Mary Molina: From the Food Bank to the Shelves of Whole Foods

mary-molina-heart-barsAnyone who signs their emails zip-a-dee-do-dah has got to be a happy person. And perhaps Mary Molina was born an optimist, but in all likelihood a little perspective brought her to her current sunny state. About four years ago, Molina was a food stamp recipient and a regular at her local food bank. But with some support and a lot of hard work and determination, mixed in with a little luck, today she is the proud owner of an all-natural, locally-sourced granola bar company.

Molina and her husband, Ernie, ran a small cellular phone outlet for more than ten years in Somers, New York. It was a family business — she did the books, he ran the shop — and all was good and well until January 2011 when everything came crashing down around them. Forced to close their doors and liquidate all assets, the Molinas and their four kids, all under the age of seven, were in dire straits within two months. (more…)

Tammy Dunn: From Travel Agent to Agent of Relaxation

Tammy Dunn

Tammy Dunn thinks she always had a massage therapist somewhere inside her. Still, she spent twenty years as a travel agent before she figured it out.

Regarding her career in the travel industry she says, “It was a job. When I went to school for it, I really thought it was what I wanted to do. But it never became anything more than a job to me, even after 20 years.”

She did consider massage therapy back in high school during the 1980s, but at that time it didn’t seem like much of a career option. There was little regulation of the industry and massage, fairly or not, was seen as something not-quite-legitimate. So Dunn never pursued the idea and largely forgot about it.

But later, well-entrenched in the travel industry, she experienced some stress-related health problems and began seeing a chiropractor and a massage therapist. Dunn worked with these professionals over the course of a year and saw the benefits of the work they did. “I realized how much I wanted to be part of that. It improved my life on so many different levels that I wasn’t expecting.” (more…)

With Love and Quiches: A Housewife’s Journey to the Boardroom

quiche2I started my bakery business, Love and Quiches Gourmet, in my home kitchen in 1973, purely by accident, from just one quiche. I was a clueless suburban housewife with no preparation whatsoever for business ownership. My only qualification was my passion for everything and anything connected to food. I was a very good cook, famous for it in my neighborhood, and my friends traded invitations to my dinner parties.

So when my original partner (a carpool friend and another great cook) suggested we do something, I was game. We had my house licensed as a Food Processing Plant (can’t be done anymore, but this was 42 years ago) and were ready for business. We had no plan, we simply started. (more…)

Julia Erickson: Pirouetting Her Way to a Better Barre

ericksonSo many little girls dream of becoming ballerinas, and Julia Erickson was no exception. But unlike most of us who eventually shed that dream, Erickson trained from the age of seven and worked her way up to become a principal dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Unlike many of the stories we share at Career 2.0, this one is not about leaving a job to pursue a passion, because dancing is Erickson’s passion. “Ballet is the love of my life,” she explains. “I would not leave my dance career for anything at this point.” Unfortunately, a ballet career is a finite thing, and there will come a time when Erickson will have little choice but to hang up her pointe shoes. So when inspiration struck, she was not about to look the other way. (more…)

Caren Magill: Flexing Her Muscle with the Perfect Protein Pancake

Caren MagillIt began, perhaps, with a fitness competition, which Caren Magill did not win. She finished, she says, “in the middle of the pack”.

Or maybe it began further back, when Magill was a teenager. “Growing up, healthy living was not a part of our general household conversation. I sustained myself on canned soup, white Kaiser buns, and processed cheese. From the time I got home from school until the time I went to bed, I was on the couch eating. By the time I left high school, I weighed over 200 pounds.

“I realized in my early 20’s that not only was being overweight uncomfortable, but it was going to limit me in all sorts of ways. When I finally lost the weight it made me realize I could do anything I set my mind to. It raised my level of self-efficacy, my pride in myself. It really did change the course of my life.”


Lakeisha Dunn: A New Business for a New Life

LakeishaDunn-outsideLakeisha Dunn spent ten years doing a job she strongly, strongly disliked. A job that left her miserable and depressed. But the pay was good and it offered job stability, and she didn’t think she was qualified to do much else. So she stayed.

Fresh out of high school in Baltimore, Maryland, Dunn enrolled in a program that trained nursing assistants but realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t for her. She worked a couple of different jobs as an administrative assistant, and while they were fine she wanted something new, something different. She thought that a job that allowed her to walk around some, maybe even go outside, would be ideal. And so she was thrilled when she landed a job as a correctional officer at a Baltimore City jail. (more…)

Yalonda Long: From Riches to Rags and Back Again

IMG_1091What a tale Yalonda Long tells.  Her story begins in small town, Kansas, where this daughter of a barber and a beautician mother was raised with her two brothers in a strict Jehovah’s Witness household.  As a teenager, there was no going to the movie theater unaccompanied, no boyfriends, and no parties.  Even higher education was forbidden, so when Yalonda graduated from high school, a week later she headed West to Colorado to start her life.

“I tried to learn as much about the world as I could from the public education I had because I knew I wasn’t going to college,” says Long.  “But because I spent much of my life as the outsider looking in, I learned to be a great observer and I notice everything. That would wind up serving me quite well.” (more…)

Lucinda Snyder: Finding Solace in Sewing

Luc044Lucinda Snyder imagined she’d lead the life of an academic. With two Master’s Degrees, a job at Rochester Institute of Technology, and plans for a PhD in political science, she was pretty well on the right track. But life had other plans for her, and while the road has been extremely painful at times, she feels certain that she is now exactly where she is supposed to be.

Snyder comes from a long line of doctors – four generations to be exact. She was good in school and grades came easily but medicine didn’t call to her. Some of her college professors suggested she would make a good professor herself, so she opted for that route.

But when Snyder’s contract at RIT was up, she felt like she was ready for a change. She was an avid knitter at a time when the knitting trend was heating up, and Snyder made the difficult decision to indulge her creative side and open a yarn shop. She knew it was a risk, but also figured that she could go back to the academic life later if necessary. The business endured for three years, but in 2006 Snyder decided that it no longer made financial sense to keep the store going, especially as she was getting married and planning to start a family.

On November 27, 2008, Thanksgiving Day, Snyder’s son Cooper was born. Unbeknownst to Snyder and her husband before his birth, Cooper had a IMG_0287congenital heart defect, sometimes referred to as a hole in the heart.

“In terms of heart defects, it’s really not a big deal,” Snyder explains. “It’s normally an easy repair. He had surgery when he was three weeks old. But we were in that one or two or three percent they talk about. He survived the surgery, but the following morning he went into cardiac arrest and died shortly thereafter.”

Snyder found herself desperate for a way to channel her grief after Cooper’s death. “Knitting didn’t do it anymore. I needed something that challenged my mind and gave me something to focus on. I started looking at fabric and was really drawn to color and design.” She thought she might try to make a quilt. But she didn’t know how to sew.

“I borrowed a friend’s sewing machine, took a class at JoAnn Fabrics and basically taught myself how to sew.” From there she started making and selling her creations, both quilts and other handmade items, usually on Etsy or at craft shows. She also wanted to have another baby. “The sewing kept me from obsessing on that topic as well,” she laughs. In 2010 her second child was born, and in 2011 she made the decision to turn what had been a hobby into a real business, or, as she puts it, “I decided to become legitimate.”

lucEnds-May2014-051And so her line of handmade fabric goods – called Lucends – made the leap from hobby to business.

“I wanted something that was exclusively mine. I got tired of going to craft shows and three booths down somebody would have the same fabric as me.” She started exploring ways to change that. “Now, the fabric that I use, nobody else has.” She works with a surface designer to achieve this. “Every season we brainstorm, look at trends, color palettes, see what’s on the fashion design radar. Once we nail it down we use a company called Spoonflower in NC. They digitally print fabric on demand, so I have my fabric printed as I need it. I’m not committing to thousands of yards of fabric not knowing what’s going to sell.” This spring she’ll debut her 4th fabric collection. She uses these fabrics to make a variety of handmade items, including handbags, scarves, pillows, and custom-made quilts.

Snyder probably could have found work at an established design firm, but that wasn’t for her.  “There are big fabric companies that take on designers and produce their fabrics and sell it mainstream, but that’s not really my mission. At this point, every single thing has been done by me. I create every piece that I sell, and that’s important.”

Snyder is surprised at how many people she met and connected with through her business. “Do I have a great product? Yes. But I also think it’s my story DSC_0148that a lot of people can connect to, and feel like they’re part of my journey.”

“I see this business as Cooper’s gift to me. And so it’s very important for me to stay connected to that. It continues to help heal me and gives me motivation to move forward. I think this is how it was supposed to play out for me.”

When asked what research she did before starting her business, Snyder laughs. “Absolutely none. I just jumped. I just did it. I was lucky because I didn’t need to make money to pay the bills, so I could just grow and experiment and see what worked and what didn’t work. I guess that was my research – I knew enough to know that I needed to build the brand, to have an identity, and the rest would fall into place.”

“I joke that 2015 is going to be the Year of my Empire. I have this vision of where I want to go and this empire I want to build for Lucends. This year is the first year that I’ve taken what I’ve learned and gotten my ego out of the way to say okay, these are the things that sell, and these are the things I’m going to make. It’s trial and error. And my gut. I rely on my gut a lot.”

lucEnds-May2014-074It seems to be working. Her sales have doubled every year, though they gotten high enough now that it’s very unlikely they’ll continue to double.

As far as advice for other women considering a career change, the 41-year-old Snyder says simply, “I think you just have to go for it. If it’s on your mind all the time, then that’s what you need to do. I think a lot of people are afraid to take the risk. It is risky. But if it’s something you love and are passionate about, do it. We can be so fearful of change. We think, what if I fail? Well, what if you do? You’re not going to die from it. So you fail, you get up and start something different, or you try again. There isn’t any reward for not trying.”

Sonnika Coetzee: The Sweet Smell of Success

IMGP1309 (2)There is no such word in the dictionary, but Sonnika Coetzee calls herself an “Aromateur”. She knows, for example, that it takes about 9,000 pounds (4,000 kilos) of rose petals to make just 35 ounces of pure rose essential oil. It has taken Coetzee 16 years to turn her childhood love of fragrances and interest in science into a viable business, but today she is the owner of a successful aromachology enterprise.

“If I look back at the growing years I can see hours, days and months ticking away, developing products that never really brought in the money I expected. A lot of time was sacrificed that could have been spent with family or friends and spare cash that could have used to pay off car or home loans. But I’m a strong believer in not looking back at the business failures of yesterday lest you stumble over your successes of today. Keep moving forward.” (more…)

Tina James: Championing Women on and off the Dance Floor

Tina James_ballroom compressedTina James’ heart and passion lie with women’s empowerment and, in case you doubt her credentials, she’s got two businesses to prove it. FemTECH, a support program for women-owned tech-enabled start-ups, helps African women take charge of their destinies by creating growing businesses. On a lighter note, Dancing Divas, a non-traditional dancing school targeting more “mature” ladies, builds confidence on the dance floor that translates into clients’ daily lives.

“I am so fortunate to be involved in two businesses that I am absolutely passionate about. The dancing caters to my creative side and through femTECH I can offer support services to women that inspire them to make their visions a reality. Out of what was not a very nice situation seven years ago, so many wonderful things have happened.” (more…)

Mary Shikukutu: Let Failure Be the Start of Your Success

Mary SDowntrodden and out of job with four children to support, Mary Shikukutu didn’t find much support among family and friends when she proposed the idea of starting an urban milling business for a traditional African grain.

“‘Are you crazy?’ was all I heard. `Who’ll support your business? You need to think of something else because there’s no market for that in the city.’ Yes, sometimes it’s good to listen to other people’s opinion, but if you give too much weight to what others think, you’ll never know what you are capable of or discover what life has in store for you. So despite all the no, no, no’s, I went ahead anyway.”

The fourth of six children, Shikukutu was born in Ondobe village in the Ohangwena region in the northern part of Namibia. According to Oshiwambo custom, which dictates children be split up and raised by family members when one or both parents dies, a five-year-old Shikukutu was sent to live with her aunty in the nation’s capital following her father’s death. Her oldest brother joined SWAPO, Namibia’s former national liberation movement, in exile where it was fighting for independence from South Africa in the 70s. (more…)