#BalanceforBetter: Women in Business
March is an important month here at Mirus. In March, the world celebrates International Women’s Month, and we celebrate being a female-founded and run company (you can check out our CEO’s amazing story here!). While we feel blessed to enjoy the camaraderie that comes with an all-female internal staff, we realize the reality of women in business still being the exception and not the norm.
However, according to a 2017 article on Upworthy¹ by Amanda Pell, women-owned businesses are growing faster than the national average. Although women tend to start businesses with an average of 50% less capital than their male counterparts, between 2007 and 2017, women-owned businesses increased by 45%, while the national average increased by only 9%. Additionally, nearly 7.9 million people are employed by women-owned businesses as of 2017.
This year’s International Women’s Month is striving for balance. “Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue,” their website reads, “The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender balanced sports coverage. Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.”
Inspired by the theme of this year’s International Women’s Month, #BalanceforBetter, we decided to explore the motivations, inspirations and challenges of female business owners. We interviewed a few of our inspiring female clients to learn more about the successes and pitfalls of their journeys and to garner their advice for future female leaders.
Patricia Gutierrez, founder of Braingear, began her brand out of personal necessity. After years of working long hours at a tech start-up, Patricia began to struggle with memory loss, sleep issues and anxiety. She visited multiple neurologists before being told that her struggles were a result of her high stress lifestyle. The doctor immediately put Patricia on a regimen of 13 vitamins and supplements.
“Within weeks, I felt like my old self. I was back! The biggest downside? I was taking 13 pills every day—a nausea-inducing, gag-worthy ritual,” Patricia said. “I knew there had to be a better way to continue my healthy brain regimen without all those pills. Working with top scientists and neurologists, we developed a convenient drink with the nutrients my brain needed to stay healthy, and BrainGear was born.”
While Patricia had personally experienced the positive effects of Braingear, the concept of a brain nutrition drink was still new. One of the challenges Patricia faced was convincing retailers of the need for a product like Braingear. While it took time and a lot of tenacity, Braingear is now being distributed and sold nationwide.
When asked what advice she would give to young female entrepreneurs, Patricia said, “Believe in yourself and don’t let the naysayers bring you down. You are capable of doing anything you can think of.”
Laura Sorkin and her husband Eric had been in the maple syrup business since 2009 before they decided to branch out into the retail market after seeing a need for barrel aged and infused maple syrup. Although Laura and Eric both have Masters Degrees in Environmental Management and years of experience in farming, neither had any experience in building a brand for the retail market.
“We had no experience building a value-added product for the retail market so every step has been learn as you go,” Laura said. “My husband, Eric is very good at networking and has reached out to other Vermont food businesses to learn the trade. My role is more customer oriented. I run all of the social media and create all of the recipes for the finished products.”
Laura stressed the importance of staying true to herself and her brand: “Initially there was pressure from PR firms to sound a certain way because they thought it would appeal to a crowd,” she said. “That way was not how I sounded and I pushed back, maintaining my approach to talking about our brand. It has paid off in that we get a lot of comments about how much [customers] like our content.”
When asked if she had a mentor while bringing Runamok to life, Laura said, “I did not personally have a mentor for what I do day to day within the company but I look to many women for inspiration…I look to all women who are sharing their real voice.”
“Ask lots of questions,” Laura said. “No one judges you for not knowing something about business, only if you barrel ahead in ignorance and get it wrong. On that note, you are going to get a few things wrong. Fix it and keep going.”
Laughing Glass Cocktails is all about female friendship, according to Carey Clahan, who co-founded the brand with her best friend, Sydney Rainin-Smith. The pair had been making – and receiving compliments on – their margaritas for years. Laughing Glass Cocktails was born when they finally listened to those who had been telling them “you should bottle these” all along.
“We really wanted to start a company that focused on bringing women together to relax, unwind and enjoy the power of strong friendships,” Carey explained. “We have an amazing group of girlfriends and believe they are critical to a happy life. So, to see the reality of our convenient, super high quality margarita bringing other people together to share laughter, life and to make memories is very satisfying!”
Carey and Sydney started off with no manufacturing or production experience and little knowledge of alcohol regulations. Not only did they have to navigate all of this, but, as they import their raw ingredients from Mexico, they also had to build international business relationships. While this was definitely a lot to absorb, Carey and Sydney were quick learners and persevered in order to make Laughing Glass a reality.
“Keep your sense of humor and make sure you choose the right business partner!” Carey advised. “The daily ups and downs of business ownership can be dramatic, and many times, traumatic. Luckily, Sydney and I have a unique partnership – and we are always there for each other. At this point, our friendship/business partnership is really more of a sister relationship. Also, Sydney would say to have an end-game plan before you even start a business. That can help you to shape even small decisions – which always add up to larger things in your future.”
Red Duck Foods developed out of a class project when its founders Karen Bonner, Jess Hilbert and Shannon Oliver were in grad school.
“In trying to come up with a project idea for our ‘New Venture Planning’ class, we went to a campus bar to brainstorm,” Jess recalls. “Over a basket of tater tots, we realized that we were really frustrated with condiment offerings. There were so many conversations about ranchers raising proteins or farmers growing produce, but there were only really junky condiment offerings to go along with these really thoughtful meals. We felt like we could do better with better ingredients and Red Duck Ketchup, our first product line, was born!”
Despite many challenges (including a barrel of vinegar being punctured by a pitchfork right before the launch of the Red Duck BBQ sauces), the team made it through with a sense of humor and advice from mentors like Junea Rocha of Brazi Bites, another Portland-based food company.
“Surround yourself with a tribe. It doesn’t even have to be people in your industry or at your own company,” Jess explained, “Just surround yourself with people who will support you and listen to you vent and laugh with you.”
While Braingear, Runamok Maple, Laughing Glass Cocktails and Red Duck Foods are all great examples of successful female led companies, our client portfolio is full of other female-run brands too:
- McBride Sisters wine (check out their amazing story here)
- Bitchin’ Sauce
- Health Lab
- Fruit Bliss
- Marlo’s Bakeshop
- Reine Vegan Cuisine
- Sugar Momma Wines
- Pamela’s Products
At Mirus, we feel extremely proud to be surrounded by strong business women in our office, as well as our client base and our field team. We believe that the future is female, and we are optimistic for the incredible strides to be made within the business world.
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