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84 Posts authored by: Bank of America SB Team

Vetlinks.jpgOn this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Steve Strauss speaks with Jessica Kavanagh, founder of VetLinks.org, and Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Duncan, the military affairs director of the organization. Listen to learn about the journey to create VetLinks and discover how it empowers veterans – with tips to help entrepreneurs everywhere thrive.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Narrator:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. Here’s your host, Steve Strauss.

 

 

Steve:             Jessica and Kirk, great to have you on the show. Welcome, Kirk Duncan and Jessica Kavanaugh, of VetLinks, VetLinks.org. Jessica, let me begin with you. VetLinks is an amazing organization. What inspired you to help create it?

 

Jessica:           My husband, Brian Kavanagh, he was an Army infantry officer, he was a ranger, and back in 2014 he came home one day and he was asking for help with his post-traumatic stress. And so we called the VA, and they had put us on a six week wait time for mental health. So we took matters into our own hands and we found him a place on our own for private care, and got him help. And after that, we called the VA again and they put us on another six week wait time, and so we've started our own private treatment again for mental health appointments.

 

Jessica:          By the summer of 2015, things were not getting much better by any means. So this time we called the VA and we kept our six week wait time appointment, which ironically fell on September 11th. And then when we went to the appointment, I was so hopeful that she was going to give us this magical place that was going to help Brian with his post-traumatic stress, and his substance abuse, and instead, all she could offer was a psych unit. So I started calling anyone, everyone who would listen to me. And finally, this woman called me from Texas and she said, "I've heard your story from two different people, one in Florida and one in California, and you really need to go down to Washington DC to a Congressional hearing on October 7th, and Bob McDonald's going to be there." Bob McDonald was the former secretary of the VA.

                                                                     

Jessica:          So I went down, and I went into the Congressional hearing, and I met with every single person in there. I had written out our story, typed it out, gave it to everyone. I introduced myself to Bob McDonald, and I told him our story and said that we needed help right away or that Brian was going to die. And in three days, he got him into an inpatient facility out in West Virginia with the VA.

 

Jessica:          So Brian went into the 90-day program. And he was meeting veterans left and right who weren't getting help additionally with benefits that they deserved, so he started holding classes on how to get these resources until finally, someone said to him, "Brian, you're a patient here, you can't just hold these classes." And so when he got out of the inpatient, he told me of the idea that he wanted to help these veterans. And he wanted to help take care of them and get them the resources that they needed. And of course, I was so supportive, but at the same time, I thought well, great, let's add caregivers to the list because I couldn't get you help, it took me months to get you into a facility.

 

Steve:             Your husband had the inspiration to create VetLinks, and I know he's not with us anymore, you carried it on. Could you just maybe tell us about that a little bit.

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. So when he passed away, I vowed to take over the nonprofit in his honor, and I wanted to carry his vision on. So after the funeral, a bunch of us were just sitting around the table, and I was telling a lot of Brian's friends about his vision, about what he wanted to do with VetLinks, and they said, "Let's do it." So we decided right then that we were going to take the nonprofit and move it in the right direction.

 

Steve:             Well it's so admirable. And VetLinks has been around for how many years now?

 

Jessica:           It'll be two years on December 20th.

 

Steve:             Way to go. Kirk, let me ask you this. How did you meet Jessica and how did you get involved with VetLinks?

 

Kirk:                Well first Steve, I want to echo Jessica's sentiment and just thank you for the opportunity to be on the program.

 

Kirk:                The short answer to how Jessica and I met was through her relationship with my best friend, Brian Kavanagh. Brian, as Jessica mentioned, was really the inspiration behind VetLinks.org. The slightly, I guess, longer version of how we got together, Brian and I grew up in a small town in Pittsburg, Kansas. We did everything together, hung out, we played sports, found creative ways to get in trouble at times. We were basically together almost every day from preschool really through high school graduation. So about as tight as two guys could be.

 

Kirk:                Flash forward a couple of years, and Brian had gone through the ROTC program at Pittsburg State University in our hometown, got commissioned, and eventually the Army stationed him over in Baltimore where his relationship with Jessica begins. And about that same time, I was also on active duty and serving in Iraq at that point. And honestly, Brian had dated other people, but when we communicated on email and phones, there was just something different about the way he was talking about Jessica. He was certainly smitten with her, head over heels.

 

Kirk:                So I returned that deployment in May of 2011, and Brian brought her to our good friend, Pat McNally's wedding, and that was the first time that we met in person.

 

Steve:             It must have been so hard for you to see your best friend, your pal, suffer from such severe PTSD.

 

Kirk:                Yeah, you know, it's hard to imagine knowing someone for over three decades, and then seeing their personality almost fundamentally change in front of you. It's one thing to hear words like post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, but to see the effects of that on someone you care so much about, it's almost impossible to describe. It was like when I'd go out to Baltimore with friends to kind of help Jessica intervene a little bit, and get Brian to realize what was going on, it was almost like a shell of himself. You look behind his eyes, and it just wasn't the same man that I'd grown up with and grown to love.

 

Kirk:                The other thing that was interesting for me in my initial journey with VetLinks, was it was hard for me to kind of understand their struggle. As an active-duty Army officer, the healthcare that I'm provided and still am has been phenomenal, the Army really takes care of its soldiers. But you know, when Brian left active duty he kind of gave up that camaraderie that is so unique to soldiers, you know, the bond that you form when you're in combat with somebody, it's indescribable for someone who hasn't been there. And so when Brian left active duty, he left that kind of network, that camaraderie of veterans.

 

Kirk:                And then the second thing is, when you leave active duty, the level of care that's available to veterans just is not up to par compared to what's provided for us on active duty. And so what I kind of came to realize in seeing Jessica and Brian's struggles, is ... it's difficult for the VA to provide the individual, necessary support, if you will, that our veterans deserve.

 

Steve:             So Jessica, let me ask you this, clearly you created VetLinks in honor of our husband and to help other soldiers like your husband. Can you tell us though a little bit more about what exactly VetLinks does, and who it's for, and how it helps them?

 

Jessica:          So VetLinks is for veterans, it's for our caregivers, it's for family members. And we want to be able to provide the immediate resources that they may need in a very immediate fashion. Whether that may be an inpatient stay, whether that might be therapy, alternative treatment, whether that's just getting a massage or acupuncture, or having a babysitter come over to the house so the couple can go get the couple's therapy they may need. Or as a caregiver, getting a flight to be able to go see their veteran while they're in an inpatient center. I mean, it really could be anything. As long as ... our criteria is based off of our story, as far as post-9/11, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, TBI-related. But however and whatever resources they need, we want to be able to provide.

 

Kirk:                Like any small business or nonprofit starting out, kind of identifying that target audience and developing our niche was hugely important for us. There's a lot of great nonprofits that do some really amazing things to assist veterans. So as we sort of developed our initial focus as a board, we thought let's model our target customer, if you will, on the Kavanagh family. So as Jessica mentioned, that's a combat veteran and their families who are struggling specifically from the effects of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse.

 

Kirk:                And our original thought was, hey, if we can save one veteran, we can impact one family's life, we'll be successful. And so as we progressed a little bit, the other thing we came to realize is that one of the forgotten parts of this epidemic involves those caregivers that Jessica talked about. Those persons, or people that live day in and day out with their veteran.

 

Kirk:                The other thing we learned is that the effects of post-traumatic stress can have profound impacts on the children of those veterans as well. So some of our focus has been specifically for those caregivers and children of veterans, in addition to trying to help veterans themselves.

 

Steve:             So you make a really great point, Kirk. I mean, one thing I always talk about to my small business brothers and sisters is that you have to serve the market, and find a need and fill it. And clearly there is a great need for the work you are doing. I'm going to ask this question to both of you, and Kirk, I'll go to your first. What is it you find most rewarding about your work with VetLinks?

 

Kirk:                Well I think first and foremost, it's the realization that we're helping people through our work. We've helped some people in some big ways, paying for inpatient treatments and such, and also in smaller ways. If I could I'd like to tell you a story about one of the first people that we helped. He was a Marine combat veteran named Matt. And when Matt got out of the Marine Corps, he really struggled with that transition back into civilian life. He had the telltale signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress, and was really abusing alcohol.

 

Steve:             Right.

 

Kirk:                And when we learned about Matt's story, we said, "Hey, this is exactly who we're trying to take care of." So VetLinks’ board kind of looked at the case, we voted wholeheartedly, let's get Matt some help. So we were able to provide six months of inpatient treatment therapy out in California. And Matt really took the treatment really well. And so we kind of followed his story as a new nonprofit startup, and I'm so proud to tell you, Steve, that he completed the six months of treatment, he got sober, and more importantly he got employed. And I'll tell you the great thing about that employment, Steve, is that he's actually employed with the VA right now. So it's about a story going full circle. Here Matt is struggling and we were able to help him through that struggle, and now he's living proof of what nonprofits like VetLinks can do, and we're so proud of the work he's doing in the VA to help his fellow vets out.

 

Steve:             Well that's fantastic, and congratulations, and it's stories like that that are so heartwarming. I'm sure, Jessica, that is the kind of thing that you find incredibly rewarding as well.

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. We get emails and text messages and phone calls all the time, thanking us for everything. So it's really rewarding.

 

Steve:             Jessica, I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about some of the unexpected challenges you have faced along the way. You know, it's not easy to create a business, it's not easy to create a nonprofit, an organization, a website. What unexpected challenges have you found?

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. Well, I personally think that one of the biggest challenges we have is dealing with getting past the stigma of these men and women wanting to get help. I know Brian never wanted to get help, he never wanted to talk about his struggles, or his issues, until he finally did, and hit a wall, and then it was too late. So there's a stigma overall, I think, with people struggling with mental health.

 

Jessica:          But just reaching them, and getting them to want to you know accept help, and get help has been one of our biggest challenges.

Steve:             Clearly you're getting there. And Kirk, what about you? What do you think?

 

Kirk:                Yeah, you know Steve, surprisingly, one of the unexpected challenges that we've faced was actually finding veterans and their families to help. As we started our nonprofit and found some initial success raising funds, we then had to figure out well how do we connect our resources, our monetary resources to those that need it? Reaching our target customer, if you will.

 

Kirk:                Another challenge involved the need to screen veterans' requests, kind of ensuring that we were in compliance in terms of like the regulations safeguarding peoples' private information, their identity, and their health information. And luckily, these are both kind of challenges that we've been able to work through by our networking efforts.

 

Kirk:                One thing that I think is valuable, whether you're serving the Army like I am, running a for profit enterprise, or working in a nonprofit like VetLinks, is really the power of networking. I think Jessica has been an absolute pro at networking in the Baltimore and greater Washington DC area. Her efforts and relationship building skills allowed us to connect with a great partner, and this organization that's called Code of Support. And Steve, what Code of Support and their partners do is they basically link together different veteran's charities, and are able to leverage the capabilities of each nonprofit in this collective partnership.

 

Kirk:                So if a veteran reaches out through Code of Support and has the need that fits our model and our criteria, they pass that referral on to us and we're able to connect our resources with that veteran's specific needs.

 

Steve:             Nice. Well clearly, Jessica, you are a master networker. Your story of how you went about helping your husband is pretty incredible. And if you brought those same skills to this endeavor, I'm sure you guys have an incredible network.

 

Steve:             I'm wondering, in fact, how creating this organization and VetLinks has impacted your personal life. It began as a personal story, you and your husband, and you taking the mantle from your husband. How has it affected your personal life since then?

 

Jessica:          You know, it's a challenge. I feel at this point I'm basically running three full-time jobs between our two little girls, and I work for a medical sales company that I've been with for 14 years, and that, of course, pays the bills, and now running the nonprofit. So it's just ... the challenge is time management, and just figuring out the priorities for the day. And that's all I do, is I just take it day by day.

 

Steve:             And Kirk, you, I'm guessing, have never started a business before, never created something from scratch. This has to have affected your personal life in ways you didn't expect either.

 

Kirk:                Yeah, it's really brought into focus the criticality of managing the work/life balance. Like Jessica, I have children, I have four kids, and they're all active and doing sports and school activities, and so trying to fulfill my duties as an active-duty Army officer, balancing that with being a husband and a father, and having such passion to try to help veterans that are like my best friend, Brian, it's been a challenge. But what it's taught me, as far as helping VetLinks, is just learning to balance and manage my time better.

 

Kirk:                The other thing that kind of comes out of this is actually learning how to say no. When we first started out, we took every opportunity we could, we'd go speak to any group, big or small, and then now we have to really kind of weigh our opportunities, because our time is limited and we have to choose those opportunities that give us kind of the best return, if you will, on that precious resource which is time.

 

Jessica:           Absolutely.

 

Steve:             And Kirk, would you do anything differently now two years in that you think people might want to know about?

 

Kirk:                You know, it's ... when you start any business, there's going to be certain things that you're good at, your core competencies, those things that you inherently feel comfortable with doing. And looking back, we were blessed to have a group of friends that had some unique talents that all contributed in meaningful ways to us starting VetLinks.org. But the one kind of, I guess, missing component was someone in our group, our initial Board of Directors, that had true nonprofit experience. It's different than running a for-profit business. So if I could rewind time a little bit, the one change would've been to reach out to a mentor, or someone with that nonprofit experience to really be an initial guiding hand, as we launched this journey that is VetLinks.org.

 

Steve:             That's a great tip. And I'm wondering about you Jessica, anything you might do differently and any advice you would give entrepreneurs or other people listening to our show today?

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. You know, I would say if you have a conviction about what it is you're trying to accomplish, you're going to get there. I know we had a problem, and we still have a problem today, taking the proper care of our veterans and caregivers. But that caused us to learn, and to put one foot in front of the other. So if you believe in your product, don't be afraid to go for it, because success can only come from taking action.

 

Steve:             You know, one of the things I love most about meeting the people I get to meet on this show is their enthusiasm and the initiative they take and creating something out of nothing. As I mentioned, it's not an easy thing to do. And so, whether that's a small business or a nonprofit, it really makes no difference. And what you're doing is admirable and great, and you're doing it so well too, so I would just recommend to anybody listening who has a veteran who needs help, VetLinks.org is a great website and a great organization, and we are all lucky to have you doing the work you're doing.

 

Steve:              So Kirk Duncan and Jessica Kavanagh, thank you both so much for being with us today.

 

Narrator:         For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Related resources:

Veterans Make Ideal Entrepreneurs: Here are the Resources You Need to Start a Small Business by Steve Strauss

“The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 3: Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship Part I

“The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 3: Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship Part II

See how Bank of America shows its support and commitment to veterans and their families.

  Learn more about the Bank of America $20 Million Lending Program for U.S. Military Veteran Entrepreneurs

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To celebrate women business owners, Bank of America and ForbesBooks took time to speak with small business experts at their recent panel event. Panelist Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, created the female-focused collaboration space for professional women to network, develop, and connect.Tune in to this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” for Cate Luzio’s entrepreneurial journey.

 

Listen next: Stories from the Spotlight, Part 1: Deepti Sharma & FoodtoEat

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Transcript:

Narrator:                   Now, let's hear from Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, the venue hosting the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owners Spotlight.

 

Kate Delaney:           We're at a very cool place, Greg, called Luminary.

 

Gregg Stebben:        That is very cool. Luminary.

 

Cate Luzio:               Yes.

 

Kate Delaney:           Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Luminary. Who's here with us?

 

Kate Delaney:            Cate Luzio's with us. She is the founder of this place.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And CEO. Founder and CEO of Luminary.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yes. And she's a 20-year banker.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Before Luminary.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yeah.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                 I quit my job to do this.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, I want to hear the whole story.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:          How did you get here? Actually, you know what? Before you tell us that, tell us what Luminary is so people understand. I mean, we are in this  beautiful brick, I guess ... Is it loft-ish or a loft?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. Well, we're 15,000 square feet, so you guys have only seen one part. We've got a fitness studio, we have a beauty bar-

 

Gregg Stebben:          Oh, my gosh.

 

Cate Luzio:                  ... we have a dozen meeting rooms, we have a dozen phone booths, we're opening up our rooftop. It'll be open all year round.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Now, wait a minute. And I'm not invited. Well, no, I am invited.

 

Cate Luzio:                  No, men are absolutely welcome.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Oh, it is. Okay.

 

Cate Luzio:                  100%.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, it's not a women-only co-working staff. Okay.

 

Cate Luzio:                 We're not. So, we are a female-focused collaboration space for professional women to network, develop, and connect. We're built on programming and content. So, we think of ourselves as here's a community gathering hub for women and male allies where you can come and learn, develop, and connect with other women, no matter if you're a banker, an entrepreneur, a yoga instructor, a teacher, really breaking down the silos that women face all over, no matter what profession they're in, especially for those that we’re trying to retain in the workforce, and then women entrepreneurs. So, we do workshops and courses, almost 20 a month.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Wow.

 

Cate Luzio:                 So, we've already done 150 this year. We've been open nine months. So that, whether it's professional and career development, small business entrepreneurial, personal wellness, and career changer and pivoters, we're supporting the woman, not a specific woman.

 

Kate Delaney:             Did you decide you were going to do this because you saw the need for women?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Very good question, Kate.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yeah. No man would have figured out that question.

 

Cate Luzio:                 No. You know, actually, I had this amazing career, 20 years. I spent a number of years at BofA, JP Morgan, and HSBC, and what I saw was that there were a lot of focus on the senior women and the junior women as they're coming in and as they have reached the top, but what about the pipeline. So, how do you invest in the pipeline of women in particular? Women are raising their hands all the time saying, "I want more. I want to do more. I want to learn more." So, how do we advance them into leadership roles in whatever they want to do so that we can change those numbers at the top that we keep hearing about? That's the gap. It's the same whether you work for a bank or you're an entrepreneur. How do you get access to the tools to develop yourself, to develop your business, develop your acumen?

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's interesting, Cate. In a way, that's a big focus of what Bank of America-

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... is reporting in the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, which is why we're here. But I have kind of a two-part question for you based on what you just said.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Sure.

 

Gregg Stebben:          One is I want to know what the ramp up was for you to go from, "I'm committed," to actually opening the door.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:          But on top of that, I'm just wondering, we're in this place right now, we call it the war for talent, right? Was that one of the factors for you, that companies are struggling so much to get great talent? Was that a piece of your thinking?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. So, I'll take that question first. I think companies have the talent, they're just not investing in the right way. So, we see so many recruiters out there, they give a woman a call or even a person of color or men, too, and say, "Hey, come to this great company." Well, are you looking in your pipeline? I've been doing this for nine months, right? We're open nine months. I still get calls from recruiters about banking jobs.

 

Gregg Stebben:          For you?

 

Cate Luzio:                 For me.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Hello? LinkedIn.

 

Cate Luzio:                 There's women right-

 

Gregg Stebben:          In your company.

 

Cate Luzio:                 ... in your company.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Which is, really, the bigger point here.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Absolutely. So, they're right there. In banking, if 51% of the workforce is women, how are we still saying there's not a CEO out there that's a woman for any of the big banks, right, the top Wall Street firms. Stop looking outside and look inside, right?

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Also, give opportunity. But I think-

 

Gregg Stebben:           And groom.

 

Cate Luzio:                  And groom.

 

Gregg Stebben:           But groom opportunity.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Really invest, right, and developing them. I think, to your point, where did I come from? I had a great conversation with a male mentor of mine in early 2018. I was still in my job. I quit. There's a long story behind that, but I quit. Then, a month later, I wrote a business plan for Luminary. I decided to self-fund it, so no outside investors because I wanted to build a community that was maximizing the value for our members versus an investor, and there's nothing wrong with taking on money. I had made a very good career and wanted to invest and put my money where my mouth is. So, nine months later, we opened. So, it was a pretty fast ramp. We've been open nine months and we've got over 600 individual members and we also do corporate memberships. So, we have JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs and Unilever and others that are corporate members because they're looking at different ways to invest in their own talent, and Luminary's a great space to be able to deliver that.

 

Kate Delaney:             We're speaking with Cate Lucio, and she's the founder and CEO of Luminary. As you just heard the tale, funded it herself. Wow. That's so admirable. When you launched this, did you expect it to take off the way it has so fast? It hasn't even been a year and you've got all these big things happening.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. You know, actually, I hoped, but what I think is there is a real need for this, back to the earlier question, and I think women are looking for community, they're looking for connection, and they're looking for tools to continue to advance themselves in whatever they do. I think we have to stop siloing them and bucketing them in this one thing. "Kate, you do this. Jane, you do that." Let's bring women together. We can all learn from one another and really propel each other forward. Oh, by the way, let's make sure men are at the table helping us, right? That's one of the reasons we don't exclude men. It's really important in building a really inclusive, diverse space. We don't have an application process. I don't want someone to apply to become part of our community. That's not a community. That's already excluding people. So, we are a “join now” and we have just unbelievable members from all different places.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You mentioned your corporate sponsors.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:           What is it that they're bringing to the table and getting from Luminary that makes it an attractive opportunity for them as well?

 

Cate Luzio:                 So, every company, if they're even at the mid size and large size, has a women's group, right, and it's usually back on those women to deliver the programming and the content and the speakers. We believe that we're an extension of these women's groups. We take the heavy lift off, but then it puts the individual back in the driver's seat around what types of skills they want to focus on versus just what their company is offering. So, that's one way on the employee engagement experience. There's a huge opportunity around brand awareness and engagement for these companies around, again, putting their money where their mouth is to support their women. Then, third, there's a great opportunity for both customer and talent acquisitions. You never know who you're going to see or meet in the space.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yep. Absolutely.

 

Cate Luzio:                 For me, as somebody who worked in corporate America for over 20 years, it's kind of a no-brainer.

 

Kate Delaney:            Last question, and this is a tough one. What keeps you up at night?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Honestly, as a self-funder, founder, and CEO, everything. I want to make sure that we really live and breathe what we're saying in the community and not diluting. How do you keep growing without going too fast?

 

Gregg Stebben:          Want to make one last point before we wrap this up. You talked about self-funding.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          The point I want to make is that getting funding may not be right for every business. Self-funding may not be right for it.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Oh, exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           That's a consideration that every small business should think about, is not just, "I need money," but where's the money coming from?

 

Cate Luzio:                  And why do you need it?

 

Gregg Stebben:           And why do you need it is essential. When it's your money, I bet you treat it a lot differently.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Absolutely. But I think there's a huge opportunity for banks to play in this space versus everyone just looks at, "Oh, I've got to raise a bunch of money."

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Banks have amazing tools, and we need to educate mainly women business owners on what tools that banks can offer so that you can grow your business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Beautiful.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yep. Thank you so much. This was terrific.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Thanks for having me.

 

Kate Delaney:             Thanks.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

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To celebrate women business owners, Bank of America and Forbesbooks took time to speak with small business experts at their recent panel event. Panelist Deepti Sharma, founder of FoodtoEat, is creating opportunity and increasing the odds of success for caterers and restaurants. Tune in to this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” for Deepti Sharma’s entrepreneurial journey.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Transcript:

Kate Delaney:             I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from “Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. We're here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, and we're here with Deepti Sharma. She is the founder and CEO of FoodtoEat. What is FoodtoEat?

 

Deepti Sharma:          So, first of all, thank you for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You're welcome.

 

Deepti Sharma:          FoodtoEat is a corporate catering concierge service where we partner with immigrant women and minority-owned restaurants in New York City. Essentially, we help them by taking over their sales and marketing for catering and help them book catering opportunities at large clients. And we're getting these corporations that we feed to do two things. One, we help them consolidate their food and beverage programs, so they don't have to go to 10 different restaurants in order to book catering opportunities, and then two, we're helping them look at diversity and inclusion through the lens of food and beverage, so thinking about how they can invest by using their purchasing power in small businesses in the community and the businesses we represent, as I said, are immigrant- woman- or minority-owned, and two, we're also allowing them to think about inclusion. So, inclusion is not just hiring women and people of color, which is how D&I is usually looked at. So, we say, "How about you do that through your food and beverage programs?"

 

Gregg Stebben:          Culture.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yes, culture. Exactly. Get the people you've hired to feel as if you're actually trying to think about where they're from and the cuisines that they grew up eating. So, again, it's such a simple thing. Food is sustenance, but it's always put on the back burner. What's the least amount of money I can spend on food? But at any event, good food and good drinks, people remember that.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It also brings the best out of people. So, you're probably going to have some really great gains in productivity and-

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... and engagement amongst your employees-

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... that produce results that frankly were unpredictable around a pizza.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely. As you're talking about that, one of the things we've done to humanize the experience is we started a campaign called I Made Your Food where we photograph all the owners, chefs, and operators holding the sign called “I Made Your Food” because we want those photograph to be in front of the catering and people to look at it before they pick up that free food and say, "Oh, wow. This is the person that has literally had something to do with putting my food together." You see these people standing in line, they're like, "Oh, what is that? I'm so curious and interested." We've even had companies send out the links to the blogs of the interviews that we've done because they want to promote the D&I experience, and they want to promote that they're actually doing this for their team inside.

 

Kate Delaney:             What a brilliant idea and with, of course, the explosion of social media, all different platforms, I would imagine that really took off like wildfire.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. I mean, a lot of the companies that we're feeding loved it and, essentially, have literally switched over from other organizations that they used to work with to us because they loved that we actually care about the vendors that we represent, that we care about the businesses that we work with, because we don't want to be seen as a third party to them. We want to be able to be seen as an extension of their business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Talk to us about the kinds of restaurants and food companies you're working with. Would they be in the catering business if they had not created a relationship with FoodtoEat?

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. So, some of them are ... We're in New York City, so we work with some local chains like Dos Toros or fresh&co, which are ... they have above 10 locations in New York City alone.

 

Gregg Stebben:          That's still local or regional companies?

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Okay.

 

Deepti Sharma:           They are still local, regional companies.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, not Taco Bell or-

 

Deepti Sharma:            No. No.

 

Gregg Stebben:            ... Chili's?

 

Deepti Sharma:            No.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Okay.

 

Deepti Sharma:          We try to avoid those. But we do have clients that have requested them sometimes. Again, we don't want to be representing those businesses, but we have mom and pops, organizations like Ja Dijo Dom (Owner/Chef Charles Chipengule). He's an individual that actually used to work for another vendor of ours. He learned everything he could, left, and started his own business. He's from Botswana and wanted to bring the cuisine of not just Botswana, but the continent of Africa and he wanted to educate people because he himself wanted to educate himself about what the cuisine all over Africa is like. So, he started a catering company. So, we have vendors like him, Mamagyro, which is a mother/daughter-owned Greek restaurant and catering business.

 

                                   So, those are the stories that I feel like are the fabric of our country. When people think about what's American food, I don't think it's burgers and fries. I think it is the cuisine of the world, right, because that's who we are. We're immigrants. That's why, as a first-generation woman of color, I think it's really essential for me to represent where I come from, which is ... Obviously, I'm In ... not obviously, but I am an Indian American.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Not as obvious to a radio audience.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. Not as obvious, but I am Indian American, and so I wanted to represent that, but I wanted to represent people from all over the world.

 

Gregg Stebben:          What fascinates me about what you've done is you're actually creating opportunity and increased odds of success for the caterers and the restaurants that you work with and, at the same time, creating this opportunity for inclusion and understanding and opening people's minds about food and culture on the company side, and on top of that, we also have a much more diverse workplace. So, it must be very thrilling for people at a company to have their culture represented from time to time as opposed to the standard stuff you get from a company.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely. We want them to not only do it when it's Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month. We want them to know that every one of these restaurants or caterers that we work with should be represented throughout the year, right? It's not just these specialty moments or months to celebrate them. So, that's when ERG groups do it. So, we, again, are changing that conversation to say, "You should have cuisine from all over the world all the time."

 

Gregg Stebben:          All the time.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Exactly.

 

Kate Delaney:            I mentioned at the top that, of course, we're here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight event, and Deepti, for you, obviously, there has to be a connection. What would you advise young women who want to be entrepreneurs, who want to be business owners like yourself, what would you advise them to do?

 

Deepti Sharma:          I was talking about this earlier with someone. I always try to tell them to be passionate, but passion isn't enough to run a business. So, what I think is really important is when you're walking into a room, be able to back up anything you do with facts. People will always ask, "Why you? Why now? Why does this business need to be started now?" and, "Why does it have to be you?" So, just make sure you have the facts of why it is you should be this right person and have those facts of what is the problem that you're trying to solve and why is it now that's most important to get it done.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Okay. I'll take the bait. Why you? Why now? What happened in your life to make you see that this was an opportunity?

 

Deepti Sharma:          When I started FoodtoEat, it was a very different business. I started as an online ordering platform for food trucks and carts, like a Seamless for food trucks. Why me? Because I'm a New Yorker, I absolutely love this city, community has always been a big part of whatever I've done, and I wanted to help create opportunities for underrepresented, marginalized communities. I've worked in politics before it. I had seen what it was like to bring people together for one cause. So, why me? Because I've done it in the world of politics, where I've worked on a number of campaigns. Why at that time? Food trucks were booming. It was 2011 and it was an interesting time and I wanted to help grow and scale them, but not the hippy, the hipster type of food trucks. I wanted to help the small business owners that technology was emerging, but they weren't actually using it-

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Deepti Sharma:           ... so I was sending them, through our system, text messages with orders from people that were sitting in their offices. So, why me? Because I've done things before where I've brought people together for a cause and I felt like I could do it for these people to help them grow in scale. At the time, like I said, food trucks were hot. Then, we solely pivoted for a lot of reasons, which we could spend another 30, 40 minutes-

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm sure we could.

 

Deepti Sharma:          ... but the pivot was great for us because we were able to continue helping the food industry in a different capacity.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I love the fact that in your original model, you were helping the food trucks and hungry people and now you're helping a very specific set, immigrants, women, on one hand grow their business with your help and expertise, but also, there's this whole inspirational, educational, cultural enlightenment part, which, if I had to choose one of those models to motivate me to get out of bed in the morning, I would definitely pick what you pivoted to. I really want to congratulate you for that.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. Thank you. I mean, we always worked with immigrant women, minority, but the funny thing is it was always something I knew I was doing, but it wasn't a part of my branding.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Deepti Sharma:          It became more a part of our story because we saw that that's what would really push our business and that's what would really get the habits of corporations to change.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yeah. Because you have two tribes now, and one of them is very big and powerful and well-funded.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           That's very exciting.

 

Deepti Sharma:            Corporations needs to spend their dollars in the right places.

 

Kate Delaney:              Yeah. Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, let's help them.

 

Deepti Sharma:           The challenge is always with Fortune 500 companies. There's always a lot of red tape. How do we break that? How do we get them to change the habits of conforming to what they're used to, which is working with companies like Aramark and Sedexo?

 

Gregg Stebben:          The thing I love about, I think you said, the hashtag or that what you put in the photo is I Made This.

 

Deepti Sharma:           I Made your Food.

 

Gregg Stebben:           I Made your Food. What I love about that is so often, the food we eat, nobody made it.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           A machine made it. A robot made it. It's not even really food.

 

Deepti Sharma:           It's processed. Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           It's processed. You're delivering real food made by real people-

 

Deepti Sharma:           Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           ... that provides real jobs and real opportunity. That is very exciting.

 

Deepti Sharma:          So, for us, that's what I'm thinking about, is that how do we change the conversation, and that's why we really started investing our time in D&I because we realized that people ... It's a hot topic. Everyone wants to be a part of it and everybody wants to be doing something new and different. So, it's still tough, right? Corporations don't change with the snap of a finger, even though I wish they did.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Not even when Deepti snaps her fingers.

 

Kate Delaney:             That's right.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yes.

 

Kate Delaney:             Thank you very much. It was lovely meeting you. I love your mission. I can't wait to see where it all ends up.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I want lunch.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Thank you.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yeah, so do I.

 

Deepti Sharma:           I'm always hungry.

 

Narrator:                     For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

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National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) hosted its annual National Women’s Business Conference to bring together women entrepreneurs from across the country to learn, network and share their ideas for the future. NAWBO, which is celebrating its 44th year as an organization, chose “Our Time is Now” as this year’s theme—and our team fully embraced that sentiment! Marking Bank of America’s seventh year as the presenting sponsor of the event, our team walked away energized, empowered and inspired by the incredible women business owners who are making strides across the country.

 

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of the annual Woman Business Owner of the Year award. From hundreds of nominations submitted from NAWBO Chapters all over the country, the field was narrowed to three finalists: Gail Becker of CAULIPOWER; Merrilee Kick of Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC; and Lynn Weirich of Business Financial Group (BFG). Gail was selected as this year’s winner.

 

While on the ground, we had a chance to talk with the three women and get some advice on business best practices and advice for building a successful small business:

 

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Gail Becker, CAULIPOWER – 2019 winner of the Woman Business Owner of the Year Award

 

Prior to founding Caulipower, Gail’s career covered media, politics and business. However, as a mom of two boys with celiac disease, she couldn’t find pizza options that were tasty and gluten-free. So, she left her corporate job to launch CAULIPOWER, with a mission to reinvent favorite foods one healthy meal hack at a time. In two years, she turned her idea into the No. 8 best-selling frozen pizza brand in the United States, extended the product offerings and created a $100 million-plus company.

 

What advice would you give prospective or new women business owners looking to start and grow their businesses?

 

Never be afraid to bet on yourself, because if you don’t, no one else ever will!

 

What skills or characteristics are foundational to be an entrepreneur or small business owner?

To be an entrepreneur today you have to be pretty fearless. I inherited my fearlessness from my father, who came to this country as an immigrant with absolutely nothing and built a small business, which I got to work in every Saturday for $20 plus lunch. When he passed away, he really passed along onto me this fearlessness, which I’ve used every single day in building my business.

 

Merrilee Kick, Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC – Finalist

 

Merrilee is CEO and founder of BuzzBallz/Southern Champion, the only woman-owned distillery/winery in the United States. BuzzBallz/Southern Champion makes ready-to-drink cocktail brands and premium spirits brands sold in 43 states and seven countries. The company is family operated out of the Dallas area. Merrilee is a winner of the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award Southwest, EY’s Winning Women Award 2016, and many other accolades.

 

What moment would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?

One of the most important things that happened to me in my professional career was attending a trade show. I was having a hard time getting sales in different states. We barely had any money when my son and I hoofed it to that trade show, got a tiny little booth, and then overnight we had 15 new distributors for our product. They were statewide distributors, which was a big deal for us. That’s when I knew we were going to make it.

 

Lynn Weirich, Business Financial Group (BFG) – Finalist

 

Lynn is president of BFG, a human resource consulting firm she co-founded in 1997. BFG helps business owners manage their back-office issues related to their most important asset: their people. Services include payroll processing, timekeeping, onboarding, training, HR information systems and more. Lynn is one of three founding members of NAWBO-San Antonio and she has won numerous awards, including the San Antonio Business Journal’s leadership award.

 

What would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?

I would say that it’s recognizing that my internal clients come first and foremost. If they are happy and they’re productive and the culture is right, then my external clients will be well taken care of too.

 

For more from this year’s finalists, check out NAWBO’s September interviews with them here.

For a range of historically disadvantaged small business owners, Supplier Diversity programs present an opportunity to get a leg up in a very competitive landscape.

Specifically, benefits include:

 

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  • Access to supplier diversity and procurement executives at hundreds of major U.S. corporations and some federal, state and local government entities
  • Formal and informational opportunities to pursue business deals with National Corporate Members
  • Access to mentoring, education and capacity development
  • Opportunity to promote your business through event participation

 

It takes tremendous effort and dedication to get any small business off the ground, and supplier diversity programs are intiatives to help expand business opportunities, such as help for bidding on large contracts. These opportunities for growth bolster both the small business itself and local communities through job creation and revenues that are shared across the local economy.

 

The support and advantages these programs provide are vital to the select small business owners who may face additional challenges in getting started and expanding their operations.

 

The eligible groups are:

 

  • Women-owned Small Business - Owned and operated by a woman or women
  • Small Disadvantaged Business -  Owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged persons
  • Service-disabled Veteran-owned Small Business Concern - Owned and operated by U.S. military veterans who acquired a disability during their service

 

A Banking Partner

 

Small businesses with diverse ownership have a well-equipped ally in Bank of America. BofA’s Supplier Diversity Program, which works with those businesses to ensure that they are afforded opportunities to participate in competitive  bids and/or aid in assisting them grow their existing business with BofA.

To participate in BofA’s program, small businesses must become certified as a diverse supplier, which can be done through one of several organizations like:

 

 

     These organizations help confirm that the business fulfills all of the criteria necessary. Bank of America supports categories including:

 

    • Minority-Owned
    • Woman-Owned
    • Veteran, Disabled Veteran, and Service-Disabled Veteran
    • Disabled-Owned
    • LGBT-Owned
    • HUBZone Businesses (Historically Underutilized Business Zone)

 

     From there, a small business can begin to work with BofA under the Supplier Diversity Program.

 

Why Participate

 

Bank of America works with suppliers to understand their capabilities and to align them with upcoming opportunities where the needs of their business fit the services and/or products that the supplier provides.

 

Bank of America works with both buyers and suppliers to develop the best business matches and foster diversity in the supply chain. To successfully do so, the team at Bank of America has added resources like legal services, marketing and advertising support, digital and social media staffing, design & construction, promotional products, office supplies, global tech and ops and call center support.

 

Starting a small business is never easy but finding the right tools and partners can help diverse businesses  start strong while building a vibrant and thriving business.

For further information, please visit the Bank of America supplier page.

The research presented in this report, sponsored by Bank of America Private bank and developed in partnership with Babson College, offers a rare look into the unique experiences of women entrepreneurs. As they navigate their way to building successful businesses, the report is based on in-depth interviews with 30 women entrepreneurs operating companies in a variety of industries, all of which generate a minimum of $5 million in annual revenues.

 

Through their collective experiences, three key themes emerged, all highlighting the barriers that women often encounter in their endeavors to achieve successful business growth. To help others identify opportunities for similar growth, read the full report for seven actionable strategies direct from successful women entrepreneurs.  

 

Click here to read the full report

 

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Women entrepreneurs plan to grow their businesses and hire more workers in 2020. As they grow as business leaders, it is vital for women to mentor the next generation of female business owners. Bank of America’s Head of Small Business, Sharon Miller, encourages women business owners to dream big and keep pushing to achieve their goals. On this episode of the “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” hear more on this and other findings from the 2019 Women Business Owner Spotlight.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Transcript:

 

Kate Delaney:            I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooksand Bank of America, and we are so pleased to be here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. And we are with, I've got to call her my nickname, the grand dame of banking, Sharon Miller, who is the head of Small Business for Bank of America. It's so great to meet you and be here at this fabulous event.

 

Sharon Miller:            It's so great to be here, Kate and Gregg. Thank you so much for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Absolutely. This is one of your premier events of the year.

 

Sharon Miller:            It is. It is.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So tell us about the event and about the data and the statistics and the research behind it.

 

Sharon Miller:            For the last four years, we have produced a Women Business Owner Report just to understand how women are feeling about the economy, about what's happening with their own business and their revenue outlook. And this time, for the first time over the last four years, women have a higher expectation for hiring plans, for revenue growth of their business and the outlook than their male counterparts. So, that's a pretty fascinating data point when you think about the optimism out there in the economy and what's happening in the political climate right now.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You talk to a lot of women business owners. Do you have theories of your own about why there would be that change?

 

Sharon Miller:            You know, women, I mean Kate, we're women, right?

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm always the guy here.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yes, you are.

 

Sharon Miller:             You're always the guy.

 

Gregg Stebben:          The lone guy.

 

Sharon Miller:             You're the lone guy.

 

                                   And we are sitting in a fabulous place that is dedicated to women, Luminary, that is a co-op of women entrepreneurs working together, that's why we chose this spot in particular here in Manhattan. And to me, women, we are more and more getting out there, starting our own business, wanting to take control of our own destiny. And I think that as that settles in, as you see sustainability, women are understanding, "Hey, I can do this. I feel confident, I feel good about what's going on." And I think it's just time.

 

Kate Delaney:            I love numbers and I'm wondering if there's some trends or stats from the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight that we should look at, that we should call attention to for people who are listening to us.

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, 84% of women told us that they expected their revenue to be higher at the end of this year in 2019 versus last year. So, that's a pretty good majority of business owners out there.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's also—they're predicting that for themselves after a previously great year.

 

Sharon Miller:            That's right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, it's not a reaction to something bad, but it's a greater reaction to something great.

 

Sharon Miller:            It is. It's continuing that increase, it's continued optimism. And we're already in October.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Right.

 

Sharon Miller:            So when you think about, a lot of the year has passed. We're in the 10th month of the year and we're hearing this from business owners, so that's a pretty good indicator of how they feel they'll end the year.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things I want to ask you about, Sharon, because this really fascinated me, partially I think because I am a man, but I think it's going to be really eye-opening for women as well. One of the things you asked as part of this was, "I believe blank will be impactful in helping women in business over the next five years." And first of all, I love the question, I love the collection of responses you got, but I love the fact that the number one thing that women said they thought would be impactful was achieving work-life balance. Because I think that's also aligned with more and more people, thanks to millennials, are looking for in their business whether they own it or they're an employee. And I want to hear you talk about that.

 

Sharon Miller:            I agree, and I think that's not just for entrepreneurship, but it's for corporate America.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes.

 

Sharon Miller:            And I think about Bank of America and the benefits we give: 16 weeks of maternity or paternity leave when someone has a baby. Whether you're the man or the woman, you get that leave, you get to spend time with your family. More and more, people want to spend time with their family, and it's a blurred line of work and life. And when you can have it both together, and you can do what you love and still be with your loved ones, and your company is committed to that, or you're an entrepreneur and you lead that type of organization, he's got greater followership and greater commitment. And especially in the millennials, we're finding that.

 

Kate Delaney:            Talking about the millennials, here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, what would you tell young women as they jump into owning their own businesses?

 

Sharon Miller:            I think it's important to be positive. Be confident. Follow your passion, follow your dream. Because the more I hear and I read articles and I listen to business owners about, "Why did you do it?" "Well, I followed my dream, I followed my passion." Then don't limit your dream and don't limit what's possible, because when you got into this business, you felt the sky's the limit.

 

                                  So keep dreaming, keep thinking about how I can do things differently, how I can continue to expand or go into different markets, and don't ever stop that creative engine that got you here to begin with. Because when you just get stale and you don't keep thinking, "Okay, how can I do this better, faster, more efficient?" You're not going to keep growing. And so that's what I would encourage any business owner to do, but especially millennials as they're getting into the start of their own business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Millennials, yes, and women, yes. Because one of the things you mentioned early on as we've been talking today, and I think one of the things that's so visible at this event today is that—and you found this in the report—the more there are women who are successful in business, the more it impacts other women and empowers them to do the same thing. For a lot of reasons, including, "Oh, there are lots of mentors now. There's lots of women that have experienced this. There's more women in banking, so that I do have access to capital," on and on and on and on. And I want you to talk about the network effect of that for women, that your report really beautifully displays.

 

Sharon Miller:            I think it's important, and especially when you think about networking and mentorship and connecting with other women, many times when you have a man and a woman coming together to network or mentor, you're going to have differences. And what we found from clients, and we talk about this a lot, many times men are talking to women about, "Okay, maybe you need to navigate this politics or that," versus the tactical, operational, "Here's the finances, here's the P&L-

 

Gregg Stebben:         Oh my gosh, you sound like my wife and I.

 

Sharon Miller:            "Here's how you operate a business."

                                   I mean, so it's important. And I think the more women that know those types of functions and how to do it and how to drive it, they're going to be able to pass that on and understand that, you know what, yeah, there's politics involved, but there's also brass tacks of how to run a business, how to operate a company. And that's all very, very important.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You're talking about a cultural shift as a result of more and more women being in business and owning business and being in positions of leadership.

 

Sharon Miller:            Absolutely. And what we find is that women bring that back to their communities more so than men. Women are coming back, they're investing in their communities.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Why are you both looking at me?

 

Sharon Miller:            We're not trying to!

 

Gregg Stebben:         But you, I mean it is, there's research to support that. Women share, and men don't.

 

Kate Delaney:            But that's exciting, because that means that the more of those tactics that spread, the more the fear or the barrier to entry will lower, I think, for women. What do you think?

 

Sharon Miller:            Yeah, because I see someone, "Oh, they're like me. They can do it, I can do it." You have to, when you can see what's possible and people paving the way, these great women, then you can say, "Wow, I can do that, because I see they're like me."

 

Gregg Stebben:         What kind of programs do you have at Bank of America that are taking advantage of the things you're learning from the report?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, my favorite is the Women Ready to Lead Conference, and we do this in various cities across the country. And really it's about women understanding that, you know what, you don't have to have all of it right here and there. Raise your hand, let us know you're ready to lead, let us know you want to grow with the company, and we're going to support you, and we're going to help you get to where you want to go.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So in other words, what you're doing is saying, "If you have the right mindset, we'll help you get the right skillset."

 

Sharon Miller:            Absolutely. Absolutely. And we're here to support you, to train you, to mentor you, to connect you with other women within the company. When I think about Bank of America, 40% of our management team is women.

 

Kate Delaney:            Wow.

 

Sharon Miller:             I mean, it starts at the top with Brian Moynihan and our board setting the vision. 30% of our board, women. You don't find that in corporate America. So it's not just we talk about supporting women, we are-

 

Gregg Stebben:         You're doing it.

 

Sharon Miller:             ... a company made of great women and men.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You mentioned few minutes ago about mentors. And you told us off mic that you know, you had had some great mentors or still have great mentors that were men.

 

Sharon Miller:            Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's easier and easier for women to have great female mentors, because there's women who have now succeeded at higher and higher levels. But it also occurs to me that there will be another shift culturally when men can find great female mentors. Because now you're cross-pollinating all of these things in a very deep way.

 

Sharon Miller:            You are. And I think you're bringing together the best.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes.

 

Sharon Miller:            Because women and men, they bring together different perspectives, and different backgrounds, and that's what diversity inclusion is all about: bringing your whole self to work and feeling comfortable doing that. So it may not be just a man, woman, it might not be just race. It's where did I grow up, am I from the Northeast, am I from the West coast? Very different, very different culturally. And I think that the best companies and the best organizations allow that to come through so that you're able to get the best outcome.

 

Kate Delaney:            What's your ultimate vision? What would make you get up in the morning and say, "Wow, I just completely have nailed this. I am so happy with where I'm at." Because you're growing, growing, all these different programs.

 

Sharon Miller:            I think every day we have to get up and say, "What can we do more of?" I don't think you ever arrive and say, "Hey, it's here," right? We've got to keep thinking and keep getting better and keep growing, because every day, you learn something new, and how can we be better at supporting all people?

 

Gregg Stebben:         Everybody.

 

Sharon Miller:            All people.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Everybody. And I want to ask you about one last thing. We've talked about this with you before in previous interviews. The program you just told us about, it's called Ready for Leadership?

 

Sharon Miller:            Women Ready to Lead.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Women Ready to Lead. It reminds me of something you told us about before, the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

 

Sharon Miller:            Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Can you update us... first of all, remind people what it is and then update us on what's happening there today?

 

Sharon Miller:            So it is a program that we put together in partnership with Cornell University to help women entrepreneurs. Anyone can access the program, but we put it together with women in mind around education, around training, around how to access capital. Because in this report too, we talked about access to capital, and it's still a barrier or a perceived barrier of many women. And so it is an online institute where you can sign up, your company can. We've got courses and professors and students that are coming together, every single session that we have. And there's different sections, there's different focuses, but what we've heard from business owners going through is, "It has made the world of difference to my business." We have over 13,000 businesses that are in the queue going through this program, which, that's, doesn't sound like, I mean it's a lot of businesses, but how many more can we reach?

 

Gregg Stebben:         How much bigger is the opportunity?

 

Sharon Miller:            How many more can we reach?

 

Gregg Stebben:         How do you scale?

 

Sharon Miller:            That's right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. The website is bofainstitute.cornell.edu, bofainstitute.cornell.edu.

 

Kate Delaney:            Perfect place to end us. Sign up.

 

Sharon Miller:            Thank you so much.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Thank you Sharon.

 

Sharon Miller:            Thank you.

 

Narrator:                    For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

“I’ve often looked at something and thought that if it was just tweaked a bit, it could be a whole lot better,” said Elizabeth Foster, founder of Maison Visionnaire.

 

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Foster owned a home fragrance business in the United Kingdom before selling it and moving to the south of France for several years.  She learned a great deal from her frequent visits to Grasse, in the hills north of Cannes, a long-established fragrance center.  When she moved to the U.S. in 2014, Foster started a new fragrance business, Maison Visionnaire.

 

Through much trial and error, Foster started developing a new kind of diffuser for the home.

 

“When you invent something there are always so many ‘trials’ that you have to go through,” she said. “We trialed many different fragrances, making sure they not only smelled fantastic, but that they kept smelling fantastic. We trialed various bottles – which ones didn’t topple over? We trialed different inserts to stop our designs from falling to one side.”

 

Foster wanted to know what people liked and “what did they love?”

 

Maison Visionnaire invented a product called a Composite Diffusion Fiber.  She called it “magic” as it  looks beautiful yet it also “acts as the fragrance ‘engine’ and constantly delivers fragrance until the bottle is empty.”

 

 

In July,  Foster launched her new product line of scented art diffusers and candles.

 

In addition to running her company, Foster is the newly installed president of the New York City chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).  NAWBO was founded in 1975 with the vision to “propel women entrepreneurs into economic, social and political spheres of power,” and represents over 10 million women-owned businesses in the U.S.

 

Read our interview with NAWBO CEO, Jen Earle.

 

See the Scented Art Diffusers on Instagram @maisonvisionnaire

 

Learn more about NAWBO at www.nawbo.org.

 

Video transcript:

 

[Elizabeth Foster] Women still face a lot of problems when starting a business. The percentage of women's small businesses is huge and definitely on the increase. So those women need to be taken seriously.

 

Super:

Elizabeth Foster

Founder, Maison Visionnaire

President, National Association of Women Business Owners NYC

Bank of America Customer

 

 

I'm Elizabeth Foster, I'm the founder of Maison Visionnaire and I'm also the president of NAWBO New York City.

 

Maison Visionnaire is a home fragrance company. We specialize in scented art diffusers.

 

When I first came to America, the bank that opened the door to me was Bank of America. They actually offered me a credit card, which completely changed everything.

 

I'm very proud of the work that I've done, but I'm also really proud of what I do with NAWBO. NAWBO is the National Association of Women Business Owners. We support women growing their businesses, anything from a solopreneur up to a multimillion-dollar business.

 

Bank of America supports NAWBO in various ways. One is that they are a sponsor of the national conference, and another is that they’re a supporter of the national and all of the local
chapters.

 

One of the best parts about being in the NAWBO community are the amazing women that I meet and that I connect with both on a personal level and on a business level.

 

I would like the power to support women business owners to have an equal place, and support them in growing their businesses.

 

End Card:

What would you like the power to do?

Bank of America logo

Learn more: bankofamerica.com/Appointment

 

Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation. All other logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used pursuant to license. Bank of America, N.A. provides informational reading material for your discussion or review purposes only. Interpretations in this release are not intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for the professional advice received from a qualified accountant, attorney or financial advisor. Neither Bank of America, its affiliates nor their employees provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC © 2019 Bank of America Corporation.

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In this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Reema Shroff, owner of Frost 321, shares how she beat the competition by turning liquid nitrogen ice cream and cocktails into an experience that tantalizes the senses and leaves a lasting impression. Listen to her story—and get great tips for standing out from the crowd—below.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Narrator:                Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. And here's your host, Steve Strauss.

 

Steve Strauss:       Today we're really pleased to be speaking with Reema Shroff of Frost 321. Frost 321 uses an innovative technique to create ice creams, sorbets, and I like this one, frozen cocktails, right before your eyes at events. How do they do it? Well, by using liquid nitrogen at negative 321 degrees, Frost 321 creates these unique concoctions.

                               

They have been doing this at corporate events and important celebrations and backyard gatherings and all sorts of other places for years, and they don't just deliver delicacies. Frost 321 brings a unique ice cream and cocktail bar designed to be chic and sophisticated, blending with any event's distinct look, and letting the experience itself really shine. So Reema, great to have you on the show today. Welcome.

 

Reema Shroff:       Thanks Steve. Great to be here.

 

Steve Strauss:       So I explained a little bit about what makes Frost 321 unique, but I think it would be far better if you did it. So tell us about your ice cream and your cocktails and how you make them and what is different about them.

 

Reema Shroff:       Absolutely. You're right on the mark. What we do create is unique cocktail and dessert experiences. What we're doing is using liquid nitrogen as a freezing agent to freeze right in front of our guests frozen cocktails, sorbets, ice creams, boozy snow cones. The newest thing that's hot for the summer, a drink called a Frosé.

 

                                   What we can do is take an experience, take a menu, take an event, take a celebration, take a company gathering, make it unique, make it customized, and do this right in front of our guests. So what it is, it's not just a great product, it's not just a great frozen cocktail or an ice cream, but truly what it is is an experience. So when we have the gathering, when you see us, you not only remember the product, you remember the experience. This is an experience you can share with your friends, you can share with your coworkers, you can tape on social media.

 

                                   That's what we love about it and that's where we get most of our repeat business from, is that memorable piece of this which is the experience. Now what makes the difference is liquid nitrogen has been used for years by chefs in their back kitchen. It's truly a great way to make an ice cream or a frozen cocktail.

 

                               However, what we try to do is also to make it truly an experience where people can enjoy seeing it being made, where we can tailor the experience to the actual event. Also what we've done is, because my background is ... I'm a lawyer, and my business partner is a West Point grad and an amazing engineer ... We have tried to make this as safe as possible and as scalable as possible.

 

                                So let me kind of explain on that a little bit more. From a safety standpoint, you are dealing with liquid nitrogen that's a negative 321 degrees below zero. So what we want to do is just make it safe, make it where any staff member we can train on safely operating this machinery, to make it safe at any event.

 

                                As you know, we have done this in backyards, we have done this on golf courses, we've even done it on a yacht, on top of a rooftop, so we have to make it safe in a lot of different instances. Then on the scalability standpoint we can do parties of 500, but we've done parties of 5,000. So we need to make sure that we can produce these cocktails and ice creams in a very efficient manner.

 

                                In fact, the way that we've designed the machines is one of our machines taken to its capacity could easily make about 500 servings in an hour. And when we do very large events, like our 5,000 person events, for example in Vegas, we can put several machines on and make this experience for all of our guests.

 

Steve Strauss:        Oh, that's super. You're doing lots of things right, but one of the things I really love that you're doing that other people can learn from is you're personalizing it and you're making it an experience. Those are kind of the buzzwords in small business these days. Because there is so much competition and there is so much technology available, people love a personalized experience and they love an experience experience.

 

                                So you're doing that right, and I must say as a former lawyer myself, I love that you too have come to your senses and found something better to do. So let me ask you this Reema, how did you get started? How did you leave the legal world and end up becoming an ice cream entrepreneur?

 

Reema Shroff:         Well, as fellow lawyer you know one of the big things in being a lawyer, and I was a healthcare lawyer, and especially in the healthcare sector you're always telling physicians what not to do, what business they should not engage in, here are the risk factors, all of that.

 

                                Whereas I loved that ... Both my parents are physicians, my husband is a doctor and all of that, I wanted to actually create something. I mean there is ... Every day as an entrepreneur working in this business there's a challenge, there's a reward, there's an opportunity, and it's really, really satisfying to me to be able to create something, to go to an event and see what we have created.

 

                                The reward is when people try it, when people see it, when people talk about it, that's really what's satisfying, and that's something that couldn't as easily get in being a lawyer. So here every day, no matter what the challenges I face are, there's definitely something very rewarding at the end of the ... To have been creative and have someone taste the product.

 

Steve Strauss:        Absolutely. I mean that's what I love about it too, working with entrepreneurs and being one, is the idea of you're creating something. But how did you come up with the idea of creating ice cream at negative 321 degrees? That is really different.

 

Reema Shroff:        Well, that is a great story. You never know how things happen, but truly this was a great story. I was actually in Paris. I was at an amazing wedding and I saw this in a certain way being made, using liquid nitrogen to create this experience for great cocktails. You know, it's something ... On the way back from Paris to Texas, you know, we had an eight hour flight, so over a glass of champagne just kind of talking about the wedding, what really stood out was this really interesting cocktail.

 

                                You saw it being made, you saw the mist, and it was a good cocktail. So it's actually funny, my family was like, "Wow, you like cocktails and you like parties. This is something you should try." It really started with something like that.

 

                                So I started researching it, found a couple of articles on it, found some companies that actually were working on these type of systems, and literally ordered one and started in my kitchen. Invited friends over for a party, got some feedback on it, and it really just kind of took off from there. But I had no idea of kind of where this would be four years later, but it's something that I just had to try.

 

Steve Strauss:        Did you ... Obviously your parents aren't entrepreneurs. They're both physicians, your husband is a physician. Did you have entrepreneurial bent earlier in life or was this all together something out of the blue for you?

 

Reema Shroff:         You know, looking back on it I think that ... You know, I was fine being a lawyer, but I think that there was always something missing. I'm pretty social. I'm an extrovert. I like to engage and be with people, so I think this type of business for me allows me to really, you know, focus on what I really enjoy and I think what my forte is.

 

                                So it just kind of all came together, and I'm so happy that I had the support of my family, my friends, and I was in a position to be able to reach out to my network and be able to develop this. So it's been a great ride.

 

Steve Strauss:        Yeah. In fact you've grown it pretty substantially pretty quickly. You're not only in Texas now, but you're also in Las Vegas, and I think you're branching out into San Diego, if I'm not mistaken?

 

Reema Shroff:         Oh, yeah. So I mean we started this in San Antonio. We've grown to Dallas, Houston, Austin, and then slowly took this to other markets, I mean Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Chicago. So it's been an amazing journey and I think what we've right now done is hit national markets.

 

                                In fact that's a great question, because what we've been wanting to do is figure out how to expand this nationally, and in fact in about mid-October we're working with a franchise company to be able to franchise this and expand nationally, so we're really excited about that.

 

                                   But the key to all of this was ... And this is a very interesting story. It comes to how I met my business partner. As I mentioned, I was still practicing as a lawyer in the early days of Frost and I actually was working on a legal case, and I happened to sit next to a gentleman, Mark, who was helping on that same case, and we started talking about my business and he said something very interesting, and that is, "Wow, you're working with liquid nitrogen. It seems like a great concept. You've actually done a lot of events. You seem to be moving quickly, but hey, you should own your own system. You shouldn't rely on other people to do that. You should actually build your own. That's the core to your business."

 

                                Of course I laughed and I said, "Hey, that's easier said than done. I don't really have manufacturing contacts. I'm not an engineer. I've never designed anything before. My forte is marketing, business development, creating these experiences," and he basically looked at me and he said, "Well, guess what? I have those contacts and I would love to be able to help with this."

 

                                So it's one of those really amazing moments where I sat next to the right person at a business dinner, and it has been a great three years, where we complement each other very well. He is the technology, the brains behind the operation. He's a former West Point grad and a engineer, and he's developed the whole liquid nitrogen system. So where he has the strength on the technology and operations, I'm able more to focus on the marketing and the business development. So it's been really, you know, a great combination of strengths and attributes that really have helped us along quite well.

 

Steve Strauss:        Boy, everything is really working out so well for you, because that's exactly what I think you want in a partnership. You want somebody who fills in your gaps and can do things that you can't do, and then all of a sudden the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts, and obviously you're doing that well.

 

                                  Can you tell me a little bit about the alcohol aspect of it? Because you're not just making ice creams, but you're making adult beverages with your technology. How did that come to be and how is that ... How popular is that among your clientele?

 

Reema Shroff:         Well, I cannot underscore more that alcohol really is what drives a lot of our business. Almost 80% of our revenue comes from our spirited ice cream, our frozen cocktails, our boozy snow cones, our spirited floats. So yes, because that is really what's unique about this, because there's no other way you can freeze alcohol.

 

                                So when we actually do one of our most popular items, is our wicked chocolate whiskey with Maker's Mark. That is a true shot of Maker's Mark in your chocolate ice cream. It's an awesome after dinner treat. People love their Maker's Mark, so here now we're putting it into ice cream. We do the same with tequila, with rum, with vodka. We've been able to partner with a lot of different alcohol companies because it's a different way to feature and showcase their spirit.

 

                                Remember, we can do this not only with the liquors, but we can do that wine and champagne and, gosh, even a great beer for a stout ice cream. So we've really tried to come up with innovative ways to do frozen cocktails, to bring something new to the market on the spirited ice cream side, and really that's been ... That's done very well at our corporate events and galas and parties and all of that.

 

Steve Strauss:        It sounds like that's probably a unique niche to you. Is there a lot of competition for that aspect of your business?

 

Reema Shroff:        Most of our competition is on the ice cream side. There's a lot of brick and mortars in the space and different types of franchises that you have, or there's retails that are serving ice cream. I think on the special events and catering where our focus ... A lot of it has been on frozen cocktails and the spirited ice cream. We don't find as much competition, but what Mark and I tired to do very early on is to forge really good relationships and partnerships with hotel groups, convention centers.

 

                                For example, we work in McCormick Place, one of the largest convention centers in Chicago, where they offer our services. The same thing with the MGM group. The same thing with Marriotts all over the country. So that's been very nice, is that they are able to sell our services as part of their catering and special events menu.

 

                                That has helped us, where now we have a lot of different arms, a lot of different sales and catering departments selling our services, and we can focus on what we do best, and that is executing and doing our special events and focusing on our creative ice creams and frozen cocktails for the events.

 

Steve Strauss:        We are speaking with Reema Shroff of Frost 321.

 

So Reema, I want to ask you a little bit about the challenges you've faced as a small business owner and entrepreneur, because as we all know it is not just a clear path from idea to execution, right? There are bumps along the way. What are maybe some of the bumps along the way that you faced and how did you overcome them?

 

Reema Shroff:       That's a great question Steve. What I would say is, especially with a small business, you wear a lot of hats. You do operations, you do marketing, you do finance, you're HR, and that all can get overwhelming and sometimes maybe some of these are not your key strengths.

 

We've had to learn along the way all these different aspects, all these little departments that usually you could call HR or you could call somebody to help with, and now that's it. You're on our own. So what I've learned from that is it's essential to listen, it's essential to build the right team, and whereas you might have weaknesses in certain aspects, there are others that can fill in those gaps for you.

 

                              Mark and I, our biggest challenge is we had no experience, prior experience, in the food and beverage industry, so the first thing we did is try and surround ourselves with the right mixologists, the right chefs. Our biggest consultant when we came to designing our menu is one of the top pastry chefs in the country. We listened to people that have worked in retail and worked in food and beverage before, because those were not our areas of expertise.

 

                              So because we were dealing with so many things that were unknown to us, we didn't know what was out there in all these different landscapes because those weren't our prior specialty, what we needed to do was create the right team and build the right network to fill in those gaps.

 

Steve Strauss:       Yeah. I think that's a common lament from many small business people. I guess the good news is you have to become or like being a lifelong learner if you're going to be a small business owner, because you're always having to learn something new, whether you want to or not, right?

 

Reema Shroff:       Yes. Really what I've also learned from that is people are to help. I think there are a lot of resources out there. I think that it's ... Now with the internet, with technology, you can always go onto social media, you can read blogs. There's so much you can do to give you ideas and to help strengthen your position on things and to really every day, just like you said ... I mean we're learning something new every day, so we never stop reading, we never stop talking and building relationships and learning from people around us.

 

Steve Strauss:       You’re branching out into Vegas and you're branching into an area you've not gone before, what ... Is it social media, or how do you attract new people to your business?

 

Reema Shroff:       It's a combination. It's a combination of number one is we focus on our relationships, so we work with people maybe we've worked with in different cities. For example, different hotel groups that we might have worked on in Dallas, we reach out to them when we're in different cities. We think one of the biggest ways that you can grow is by cultivating relationships, making them feel comfortable to trust you and your business to execute events, what they've been doing for years and you're a newcomer. They need to trust you, they need to know that you would do a good job, that you will be on time, that you will be able to execute the way they and their clients will be happy.

 

                              So that's number one. However, with social media we're able to post a lot of the things that we do all over the country, so that's a great way for others to see the different types of parties we can do, the different types of venues we serve, the different types of frozen cocktails and ice creams that we can create to customize their events.

 

                                  So that is a great tool, because that's constantly being updated, and it's a great resource for really anybody who's throwing an event to think of us, because not only are we tagging ourselves, but others are reporting on us and taking visuals whenever we go and do an event for them.

 

Steve Strauss:       Reema, you're doing great work. I love your business and I love your energy and passion for it. We're unfortunately out of time, but I could listen to you for a long time. Let me ask you this in closing. What maybe do you wish you had known about being a small business owner, about being an entrepreneur that you didn't know when you started, and what do you think people can take away and learn from your experience that might help them grow their business?

 

Reema Shroff:        I would it's the importance of having a network, having a support structure. I think that it's so important, and I think in this day and age especially with technology and use of email and texting and all that, it's really important to develop personal connections. I think that being in this business kind of underscored the importance of that for me, because it's very easy to sit at your computer and send out emails and do direct marketing and then text people, and I think people forget sometimes that even though technology has allowed us to do amazing things, that critical to all this is that building a connection and building a relationship. I think that that brings me a lot of joy, I think there's a lot of reward in that, but I think that it's also been critical to the success of our business.

 

Steve Strauss:      Fantastic. Reema, if people want to know more about you, about Frost 321, where should they go to learn more?

 

Reema Shroff:       Our website is a great place, frost321.com. We can answer any emails, we answer any event requests, and we would love to personally speak to anyone that has questions on our business.

 

Steve Strauss:      Fantastic. Thank you so much for being with us today, and continued success to you.

 

Narrator:               For more great small business tips, check out Bank of America's online small business community at bankofamerica.com/sbc.

 

Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com

and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com

Avni Patel started A28 Architecture in 2015.  She had a vision for the type of architect she wanted to be, but “when I first started, I was a very young idealist and I just wanted to create great buildings.”

 

As her career grew, the Chicago architect focused on inclusive, environmentally and tech friendly design ideas to “make life just a little bit easier or better,” Patel said. "There are ways to design that allow a space to be flexible and work for a multitude of users and design ideas.” Patel saw, though, in many of the current small buildings, these design ideas were not typically integrated.

 

 

Patel felt the only way to address such issues – “there were certain things about the building industry that just didn’t make any intuitive sense to me” – and to do it right meant to commission projects so “I could truly focus on the design,” she said. “That’s why A28 was designed to be a real estate investment and architecture firm.”

 

A28_AvniPatel_SBClientStory_Thumbnail.jpg“As I started working, I realized I have to work within the existing reality. Navigating that reality to find a path that led us here wasn’t easy,” she said. “It took a lot of preparation to really understand financing, real estate investment, business, architecture, design, technology, psychology, and engineering well enough to make them work together and develop a business to achieve their integration.”

 

Together with Bank of America she’s able to pursue her dreams of building, both on the job and for her business.

 

Video transcript:

 

[Avni Patel] Architecture was actually, kind of a calling for me. I just knew I needed to be involved with it. I think I just started thinking a lot about how our environment affects us.

 

[Super]

Avni Patel

Founder and CEO

A28 Architecture

 

[Avni Patel] I’m Avni Patel, an architect, and I started my own design firm, A28 Architecture.

 

I think architecture should be flexible enough to accommodate for everyone. It’s here for us.

 

I just want to be able to bring details that big projects get to have, like eco-friendly design, tech-friendly design, to smaller projects likes homes or residential. Whereas right now they don’t get that kind of attention.

 

Being able to get to a point where you’re financially stable. Where the business could then do the projects that we believed in, was very difficult point to get to.

 

[Super]

Gladys Castillo

Small Business Banker

Bank of America

 

[Gladys Castillo] I first met Avni when she came into the financial center for a simple transaction, and that’s how the relationship began.

 

So once I understood Avni’s business, the two biggest things we were able to help her with was how to save her time through our mobile capabilities. And we’re also able to help her establish credit, for her business.

 

[Avni Patel] Gladys is great. She knows what my goals are, and so these steps are aligning with that.

 

[Gladys Castillo] When I am able to work with strong women, and the fact that I can support them and be an advocate for their financial lives, that to me is amazing. I’m proud of Avni, and it makes me feel really good to be able to support her business.

 

[Avni Patel] I would like the power to bring great design to the everyday person.

 

[End Card]

What would you like the power to do?

Bank of America logo

Learn more: bankofamerica.com/Appointment

 

Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation.  All other logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used pursuant to license. Bank of America, N.A. provides informational reading material for your discussion or review purposes only. Interpretations in this release are not intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for the professional advice received from a qualified accountant, attorney or financial advisor. Neither Bank of America, its affiliates nor their employees provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC @ 2019 Bank of America Corporation.

The 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight explores the unique goals, challenges and everyday realities of women entrepreneurs across the country. This year’s findings show high anticipation for year-over-year revenue growth

and optimism for a better 2020.

 

WSBM-Snap.jpgOver the next 12 months, more women entrepreneurs plan to expand their business and hire new employees than their male counterparts.

 

Women business owners maintain a positive economic outlook with confidence levels holding steady from last year while concern over health care costs and the political environment has decreased and concerns about consumer spending and credit availability increased.

 

This year’s Spotlight also explores access to capital and societal issues. Although women believe access to capital has improved more than half say they still don’t have equal access to capital.

 

Want to know more?

Download the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight

 

Learn more about resources for women entrepreneurs from Bank of America.

Holly Johnson is excited to get to work in her home studio each morning, surrounded by vibrant colored wool felt and Cheeky Monkey Home decorative pillows and accessories.

 

Holly.jpgIt wasn’t always so cozy. Johnson had a stressful office job, and when “my first son was born I was motivated to find a way to have a creative business where I could work from home and have the flexibility to care for my children,” she said.

 

In 2012, Johnson launched Cheeky Monkey Home on Etsy, an online marketplace for independent sellers of handmade crafts. She started the business for the same reason many people take the entrepreneurial leap: She couldn’t find meaningful and unique items to decorate her kids’ rooms, only mass-produced items.

 

“I was trained as a painter and grew up making my own toys and clothes, and I have always found it more interesting to make something tailored to my needs than to purchase off the rack,” Johnson said. “This hole in the children’s décor market ignited my creative determination to solve the problem and was my inspiration to create keepsake-quality home décor for children’s rooms.”

 

 

Cheeky Monkey Home started to grow, and Johnson  began to sell wholesale in 2017.  Along the way she encountered another challenge:  she needed help, in particular sewers.  That’s when her Sew@Home Program was born.  Now Johnson trains, mentors and employs recently resettled refugee women in the Boston area who seek flexible work from home.

 

Looking to grow her business substantially over the next several years, Johnson entered the 2018 Mastercard Grow Your Biz Contest, in association with Bank of America.  As one of four finalists she traveled to New York City to pitch her business to a panel of judges in hopes of winning the $25,000 grand prize.

 

Although she didn’t win the grand prize, Johnson received valuable guidance from the contest judges and in September 2019, she launched a new line of tote bags and handbags. Check them out at Cheeky Monkey Home on Etsy.

 

 

Grow Your Business

 

To enter the 2019 Grow Your Biz Contest, small business owners must share their business strategy by submitting a video (up to one minute in length) on the Grow Your Biz contest site that answers the question: “How would $25,000 help your business grow?*”

 

From the submissions, four finalists will be identified for their business strategy, video creativity and overall enthusiasm to receive a $1,000 Mastercard prepaid card and the opportunity to pitch their businesses to the Grow Your Biz Panel during the final event in New York City on November 14, 2019.

 

The panel of expert judges for the Grow Your Biz contest include:

 

  • Bonin Bough, host of CNBC’s Cleveland Hustles
  • Jaclyn Johnson, founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate
  • Ginger Siegel, Mastercard Head of Small Business,
  • Kelly Firment, Bank of America Small Business Banking executive

 

The judges will provide individual consultation sessions and select one grand-prize winner, who will receive $25,000 to pursue their business plan.

 

*No Purchase Necessary to Enter or Win. Void where prohibited. Open only to small business owners who are legal U.S. residents, and 18 and older. Ends 10/6/19. Restrictions apply. Click here for Official Rules and complete details.

 

Video transcript:

 

[Holly Johnson] I think I knew I wanted to be an artist at a very young age. I can dream something up in my mind, and then make that into something tangible. It’s the most rewarding thing.

 

[Super]

Holly Johnson

Designer & Owner

Cheeky Monkey Home

Bank of America customer

 

[Holly Johnson] I’m Holly Johnson, and I have a business called Cheeky Monkey Home, where I make wool felt appliqué pillows.

 

It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child, that I realized working from home was my dream. And that was the perfect kind of transition point for me to start my own business where I could be at home and divide my time more thoughtfully.

 

In the first few years of my business, I was really managing everything. And as sales started to pick up, I found that delegating was really a very important next step.

 

I was also really interested in providing flexible work for mothers who had young children at home. That was the beginning of Sew at Home, where I can train, provide flexible work and community for refugees in the Boston area.

 

[Super]

Samirah Kelhoory

Sewer

 

[Holly Johnson] When I realized that I could actually make an impact, for me that just takes it all to a whole other level.

 

My goal is to expand my business ten times over the next three years. After meeting with my Small Business Banker from Bank of America, the doors really opened up wide in my mind about what the possibilities were.

 

[Tyrone Billingsly] When I first met Holly, we were able to sit down and really understand the ins and outs about her business and the direction that she wanted to go in. And from there, formulate some strategies on how to grow.

 

[Super]

Tyrone Billingsly

Senior Small Business Banker

 

[Holly Johnson] He said you really have to be true to yourself and true to your business. I felt that he was genuinely interested in my success.

 

[Tyrone Billingsly] When I think about Cheeky Monkey Home, it just puts the biggest smile on my face.

 

[Holly Johnson] I would like the power to make beautiful things that bring joy to my customers.Holly.jpg

 

[End Card]

What would you like the power to do?

Bank of America logo

Learn more: bankofamerica.com/Appointment

Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation. All other logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used pursuant to license. Bank of America, N.A. provides informational reading material for your discussion or review purposes only. Interpretations in this release are not intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for the professional advice received from a qualified accountant, attorney or financial advisor. Neither Bank of America, its affiliates nor their employees provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC © 2019 Bank of America Corporation.

I’ve teamed up with Mastercard and Bank of America team for the third annual Grow Your Biz contest. It’s a contest for small business owners all across the country for the chance to take their business to the next level. The Grow Your Biz Contest began as a Boston initiative in 2017 and expanded nationally last year receiving applications from small business owners across the U.S. And this year, we are doing it again.

 

The grand prize winner will win business consultation sessions with each of the judges, including me, and a chance to win $25,000 to grow their biz, provided by Mastercard. 

 

Entering is easy. Submit a video by October 6th telling us how you plan to grow your small business.  Remember to tell us specifics about your plan to grow your business, have lots of energy like the first year’s winner Rachel Estapa of More to Love Yoga, and last year’s winner Arion Long of Femly. Be creative, but don’t worry about over producing. You can even use your phone to record your video.

 

Four finalists will have the chance to pitch their business live in New York City on November 14th to our Grow Your Biz panel for a chance to win $25,000 and industry expert consultation.

 

Every small business can use a jump start to get to the next level.  Go ahead. Take the leap.  Enter today.

 

No purchase necessary to enter or win. Void where prohibited. Open only to small business owners who are legal U.S. residents, and 18 and older. Ends 10/6/19. For Official Rules and complete details, click here.

Join Bank of America Merchant Services as we walk through the steps for setting up an eCommerce website.

 

From accepting payments to addressing common cybersecurity issues, this educational webinar will feature experts from Bank of America Merchant Services and Visa who will show you what every successful online business needs to get started. Whether you are looking to expand a brick and mortar business online, or planning to launch a new business altogether, join us for helpful information.

 

Session topics include:

  • The 3 P’s of eCommerce
  • Fraud & Security risks
  • Creating positive customer experiences

Date: Wednesday September 18th from 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. ET

 

To register for the Bank of America Merchant Services "Click to sell" webinar, click here.

BofA_Podcast_HeartbeatofMainStpng.png

Authenticity is what can take "that shop down the street" to a go-to spot. Small Business Community contributor, Chris Brogan shares his thoughts on how small business owners can achieve an authentic voice on this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. And here's your host, Greg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm here with Chris Brogan. He's the president of Chris Brogan Media. They offer business and marketing advisory help for mid-to-larger sized companies. If you're not a big company, he also helps small business owners through classes and webinars at Owner Media Group. Chris Brogan Media is at chrisbrogan.com, Owner Media Group is at owner.media. Chris is also a New York Times bestselling author, and his 10th book is coming soon. It's called Dented, Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age. Chris, welcome.

 

Chris Brogan:             Thank you so much for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, we're going to talk about brand building today, and focus very specifically on one word. It's the word “authentic.” And you're the perfect guy to do this, because you do a lot of work with brands, like Disney, and Coke, Google, GM, Coldwell Banker, Titleist, Humana Health, Cisco, Sony. I could go on, and on, and on. This must be something you think about a lot, because people talk a lot about the word authentic.

 

Chris Brogan:             Well, it's one of those pet peeves of mine. I think that the word authentic is thrown around a lot from marketing types, and I think it's one of those things where ... I had a friend a long time ago talk about marketers and say, "This is why we can't have nice things." I think that the basic term of “authenticity,” taken away from marketers just means you do what you say, and you say what you do, and what you come to the table with is who you really are.

 

                                   What happens in technology, and marketing, and all that sort of thing, is we come away with this sort of weird space-aliens-pretending-to-be-humans kind of version of this. And we're like, "What can we do to seem like a human?" And it's so pervasive right now, especially as more and more digital tools allow us to automate everything.

 

                                   And while I'm not saying, “Don't use digital tools,” while marketing automation is a really important part of business these days, I would say that trying to engineer how to be human is a lot different than helping people better interpret how to bring their real self to their customers at a distance, the way we're so comfortable doing across the counter at a store in a small town.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Again, you're the guy with the upcoming book called Dented, Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age. So, if authenticity should not be the goal, what should small business owners aim to accomplish when interacting with their customers and prospects?

 

Chris Brogan:             I guess it's not that it's notauthenticity, but I guess the real focus, if you're really worried about that, the real focus comes in two directions at once, which is looking at yourself and making sure you feel comfortable bringing your whole self to the picnic. I use the analogy “picnic” to mean anywhere where you're wondering what you bring. So, if you are coming to work at a company, you want to know what your skills and qualifications and capabilities are. If you're working with clients, you're going to make sure that you've got that thing that they need.

 

                                   And so, on the one side, as the business side of things, you're saying, "What am I going to do that's going to be of use and service to the people that I hope to do business with?" and also be thinking about those people I hope to serve say, "How do I stay clear on seeing the whole person? And really seeing very specific people?"

 

                                   We want to buy from people who have similar, shared values. There was this stat out there somewhere, and I'm making this number up, high 70's or 80%, saying that we want companies, we believe in some way that it's a company's responsibility to be out there doing things that support our shared value. If you think about that, it's a little crazy.

 

                                   If you're a local, small town hardware store, how much are you going to deal with climate change? However, you can. You could say, "We're not gonna do this kind of packaging. We're going to make it super important that we don't sell you little tiny disposable plastic bags." There's all these things that help endear you to the needs of your customer and the people you hope to serve.

 

                                   What we used to think we had to do is look perfect, look shiny, look like the best of everything we've ever been and maybe even if we have a few dents, a few scars, a few marks, maybe we could still show up and be of service. And I think that if we acknowledge instead of ignore or hide those things, that's what we get to when people say they want authenticity.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things I'm getting from all that you just said, it seems to me that business owners would be really smart to think about the thing they do that provides usefulness and service, and think of that separately from who am I? So the who am I part, can be dented. You are dented, I think you would say and otherwise you wouldn't write a book called Dented, Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age. So, who you are is who you are, dents and all, right?

 

Chris Brogan:            There's so many ways to implement this. In my mind, sort of leaving our flaws and foibles behind for a quick second. I was out with my two kids yesterday, and we were having lunch at a Japanese place, and they wanted sushi. And so we were talking amongst ourselves about a big event, a trade event for video games, and the server who is standing very nearby came over and just sort of politely said, "Oh, are you talking about the E3 conference?" And he became part of our conversation.

 

                                   Well, most companies, most owners and whatnot, try to dissuade people from adding their personal touch to things. And there are definitely times where it's useful and times when it's not. But I think that in the process, in kind of accepting that we're not all perfect, we're being asked to go faster than we've ever gone. We're being asked to collaborate and in a lot of times we're being asked to be forced extroverts.

 

                                  People are blown away when they hear that I'm an introvert, but I am. It's kind of a weird role to be a keynote speaker, an advisor consultant, that sort of a thing, to be out on the public stage and also be not necessarily the first person to want to touch other people and connect. So, I tell people, in a world where we all have to be visual now, in the world where we have to be brief, we have to use video, the mobile devices are taking over the world, et cetera. Well, we still have to bring who we are to that.

 

                                   And if that means accepting that we're too whatever we think we shouldn't be. We're too fat. We're too old. We have a stutter or whatever. Where our big problem is, we have to find a way to bring that. The second part of what you said about worrying about delivering perfect service, we don't necessarily want to make mistakes that impact our customer. That hasn't changed. That'll never change. It's all fine that someone's, quirky and whatnot, but if you ordered a salad and they bring you a hot dog, it's not the right thing.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Or a salad of wilted lettuce.

 

Chris Brogan:             There you go. So we need to protect for that, but it seems like the past version, it looks... salad and wilted lettuce. Someone brings out the salad. It looks terrible. You look down and go, "Oh my gosh, I didn't even notice that." In the old days, the way companies would tend to do something about that is they would either just say, "We didn't do that." They'd brush it off. Nothing like that happened. It's like Jedi mind trick. These aren't the salad leaves you're looking for. And it doesn't work that way anymore. It's too public. Everything's too visual. It's never that we should have been deceptive, but now the tools all point to, "You darn well better do what you say."

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, I want to ask you one last question. I'm talking with Chris Brogan. He's an author, keynote speaker, and business advisor. His website is chrisbrogan.com. He works with mid to larger sized companies. He also has another company called Owner Media Group that works with small business owners. Owner Media Group is at owner.media. The last question I want to ask you, because we've been talking about this whole phenomena of the appropriate and misappropriated use of the word authentic. Have you heard of other words like authentic that set off alarms for customers?

 

Chris Brogan:             Oh my goodness. So I think at this point with all the... I think customers, by the way, customers are so tuned to catch BS. And I think we have this weird thing when it comes to marketing or promoting our own company, that we always forget that if we wouldn't want to receive it, why would we think it would be effective to send out? They say, when you send it, it's a well-crafted business letter designed to really drive value to someone else, and when you receive it, it's called junk mail.

 

                                   And I think that when it comes to authenticity, we've just had so many examples of companies not doing what they say or not treating us well, etc. Every single day it seems you can read a new version of what Facebook may or may not have done, or that your wireless carrier is selling your data without your permission, etc., etc.

 

                                  Trust is just at an all-time low. And sort of circling back to my first book about trust agents with Julien Smith, we wrote that saying, there's such an opportunity to really connect with people and to earn their trust and to be open. And where it gets scary for everybody is that to be open means to be a little bit more vulnerable. And I would say going with the word authenticity, the other word is vulnerable. We know this even with a significant other. We could have a conversation, but sometimes we have to let our guard down and if we don't, it's just not going to go the way we need it to go. And it's not going to work for the mutual appreciation of everybody around us.

 

                                  These are not the kinds of things you think about when you run a small HVAC company or something like that. If you're a plumber putting in piping systems, you don't normally sit around thinking, "Am I vulnerable enough to my customer?", but maybe there's some places where we have to think about that, and maybe there are some places where if we're going to try to reach and earn the kinds of customers we most want to sell and serve, then we're going to have to open the kimono a tiny bit.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Well said. He is Chris Brogan. His company is Chris Brogan Media at chrisbrogan.com. That is really targeting mid-to-larger size companies, offering business and marketing advisory services. For smaller companies, he is also the owner of Owner Media Group. They offer classes and webinars there. It's at owner.media and Chris is on Twitter @chrisbrogan. Chris, where can our listeners find out more about your book, Trust Agents, your new book, Dented, and get more of your great marketing tips for small business?

 

Chris Brogan:             If anyone wants, swing by chrisbrogan.com. And I always say the same thing. The little newsletter sign up that pops up. That's the best thing I do every single week. You can always hit reply and talk to me directly, and I think that you get a real fast taste of whether or not you want to connect with me further just from that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's great. And for more great tips from Chris and other small business experts, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community. It's at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Chris, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Chris Brogan:             My pleasure. Thank you.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

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