers need to find that box they can define you by, so that they can market you. I said, ‘I’m not part of the Diaspora. I’m not doing fusion. I’m not prettily playing with Indian movement. I’m actually doing new work.” That wasn’t enough. That was really one of my major struggles.”

Learning to Think Like a Company

“Once you decide to form a company, the level of engagement is completely different…You’re not just looking to see if you want to make a new dance. That should have been taken care of awhile ago…You have a very kind of focused vision as to what your company is going to achieve, and how you differentiate between you, your work, and others, which is an ongoing process.”

Serve the Work, Not the Company

“We’re a very low-key, hire-oneself, fire-oneself kind of company, where we’re keeping the logistics and expenditures to a basic minimum, so that the work can get moving. So, when we bring people in, artistically or otherwise, they come in more on a project basis. It’s a very project-based company so far. Eventually, I’d like to set up a core team of permanent members, but right now, they come according to projects.”

Creating Time

“I think the key words are time management. If you can train yourself to be disciplined on the non-artistic, non-creative side, then you can get a lot of work done. But if you don’t, then it can affect your creativity, because your time is haphazard.”

Know When to Hold ‘Em

“I could have done this grant, but it would have been a very bad grant, so instead, I said, ‘I didn’t prepare enough, so I can’t do it this year.’ And I just let it go. It’s been very good….It helps you focus on the projects that you want to do. When you talk to people, you’re a lot more focused and a lot more passionate, and you’re not all over the shop.”

An Artist in Training

“Training never stops. I still continue to train in different ways — I feel, at this stage in my life, I need a particular kind of training. Five years ago, I was looking for something else — just so you don’t become stagnant. And you must also be very open to what’s happening. You continue evolving with the society. You don’t just get locked in a particular kind of time bubble.”

Bridging the Gap

“The ultimate goal, which we are slowly developing right now, is to build a bridge between India and the U.S. to do with technology and movement education. So, we’re building that large bridge now.”

The Role of the Artist

“What is the issue today that people have? It’s communication — global communication and cultural communication — and I feel that the performing arts plays a huge role in trying to bridge that.”

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

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Connie Duckworth

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Founder, Arzu Rugs
Author, The Old Girls’ Network:
Insider Advice for Women Building Businesses in a Man’s World

Connie Duckworth never thought of herself as an entrepreneur. Academically astute, she graduated from college with honors, earned an MBA, then went right to work for the ARCO oil company. Quickly moving up the corporate ladder she found her niche in the male-dominated finance department, enjoying a well-deserved reputation for being brainy, hard-working and unflappable, all the qualities of a successful entrepreneur. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

After two years at ARCO, Connie took a plum job in sales and trading at Goldman Sachs, becoming managing director and partner during the course of a successful, satisfying twenty year career. But two decades were enough for this mother of four. Connie stepped back, assessed her accomplishments, and decided to “retire.”

A stay-at-home mom for the first time in her life, she divided her time between family, business interests and charitable pursuits. Finding herself drawn to women’s issues she chaired the Committee of 200 for women business leaders and joined the US-Afghan Women’s council. Her true entrepreneurial spirit came through when she founded the non-profit Arzu Rugs in 2003, employing thousands of Afghan women weavers and keeping them and their families out of poverty.

What we learned from Connie: Don’t ever look at someone else and feel inferior. You have a talent, something to give. If everybody would do the one thing they are capable of doing at this point in time there would be millions of things being accomplished.

Financial Phenom

I started looking for a job in 1979. At that time there weren’t a lot of women MBAs and I was told by some companies, “We don’t hire women.” But that was the culture back then and in my mind, it was what it was. I didn’t expect a business environment at that time to be full of women. I didn’t see discrimination because I wasn’t looking for it. I got a job at ARCO and really found my niche in their finance department. I worked hard. I liked the whole world of finance.

Spotted By Goldman Sachs

I had a lot of interaction with people outside ARCO and I was very lucky to be in the right place, at the right time, in the right job, at the right moment when Goldman was looking to hire somebody. The lesson here is that you have to show up every day and work hard, but you also have to be enough of a risk-taker to recognize an opportunity and jump on it. Luck is part of it but if an opportunity is right in front of you and you fail to see it, luck isn’t going to help you.

Numbers Don’t Lie

There was a real rough and tumble trading floor mentality at Goldman. It fit me because it was very production based, like sales jobs. If you’re hard-working, smart and apply yourself, you’re going to get results. When those results get captured and dropped to the bottom line, it doesn’t matter if you’re the only woman, no one can argue with your numbers. I don’t mean to make a gross generality but women work extremely hard and when they’re engaged in a business and in a role where there’s a score card, no one can ignore it. The facts are the facts. That’s why women entrepreneurs are so successful.

Tough Decisions

I stayed at Goldman for twenty years. I loved my career, my clients, the external interaction, the travel, being around smart people. But I was asked to move twice. The first time I did. But the second time I had four children and it was just not in the cards to de-camp that army.

Life is a Journey, Literally

I decided that instead of moving, I would commute from Chicago to New York every week. It wasn’t a great situation but it was better than the alternative. You do what you have to do. I commuted for four years up until the 20 year mark. I had had a good run and a great career but my oldest was 11 and my youngest was 5. Their needs as they got older were more complex heading into adolescence. Other people come to the opposite conclusion and stay home earlier. It’s a very personal choice and I did what was right for us.

Finding Her Passion

Women’s issues and women’s rights have always been a passion for me and I found myself migrating towards this passion. I was asked to be the business representative of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and it was there that I realized that Afghan women are one of the most abused groups in the world. I knew I had to do something so I founded Arzu Rugs to help create jobs for thousands of Afghan women who otherwise would be living in poverty.

Going Against The Grain

We’re facing the worst consumer market since the depression but we’ve developed a successful business in a conflict zone with no infrastructure, no power grid, no internet, no roads. If we can do it there, we can do it anywhere. There is positive energy to our rugs. People feel connected to the women weavers on a very human, basic level.

Brilliant Business Model

When I was working full time I couldn’t volunteer. Now I can. We all think about the world through the lives of our children. This is what makes the Arzu business model so sound. No matter where women are in the world or what their culture, we all want the same thing – to educate our children, keep them safe, and to make the world a better place for them. The rugs represent Afghan women working to create that.

This Featured Lady was profiled by Susie Lacey, Associate Editor, Ladies Who Launch

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Laura Turner Seydel


Philanthropist, activist, educator  

Baking soda cleans carpets. Lemon juice washes windows. And warm, wonderful sunshine whitens linens better than bleach. Surprised? You’re not alone. Luckily Laura Turner Seydel will tell you it’s never too late to turn in your toxins. A life-long environmental activist and eco-living expert, Laura’s infectious passion for taking care of our planet has inspired people all over the globe to recycle, ride bikes and re-invent themselves as environmentally conscious consumers.

At last, composting coffee grounds is catching on, but Laura has been part of an eco-friendly family all along. She was taught to conserve energy, waste nothing and respect and care for our world, values she never out-grew. She is now dedicated to raising awareness and promoting sustainability. Her credits include Chairman of the Captain Planet Foundation, Co-Founder of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Fund, Co-Founder of Mothers and Others for Clean Air, and the recently launched Web site Laura’s home, aptly dubbed EcoManor , sports soy-based insulation, pressed hay cabinets, and is LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). You go green girl!
To meet Laura Turner Seydel in person and learn more, attend the Ladies Who Launch Event in Atlanta on  Thursday, November 13. Register now.

What we learned from Laura: Making a difference doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It’s essential that we all help in some way. We have a responsibility to future generations to take care of this planet.

Bio Baby

When I was young we composted, picked up trash, recycled. During the oil embargo in the 70’s my dad was very patriotic about following President Carter’s call to conserve. We walked to school. My dad, Ted Turner, drove a small used Toyota. Talk about setting an example!

Passion or Fashion?

When I graduated from college I interned with Greenpeace. It was a wonderful learning experience but I had worked in retail in college and I thought that was more glamorous. From 1987-1995 I owned my own retail store but was ultimately unfulfilled. Even before I left retail I joined the Georgia Conservancy. I also took a leadership role in my dad’s Turner Foundation, helping fund non-profits across the country. I was right on the pulse of the environmental community.

Laura, 1; Pollution, 0

One of my first projects at the Georgia Conservancy was to champion The Chattahoochee River which was being decimated by the city of Atlanta. They were pumping in partially treated sewage that was being sent down stream. With a seed grant from the Turner Foundation we founded the Chattahoochee Riverkeepers in 1993 and successfully sued the city of Atlanta in 1994, setting national precedent.

Learning By Doing

I’m on the League of Conservation Voters Board. I make sure our elected officials are committed to the environment and are held accountable for their decisions. I don’t think a lot of people, even legislators, realize how serious these issues are. I’ve also been the Board Chairman of the Captain Planet Foundation since 2001. We make small grants for hands-on kids’ projects – restoring wetlands, planting trees, coming up with recycling initiatives, things that have long-term benefits. We’re creating environmental stewards. They’re learning how to care for their world.

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Joanne Goldblum

Founder, The Diaper Bank

Some people dream about changing the lives of children. Others actually do it.

Social worker Joanne Goldblum was unable to wrap her head around the uncomfortable truth that a significant population of American children grow up in conditions so poor that clean diapers aren’t even a reality. Frustrated but inspired, she saw a need she could address, and that need was distributing diapers to the poor. The idea of a diaper bank took some time to launch, but four years in and successfully distributing 140,000 diapers a month, she has become America’s Diaper Genie.

Joanne has been recognized not only in local media but also nationally in People magazine and on CNN, and she was named the New Haven Register Person of the Year 2007. She has helped thousands of children over the years and this year she anticipates reaching about 800 more.

What we learned from Joanne: “We can really get anything done and we can really make a change.”

The Diaper Lady

“I’m a social worker. I went to people’s houses and I worked primarily with chronically homeless families and families affected by substance abuse, all in New Haven. The thing that everyone had in common was abject poverty. New Haven is a city that has real wealth and real poverty within a mile of each other, like a lot of other cities. One of the things that I noticed all the time with these families was that they didn’t have the hygiene products they needed. They didn’t have diapers. If I went in the morning it was clear the kids were still in a diaper from the day before. The moms would empty a diaper, dry them, and try to use them again. It never occurred to me that there was no subsidy for this. I spent two years trying to figure this out and why there wasn’t anything to help. What I came to find out was that food stamps were good for food, but they couldn’t buy any paper products, or any hygiene products. Diapers are in the same grouping as pet food, alcohol, and cigarettes.”

The Business Model

“We are set on the model of a food bank, so we collect diapers and cash donations and then distribute diapers through agencies. We get diapers donated through drives, we raise money, and we buy diapers at a much-reduced rate. There are some companies that have donated through their foundations, but none of the diaper companies donate.”

Starting With a Full-Time Career

“It was hard, but what actually made it really great was that my family was really supportive of it. My kids were 6, 10, and 11, and we did a lot with their school and my family got excited about it. I had talked about and thought about it so much that they were happy to see me actually do it. You can do anything if you really, really want to. I have never taken a salary at the Diaper Bank and I feel very lucky to be able to do that. It’s important to do things for other people.”

Just Do It

“I did jump into things. I bought a domain name for $10 and one of my sons’ eighth grade friends built a Web site. We just did it. I got a cell phone on my friends and family plan. I didn’t really set things up in a way of thinking how things would be sustained, I just sort of said, ‘Okay, I need a phone,’ and I just did it.”

Biggest Challenge

“The biggest challenge was trying to find a way to buy diapers in bulk, and this is one of those business things I didn’t really think of as I’m a social worker. I never considered what it meant to buy a truckload of diapers. It never occurred to me that I would have to use a power jack and that I would have to take the diapers off of the truck. It was inventory, and how do you keep track of this stuff? I’m much better with ideas than I am with concrete stuff.”

Concrete Stuff

“I have a great, great board of directors, and at this point we have two employees who keep the Diaper Bank running beautifully. We would not have been able to grow as an all-volunteer agency. We were just too big and we had to have people who were spending their whole day thinking about it and devoted to making sure that things happened, like talking to agencies, getting diapers, and making sure we had an infrastructure.”

Support Groups

“It’s been amazing—friends and family members have been so supportive, and two of my friends write our grants and they spend a lot of time doing it. My mom is on our board and she does a lot. In the beginning, I thought it would only be my friends. When we started to get support from other places, that’s when it really got exciting. It was that other people thought it was a good idea.”


“Being awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader Award was a high point of my career. The award, which recognizes creativity, innovation, and commitment to improving health outcomes at the community level, is given out nationally to 10 people a year. To have my idea recognized as important by Robert Wood Johnson made the whole thing much more real for me.”


“I wanted the big diaper companies to give me diapers, and that did not happen. I thought it would be easier to get companies to help us or to get stores to give up their seconds, like some of the local stores will give us the diapers that would otherwise be thrown away, but lots of stores don’t or won’t. They throw stuff away rather than give them to us, and that’s disappointing.”

Balancing It All

“I am really lucky. I work some in the office but I work out of my house, I work a lot at night and on the weekends. My kids are older so it’s not like they need constant care, so when they are doing homework, I can work. And with the freedom of a cell phone you can talk to people anywhere.”

The Ultimate Hope

“That there would be a change in legislation so that we would have a hygiene subsidy added to food stamps. I would be so happy and I would take a vacation!”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Kristin Herold, a freelance writer based in Hermosa Beach, CA.

Ladies Who Launch is asking you … what are YOU hoping to change? And have you taken any steps toward doing it? Let everyone know in the Comments section below!

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