Marlene Reed, Senior Lecturer, Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation
WHO IS MARLENE REED?
I am a proud Baylor graduate. Never in a million years did I ever imagine that I would end up getting my PhD and teaching at my alma mater. I’ve had the privilege of teaching students and faculty in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Armenia, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Zambia and Rwanda. God has blessed me richly!
WHAT DO YOU DO AT BAYLOR?
At Baylor I’ve taught the Business Excellence Scholarship Team (BEST) and Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship. I love teaching these courses. I previously owned a Christian book store and I feel my first-hand experience as a business owner helps me understand problems that managers may run into while operating a business.
WHAT’S SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT WORKING IN THE ENT DEPARTMENT?
A funny and kind of weird thing that happened while working in the Entrepreneurship department is the time Mary Abrahams (former Associate Director of the Baugh Center) and I went to Europe to plan the first Entrepreneurship European Experience. Late one night while in Milan, we couldn’t find our way back to our hotel. To make things worse, a drunk young man kept following us telling us he would help us find our way. We finally lost him and wandered around for an hour until we found our hotel.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BAYLOR TRADITION?
I can’t pick just one favorite. I have two — Homecoming and Sing. I think I love Homecoming so much because I get to reconnect with friends from the past. Something that a lot of folks don’t know is I was actually a Baylor Homecoming Queen nominee. Unfortunately, the Asian flu was going around that year, and I got it. After appearing on the football field at halftime, my parents whisked me away to Houston because we had all been asked to leave school if we could. I also love Sing, and I just happen to be on the Sing Faculty Committee.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A NEW ENT MAJOR?
My advice to a new Entrepreneurship major is to enjoy every minute of your time at Baylor and get involved in everything that appeals to you. The time spent at Baylor is so short, and students need to get the very most out of. I certainly did.
Michael Wyatt grew up in the small town of Groesbeck, Texas. Like a lot of pre-teens, he took to mowing neighborhood lawns as a relatively easy way to earn a little extra cash. Michael soon developed friendships with his customers, especially the veteran who lived across the street. The two would sit for hours and talk. After graduating highschool, Michael went through the fire academy and became a firefighter in a neighboring town while also working as an EMT in Groesbeck at the Limestone Medical Center.
Michael’s brother, Danny, spent time in the Marines and later worked for a moving company in the Dallas area. Danny spent six months observing the business and running numbers. Michael and Danny would often talk about what it would take for the two brothers to start their own business. Should they…could they…what if… The back and forth went on for a while, then one night in November 2014 over a Texas-style BBQ dinner, Michael’s wife prodded, “You need to either do it, or don’t.”
The first goal for the new company was simple: find a move. It didn’t take long to find that first move. A customer asked the brothers to move a 1,100 pound safe to a third floor apartment. Let that sink in for just a minute: 1,100 pound safe to a third floor apartment. It took forty minutes, with additional help from the customer, to move the safe. That first move earned Wyatt Brothers $100. Michael describes the move with one word, “Terrible. It was just terrible.”
But hey, you have to start somewhere. With that safe move, the brothers officially met their first business goal. Word of mouth started to speed things up for the brothers. Michael talked with someone at a local apartment complex, which led to a working relationship that helped put Wyatt Brothers at the top of the list for four-sister company complexes.
On one particular job, they were moving a tenant from one building to another within the same complex. A trailer couldn’t be used, so Michael and Danny walked and carried everything from building to building. During the move, Michael noticed a guy standing in a stairway watching their every step. Every…single…step for one and a half hours.
The man finally approached Michael and asked if they were professional movers. He explained that he was with a production company and needed to move some appliances that afternoon to a house in Hubbard. Wyatt Brothers was able to move the appliances, leaving another satisfied customer.
When Michael told his wife the story about the stairway guy, her immediate response was, “I wonder if he was with Fixer Upper?”
A quick YouTube search confirmed that the hard-working brothers did indeed actually move appliances for Fixer Upper. Shortly after, the stairway guy called and asked the brothers to move some furniture. He admitted that it was pretty cool to watch the brothers in action and asked to film them.
On January 15 during the last episode of season one, Wyatt Brothers Moving Company was filmed as the mover for Fixer Upper. This small-town business that was established over a family BBQ dinner was featured in almost every Fixer Upper episode from then on.
By the time Fixer Upper ended in April 2018, Wyatt Brothers had become a trusted, local name. There was a noticeable trend in repeat customer business. For Michael and Danny it was about establishing a family name legacy and providing stellar customer service with trust and transparency.
In January of 2020, Michael enrolled in the Community Entrepreneurship Program (CEP), a faith-based community entrepreneurship training program developed by Baylor University. Local churches would host the meetings, while successful executives and entrepreneurs facilitated them. With CEP, Michael was able to network with other local, small-business owners as well as collect some significant take-aways in accounting, financing and marketing strategy.
The ultimate goal was to grow Wyatt Brothers, but to also keep the business small. During 2020 the brothers planned to bring on an additional three full-time movers and two part-time movers. But in March 2020 everything took a wonky turn with Covid-19 stay-home orders.
While business did slow down a bit during that time, people were still moving. However, a lot of folks were working from home and had extra time to pack and move belongings without assistance. Normally in the spring, Wyatt Brothers would book out four weeks in advance. For 2020, it was closer to two weeks.
As a medic, Michael knows the importance of PPE (personal protective equipment). With that in mind, masks became part of the Wyatt Brothers standard uniform. Some customers were initially uncomfortable with allowing a masked stranger into their home. To squash some of those fears, Michael now “meets” new customers via Zoom meetings and Facetime prior to on-site moves.
Goals for the business didn’t change, but they were adjusted. With a go with the flow outlook, timelines were shifted to account for some of the unforeseen circumstances. A partnership was also added to the business plan. To enhance the overall customer experience, Wyatt Brothers partnered with Neat as a Pin to provide customers with additional packing, cleaning, unpacking and organizing services.
Michael prides himself on operating a personable company. From mowing to moving, he strives to do things better… no matter what’s thrown at him.
Priscilla James, Program Manager John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise
WHO IS PRISCILLA JAMES?
I am a small-business owner from Houston. In 2018 I received a Baylor MBA with a concentration in Entrepreneurship. My goal was to use my new-found, entrepreneurship know-how to grow my business, Priscilla’s Joyful Events. I also thought that my new business savviness would come in handy with the business I co-founded with my mom, Hephzibah Online Evangelistic Ministries. I stay busy. In my downtime I like to relax with my Chiweenie, Jack. He recently learned to tap a bell to go outside and he’s also learning to jump on command. Should I nickname him Jumping Jack?
WHAT DO YOU DO AT BAYLOR?
I’ve now been on staff at Baylor for two years as the program manager in the John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise. I actually started working at Baylor just two days after graduating with my MBA. My main focus as program manager is to manage and develop the Baylor New Venture Competition. I really enjoy networking with successful business leaders and connecting them with young entrepreneurs. I like to think I have a small part in helping dreams become a reality for these budding entrepreneurs.
WHAT’S SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT WORKING IN THE ENT DEPARTMENT?
One word…treats! Deana Steele makes the best treats ever. We can always count on Deana to bake birthday goodies every month. She even bakes between celebrations. Deana really doesn’t need a special occasion to bake. The entrepreneurship-15 may become a real thing.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BAYLOR TRADITION?
I love the sound of the McLane Carillon at Pat Neff Hall! I smile every time I hear the bells toll. I especially enjoy hymns and Christmas carols during the holidays.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A NEW ENT MAJOR?
The folks in the Entrepreneurship department can be a great source of advice and support. Getting to know the faculty and staff in the Entrepreneurship department can certainly open the door for a deeper learning experience.
“If you’re not putting in the work,
there’s just no way you’re going to achieve the results you want.“
Austin and Julia Meek aren’t your typical “business-type” business owners. Neither of them grew up with entrepreneurial aspirations, but everything they did prepared them for a journey of a lifetime.
Both Austin and Julia are from the Dallas area, but their paths never actually crossed in the metroplex. In high school Julia worked part time at Pokey O’s, an up-and-coming Dallas ice cream parlor that had the brilliant idea to combine soft, home-made cookies with ice cream.
After high school, Julia went on to study at Baylor, but she would return to Pokey O’s to work during breaks from classes. Austin moved to Bryan to study at Texas A&M.
The two ultimately met in Waco through Austin’s sister Rachel, who was in the same sorority as Julia. A friendship ensued, but they each went in separate directions to pursue individual career goals after graduation in 2010. Julia moved to Los Angeles to work as a comic, and Austin moved to Austin with friends and worked on a film called ‘Believe Me.’
In 2013 the two reconnected in Austin through mutual friends working on the ‘Believe Me’ film. Julia returned to Los Angeles, but one phone call led to another, which led to another… After a couple of years, Julia was ready to return back to Texas.
Austin had been accepted to Baylor law school and Julia felt that Waco would be the perfect place to reconnect with her ice cream roots and open a Pokey O’s. In January 2015, Austin and Julia got married and moved to Waco.
The newlyweds had a thumbs-up from the Pokey O’s owners in Dallas and were given all of the recipes and branding needed to proceed with a plan of opening a Pokey O’s in Waco. The Waco location would be different because Julia had plans for a food truck rather than a storefront.
They soon purchased a cargo van for $15,000 via Craigslist and took it to an RV shop to put in a sink creating the original Pokey O’s truck.
Austin believes that the path for Pokey O’s was paved because Julia put in so many hours building a trust while working at the Pokey O’s in Dallas. Julia’s hard work for all of those years provided the foundation to building the success of the Waco Pokey O’s. Austin says, “If you’re not putting in the work there’s just no way you’re going to achieve the results you want.”
Pokey O’s Waco officially opened April 11, 2015.
Austin and Julia did things a little differently with Pokey O’s than most food trucks. They never established a home base for the Pokey O’s truck. Through social media, customers were incentivized to find them each day. A sort of scavenger hunt, if you will.
The thinking is that it’s less about location and more about Instagramable moments. It was free marketing when customers took decadent, mouth-watering pics of the ice cream desserts. They found that customers were looking for novelty rather than location and convenience.
Austin says, “Creating a product that’s really unique is something every small business should think about.”
He continues to explain that Pokey O’s could have come to Waco as an ice cream specialty store and would have ultimately been competing with Baskin Robbins or existing frozen yogurt stores. Or it could have come to Waco with a cookie specialty competing with local bakeries. Instead, Pokey O’s presented Waco with a brand new product in an ice cream sandwich. Customers recognize Pokey O’s as different and they love the whimsy of the brand and they are willing to pay for that.
Austin and Julia jumped into the world of entrepreneurship feet first, without hesitation. There have been a few hiccups along the way with establishing a home-base commissary kitchen and testing the waters with a brick and mortar storefront. The goal is still to eventually open a store front, but location and vibe are key.
Austin stresses that there’s absolutely no substitute for hard work and that you get what you put into it. He says, “You have to create opportunities for yourself and capitalize on them.”
Austin and Julia are definitely on a sweet path to success with Pokey O’s. Sic ‘Em!
“I believe most people can (and should) carry their passion into whatever vocation is available to them.”
There’s that old saying that a picture’s worth a thousand words. But is it really that cut and dry? Think about it. Sometimes a picture’s too blurry, too bright, a head’s cut off or there’s a bad angle. Realistically, not all pictures are worth a thousand words. And if you have any doubt of that, a quick “photography fails” search in Pinterest will leave you either giggling or cringing – or maybe even a little of both.
But what if good photography – true photography – is more about a calling? Wouldn’t that kind of explain the cringiness of some of those Pinterest fails?
It makes sense. Let’s take Eric Guel, for example. Eric truly feels that there is legitimacy to the old adage that you don’t choose photography, but it chooses you. Prior to high school Eric had no photography experience. None whatsoever. Just by chance he took a random Photo 1 class, and he liked it. He really liked it. It’s almost like photography grabbed a hold of him and wouldn’t let go. A love for photography was now deep within Eric’s heart and soul.
After three years of photography classes in high school, Eric decided to pursue journalism and photojournalism in college. Despite the fact that both parents were Houston Baptist University alumni, Eric followed his older brother’s footsteps and made the move to Waco to become a Baylor bear.
A photographer in Waco? Seriously, Waco would have to be a photographer’s dream-come-true. There are so many scenic backdrops to explore. There’s Cameron Park, the Waco suspension bridge, the downtown Waco murals and just about any spot on the Baylor campus. You get the idea. Waco is chock-full of fabulous, on-location photography spots. For a heart-and-soul kind of photographer, Baylor is the perfect choice.
While at Baylor, Eric studied photojournalism under photography professor, Clark Baker. One of Eric’s main takeaways from Professor Baker is it’s all right to fail and it’s also all right to just be yourself as a photographer. As a student, Eric worked with the Lariat which ultimately helped him land a job in the newspaper industry after graduation. And like many trailblazing photographers before him, Eric started out doing part-time photography for weddings and family portraits with Eric Guel Photography.
A few years ago, however, Eric decided to take photography on full-time. He was actually motivated to make the giant leap after hearing Fawn Germer speak at a Baylor Pro Sales event. The entire talk was about taking risks to do what you love to do. That was all the nudging he needed.
Eric also decided to shift his business focus to commercial photography by primarily serving businesses with convention and conference photography, headshots, marketing collateral and website images. Since then, he has been able to capture images for organizations such as Bausch + Lomb, Cognizant, Hewlett Packard, Salesforce and even for his beloved alma mater.
Even though Eric loves being a full-time entrepreneur, he admittedly isn’t much of a business person. Eric jokingly confesses that he just may actually have an allergic reaction to all things involving mathematics. But Eric is a firm believer that there’s always something to learn. He considers Dave Ramsey and Tony Robbins friends and mentors — in a podcasty kind of way. When thinking about his business challenges and obstacles, Eric leans on one of his favorite quotes from Robbins, “It’s not a lack of resources that’s the problem, but a lack of resourcefulness.”
Maybe Eric is onto something. Maybe there is some legitimacy to you don’t choose photography, but it chooses you. It certainly looks like photography has chosen this Baylor bear. Sic ’em!
“The joy of success will outweigh the disappointment of failure.”
Me want cookie! ~ Cookie Monster
If we’re honest – really honest – we would admit that there is a little bit of Cookie Monster in all of us. And let’s be real, there have been times when, like the Cookie Monster, all we can muster are three simple words… me want cookie!
But what if you could squelch that cookie craving with a Texas Two-Pound Chocolate Chip Cookie that’s the size of your face?
Whether you have a hankering for a colossal two-pounder or a craving for a more unassuming dozen, Madi Smyser of Madi’s Munchies can take care of your inner Cookie Monster.
Madi’s Munchies is a fabulous little cookie haven in Austin, Texas, that provides a respite for those struggling with an uncontrollable cookie craving. But what makes Madi’s Munchies different from any other bakery, aside from the obvious two-pounder? Madi, the founder and CEO of Madi’s Munchies is a 17-year-old who just completed her junior year at Vandegrift High School just outside of Austin. You read that right. The mastermind behind Madi’s Munchies and the gargantuan two-pound cookie is a high school student.
And it all started with a case of the munchies – Madi’s munchies. During the fall of 2016, Madi hopped into the kitchen to whip up a batch of homemade granola bars to pack in her lunch. With a little bit of this and a little bit of that, the end result was a mighty tasty bar. Madi wasn’t the only one whose taste buds did flips for the bars. Others liked them too. In early 2017, as any budding entrepreneur would do, Madi started selling the bars in her neighborhood.
But what do people like even more than made-from-scratch granola bars? Cookies. Folks really, really like homemade cookies…fresh-from-the-oven homemade cookies, to be more specific.
Madi adjusted her entrepreneurial focus to baked cookies. On random Friday or Saturday nights, she would bake and hand deliver warm, chocolate chip cookies to the cookie-craving folks in the neighborhood. And thanks to the wildfire, word-of-mouth effect of Facebook, folks actually started tracking Madi down for her cookies. It was kind of like a modern-day, viral Where’s Waldo hunt. Well, except it was Madi and not Waldo and instead of a “woohoo I found Waldo” it was a “woohoo I nabbed hot, fresh chocolate chip cookies.”
Madi was on her way to being a bonafide cookie-baking aficionado. She knew what her customers liked and she had a solid customer base. But could she do more? That was the $100,000 question.
In August 2017, Madi accompanied her dad to the Success Summit real estate conference where renowned real estate coach and speaker Tom Ferry was the keynote speaker. During a Q&A session with Ferry, Madi asked some general business questions concerning her cookie-baking business. Ferry provided some insightful thoughts, but also offered up a challenge. If Madi can sell $100,000 of cookies and other baked goods by the 2018 Summit gathering and keep up her grades in the process, Ferry said he would give Madi $5,000. He would give her $1,000 at the $50,000 sales mark and the remaining $4,000 when she hit $100,000.
The challenge was accepted.
And it just so happened, someone from Tom Ferry’s inner circle had a close connection to a producer for the the Rachael Ray Show. Madi took Ferry’s advice to heart and sent a package of cookies to New York for the producers to try. On November 9 a head producer of the Rachael Ray Show contacted Madi. She provided footage of actually whipping up a batch of Madi’s Munchies cookies and the segment ultimately aired on the Rachael Ray Show on December 4.
The accolades continued. A couple months after her debut on the Rachael Ray Show, Madi received second place recognition in the third annual Baylor Youth Entrepreneur Awards. Through this program, Baylor’s Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise recognizes young entrepreneurs from across the country and provides these students with an opportunity to network and explore options as they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
Growing a successful business so quickly certainly came with an array of challenges. In order for Madi to have the type of business she wanted, access to a commercial kitchen was imperative. She tried out a couple of different kitchens, each with different issues and idiosyncrasies before she finally settled on the one she is currently using. She had to decide what exactly she needed in a kitchen before she could choose the right one.
The next hurdle was finding the time and money for all of the certifications, permits and licenses required to sell baked goods on a larger scale. Prior to the agreement with Ferry, Madi operated business under the Texas Cottage Food Industry Laws, which allowed for baking to be done in a house. Madi could also sell directly to customers with only a Food Handler’s certification. Madi’s Munchies outgrew that, and Madi had to obtain a Food Manager license accompanied by other permits and routine inspections.
Madi’s Munchies are currently sold in four, local Dan’s Hamburgers locations in the Austin area. Short-term, Madi would like to get her cookies into more restaurant settings. However, she has somewhat broadened her vision. While the initial door-to-door, consumer based business model is what made Madi’s Munchies what it is today, Madi is seeing more potential with a business-to-business strategy. Madi says, “I want to build a successful business and continue to learn from it…every day.”
But the challenge with Ferry had two conditions. The first condition was $100,000 in sales and the second was to maintain good grades. Madi admits it has been hard at times to juggle her growing business along with school work. Afterall, junior year is certainly no walk in the park. Time management is something she is learning and mastering. Madi’s objective is to make the most of every single minute of each day.
Madi says, “Starting a new business is hard, but it’s so worth it if you really love what you’re doing.”
Madi loves what she’s doing and her customers love her cookies. It’s a win-win that even the hangriest Cookie Monster would have to agree!
2018 Baylor Youth Entrepreneur Award Top Three Finalists Marshall Adams, Nishka Ayyar, Riya Gupta, Madi Smyser
2018 Youth Entrepreneur Award Finalists Marshall Adams of Texas Snow Waco (First Place Recipient) Madi Smyser of Madi’s Munchies (Second Place Recipient) Nishka Ayyar and Riya Gupta of PromElle, LLC (Third Place Recipient) Ryan Gabriel of KOLD Wear Gina Marie Grieb of G&G Pressure Washing Walt Horton of Blue Valley Fly Fishing Will Penningwerth of Spark3D Kyndal Sligh of Red Barn Genetics
As guests munched on salads from the local Mix Café, Hannah shared a story of growing up overseas and coming to the United States to finish out her high school studies. Since both parents were proud Baylor graduates, it wasn’t a far-fetched idea that Baylor would become Hannah’s college of choice. And because of her passion to aid development within communities, Hannah focused her concentration on entrepreneurship and economics.
While at Baylor, Hannah jumped in full throttle by participating in the Business Excellence Scholarship Team (BEST) Program, the CASE Competition and the New Venture Competition. Hannah was determined to go for all the opportunities she could. Admittedly, not every endeavor was a stereotypical success, but Hannah kept-on-keeping-on with the philosophy that failure is just simply information.
After graduation, Hannah traveled to Mongolia and worked with an anti-trafficking nonprofit. She then came back to the states and took on a leadership role at a San Diego church for a couple of years. Hannah explains, “Life doesn’t always look like you think it will look.”
As Hannah was trying to figure out what exactly her journey of entrepreneurship and economics would look like, she heard about Towny from a friend. She was intrigued by the company mission. Soon after, Hannah landed what she now refers to as “her dream job” with Towny.
Towny is currently in five US markets, with future expansion on the horizon. According to its website, Towny is on a mission to highlight the local businesses that cook your food, sell your unique clothes and wash your car. These are the businesses that you may have never previously noticed.
Towny is a consumer marketing app for locally owned businesses and banks. The idea is that Towny will provide a method for local businesses to regularly communicate sales and promotions with consumers. Consumer purchases not only support local businesses but also add up with a rewards program.
For Hannah, Towny is a platform she can use to follow her passion to help build development within communities. Hannah’s philosophy is actually pretty simple… in order to be an entrepreneur, you have to learn from entrepreneurs. And the best way to learn from entrepreneurs is to talk to the business owners. As Hannah explains, “Every business has a story to tell.”
Hannah loves that she is able to help existing small business owners and at the same time bridge the gap between an old way of running a business with brick and mortar with a new way of running a business with technology. She believes you truly can connect the old with the new.
This is what Hannah’s journey of entrepreneurship and economics looks like right now. She takes pride in that she is helping to develop local communities one small business at a time. Hannah emphasizes, “If you think you have something valuable to offer, you probably do.”
“Never lose sight of your mission or reason for wanting to start a business.”
Entrepreneur.com posted an interesting article that listed the top 5 reasons one should consider becoming an entrepreneur. The list went as follows:
The opportunity to control your destiny
The freedom to spend your time doing what’s important to you
Unlimited earning possibilities
The chance to leave a lasting legacy
By all accounts, that’s a respectable listing. Destiny, freedom, possibilities, independence, legacy… Yes, please.
But actually, it’s the astute doctrine of Dr. Seuss that seems to sum up the essence of an entrepreneur even better. With a good bit of certainty, we can assume that the esteemed storyteller was not speaking on entrepreneurship, but the sentiment is fitting, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Now doesn’t that completely sum up entrepreneurship in a perfect little package topped with a pretty little bow? In basic terms, entrepreneurship is when innovators believe they have a product or service that can make things better for a group of people – and they do something about it.
Making things better…
Kirsten Dickerson is an entrepreneur guided by such insightful Seuss-ism. This Baylor graduate received her BSE, but immediately knew her classroom was beyond the confines of the typical, academic four walls. The day after walking the stage at Baylor, Kirsten hopped on a plane for a volunteer assignment. Since that day, she has traveled to more than 30 countries advocating for women and shaping her global perspective in effort to use fashion for good in the world.
In 1997 Kirsten led a cross-cultural outreach trip to India to visit her favorite non profit groups that were focused on empowering women and alleviating poverty. The core belief being that when women are empowered to earn an income, they will invest back into health, education, food, children, family and ultimately the community.
Kirsten and her team saw a growing trend in training women in design skills. However, while the nonprofits were headed in the right direction, they missed the mark on providing modern design input and the necessary tools to access the western market. Kirsten took matters into her own hands and pulled together a group of experts in fashion, jewelry and graphic design to walk along side her in effort to empower the women working so hard to forge their own path.
The concept has always been to lead with the best designs that reflect the beauty and culture of the artisan women. In 2008, Kirsten and her crew started the self-funded, nonprofit Raven + Lily. Three years later the business moved into the current for profit social business model.
The Raven + Lily mission is simple, but bold. Raven + Lily, as an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand, is dedicated to empowering women through jobs by design. The desire is to create modern designs produced through long-term artisan partnerships that help employ women from around the world. Currently, Raven + Lily employs more than 1,500 women through fair trade design partnerships in 10 different countries, including the US.
These partners employ at-risk women who are trafficked, HIV positive, previously homeless or in oppressive situations. Raven + Lily strives to empower these women, who are at times perceived as outcasts and/or socially invisible, to earn a living for themselves and their families.
The current focus for the business is to strengthen online sales, which have provided the strongest margins. The four-year goal, however, is to expand to strategically located storefronts in key cities like Los Angeles and New York City.
One thing that sets Raven + Lily apart from other social enterprises is a B Corporation classification. As a certified Benefit Corporation, Raven + Lily is committed to:
Employing at risk, impoverished women to improve their livelihood
Eco-friendly practices in sourcing of materials and design processes
Honoring traditional artisan crafts and techniques
Providing sustainable fair trade wages
Creating exclusive, modern designs that reflect the beauty and culture of the women who create them
Donating back to the artisan communities for healthcare and educational needs
Raven + Lily is also Fair Trade Federation certified and was named Best for the World in Community Impact. Other accolades and acknowledgements include the Classy Award: Philanthropic Business of the Year and the Austin Gives Generous Business Award: Charitable Champions.
That’s a whole lot of making things better, but Kirsten is quick to point out that Raven + Lily didn’t just happen. She credits her husband Brandon for being her biggest cheerleader, supporter and encourager on this incredible journey. Kirsten also acknowledges that while her ridiculously intuitive (our words, not hers) “on-the-job CEO training” was certainly productive, it’s because she had a distinguished posse of business mentors (Kendra Scott) and board members (Amanda Nevins and Danielle Pruitt) that she was able to blaze a trail like none other.
And then there are those whom Kirsten passionately refers to as the “main heroes” of the Raven + Lily success. She says, “The women artisans of Raven + Lily are my constant inspiration and the main factor for our success.”
We go back to the words of Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Don’t you think the world is a much better place because people like Kirsten and those around her care a whole awful lot?
“Your hard work is a direct reflection on your products.”
We’ve all seen the funny tees imprinted with something like my grandma went to Luckenbach and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. Not that there is anything wrong with going to Luckenbach, but there is something terribly wrong with gifting a lousy t-shirt.
But what are you supposed to do if you want a tee that’s fun and maybe even a little funky? Something a little different that isn’t mass produced. Something that captures your absolute essence in a sassy and comfy tee. You contact Cece Lively, that’s what you do.
Cece is the founder, the creator, the designer, the mastermind, the genius behind Lively Designs, something she likes to refer to as a little business started from people loving my tees locally!
And seriously, what’s not to love! Lively Designs has simply-stated tees imprinted with but first coffee, farm fresh or choose joy, but also the fun, got-it-goin’-on tees imprinted with wake-pray-slay or mama needs wine. The best part is custom tee orders are accepted. They are actually encouraged.
There’s so much love for Cece’s tees that she was invited to participate as a vendor in the 2017 Spring at the Silos event at the Waco Magnolia Market, hosted by Joanna Gaines. Yes, you read that right, the Joanna Gaines.
But to grasp the full magnitude of this home-grown success story, we have to back up a little bit. Long story short… Cece grew up in Orlando, but she likes to tell people that she came to Texas just as soon as she could. She received her masters in education administration from Baylor University and is currently teaching a lucky group of fifth graders the joy of math at Robinson Intermediate School.
In October 2016 Cece made a fun tee at the request of her daughter. She posted a picture of the tee on Facebook thinking maybe she could bring in a little extra money making custom tees.
A friend from Houston saw the picture and asked to share it via Instagram. The friend wanted to do a tee giveaway via Instagram, but in order to do that Cece had to create an Etsy page. Cece was resistant, but ultimately she created a Lively Designs Etsy page.
Initially, it was hard for Cece to give away her tees. But that Instagram giveaway was the catalyst for something bigger. Much bigger.
After the Instagram giveaway, Lively Designs had 15 tee orders on Etsy. Just like that, people were going crazy for the comfy, made-with-a-personal-touch tees. And Cece was carving a definite niche for Lively Designs. While there are a ton of really awesome tee makers on Etsy, most have minimum order requirements of 12-15 tees. Cece decided Lively Designs would forgo the sometimes complicated minimum order requirement. She says, “I’m not afraid to do a custom order with just one or two tees!”
Cece was well aware that just because one item did well on Etsy, success was not a guarantee. But she figured that if a shirt did well locally, then there was a good chance that folks would like it online as well.
Her marketing plan was simple, yet ingenious — post pictures of the newest tee creations on social media and direct folks to the Etsy page. That strategy worked well. From October – December, Lively Designs sold about 1,000 tees.
Holy guacamole! Cece wasn’t prepared for that kind of growth pace. She had to take a few steps back and create a business plan and set some goals for a healthy balance for family, teaching and Etsy.
Cece wrapped up 2016 on such a high note, she set a 2017 sales goal of 10,000 tees. It was an ambitious goal, but she was determined to jump in feet-first and go for it. She continued her marketing strategy utilizing social media, but word-of-mouth soon became one of Lively Designs’ biggest assets. So much so, that Cece was personally invited by Joanna Gaines to participate in the March 2017 Magnolia Market Spring at the Silos event. This three-day event, featured 65 amazing artisan vendors from across the country. And Lively Designs had a booth right in the middle of it all.
This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, mind-blowing kind of opportunities for this small-town businesswoman. Cece sold more than 700 tees in those three days at the Silos. And she came home to another 100 Etsy orders.
This spring, Cece also tested the waters with a hands-on buying experience for her customers. Lively Designs now has a rental space at the local, downtown Waco hot-spot Sironia. Sironia is a fabulous boutique-type lunch destination with to-die-for desserts and fun, artisan shopping.
It’s looking like Lively Designs is getting closer and closer to that ambitious 2017 sales goal. Cece credits her success to her entrepreneurial parents, supportive friends, loads of hard work and fun. She says, “The hard work is paying off, but most importantly I’m having fun too!”
Sayonara to lousy, boring tees! And hello to Lively Designs.
What comes to mind when you hear the term good ol’ days? For a lot of folks, the good ol’ days are the years spent in high school. Football games, homecoming dances, proms and first glances from a high school sweetheart – a lot of good memories, albeit some very awkward memories, but nonetheless good memories indeed.
Adulting can be hard and it can be stressful. And let’s face it, with grown-up jobs, bills and decision making the fun and lackadaisical good ol’ days feeling can be somewhat elusive at times. But there is an elite group of students who brilliantly combined the good ol’ days of high school with the responsibility of adulting with such amazing finesse that Baylor just had to honor them with 2017 Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Yes, you read that right. Youth and entrepreneurship in harmony, sort of communal like two peas in a pod. But really, those two words go together like fine mess, jumbo shrimp, clearly confused, old news and awfully good. Youth aren’t supposed to be entrepreneurs. That’s adulting stuff. Youth should be living it up in the good ol’ days.
Maybe so, but these students have blazed an entrepreneurial trail like none other. And we’re not talking cookie-cutter entrepreneurial endeavors either. These youth entrepreneurs were successful with pizazzy socks and chic personalized gifts. Definitely not run-of-the-mill side gigs.
The first place recipient of the 2017 Youth Entrepreneur Award was high school junior, Brennan Agranoff. Brennan is the founder of HoopSwagg, an apparel customization business that specializes in socks. These aren’t ordinary, boring socks though. These are pizazzy socks.
Be warned. If you’re looking for plain-jane, blend-in-with-the-crowd kind of socks, steer clear of HoopSwagg. But if you’re looking for socks with an edge, sock that make a statement with design names like Psycho Rainbow, Goat Farm, Detonation and Eyeballz then you must check out HoopSwagg.com…now.
But how in the world did this happen?
It all started in seventh grade. In midst of typical adolescent self discovery, Brennan became obsessed with socks. The only problem with that was everyone was wearing plain colored socks. And plain colored socks didn’t satisfy this budding sock aficionado. Brennan mowed the lawn all summer and saved his money to buy the very coolest pair of wildly-colored socks online for $50. He wore the perfectly hued socks to school in the fall and all of his friends were duly impressed.
As with any entrepreneur, Brennan wondered how he could make a razzle-dazzle sock on his own. For six months he researched processes, equipment and production. He then had a few samples made and tried his luck on eBay. Not knowing exactly what to expect with his first try at eCommerce, Brennan was thrilled when the socks instantly sold out.
Brennan knew he was onto something with his flashy feet accessories. He prepared a business plan and asked his parents for a $3,000 loan. The parentals loved the idea and complied with the loan request. By August 2013, armed with funding, equipment and a live website, HoopSwagg, LLC was the real deal.
There have been a few bumps in the road for Brennan. One of the biggest hurdles has simply been his age. Paperwork, financials and trademark submissions all required a parent’s signature. And then there’s the unknown. The not knowing what can go wrong is a struggle. But Brennan looks at each new problem as an opportunity to find a solution.
A lot has changed since that initial 2013 launch. HoopSwagg now has its own brand of sock and Brennan is looking to expand his high school basketball program to more than 500 teams. Eventually, he would like to introduce the retail market to his less expensive, high quality socks.
Brennan says, “When you have something that people want, they will come.”
The third place recipient of the 2017 Youth Entrepreneur Award was high school sophomore, Addison Bain. Addison is the founder of Addigrams, a business that takes everyday items like travel mugs and backpacks and personalizes them with monograms and names. A morning cup of joe in a chic, personalized mug…yes, please.
But how in the world did this happen?
The Addigrams journey began during a summer trip to Michigan when Addison’s Aunt Kristen introduced the most amazing, the most intriguing, the most fabulous thing ever…a Cricut®. The Cricut is a nifty machine that is every crafty DIYer’s dream come true. It’s a die-cutting machine, and according to the website, it can be used for “everything from cards and gifts to party and home decor, fashion and accessories and more!”
The budding entrepreneur took the “and more” and ran with it. Immediately she imagined all of the ways she could use a Cricut, and like any innovative teenager would do…she asked mom and dad if they would buy her a Cricut. The conversation didn’t go quite as Addison had hoped, but that didn’t stop this precocious teen.
Addison started saving her babysitting earnings. By September, she had $190. Even though she was still $60 short, Addison’s parents chipped in the remainder and bought the Cricut. After a few weeks of experimenting with the Cricut, Addison’s wheels were turning. She started thinking of all the different customized items she could create with the Cricut. All of the things she could create…and sell. Addison wanted to start her own business.
With backing from mom and dad, Addison created an Etsy shop. Initially, customers were family and friends. However, that soon changed with the magical powers of social media and word-of-mouth praise. And like any successful entrepreneur would do, Addison wondered how she could make her business better. Embroidery was the next plan of action.
Addigrams’ custom-chic, monogrammed and embroidered items have been shipped to 22 states. Addison does close the Etsy store during school months, but during that time she takes every opportunity to participate in community events and markets. Her next plan is to broaden the product line to include leather jewelry.
Addison says, “Never think you are too young to start your own business.”
Luther Vandross once said, “The best part is still ahead of me – I haven’t experienced my ‘good old days’ yet.”
Maybe Brennan and Addison are onto something. Something big. Something extraordinary. Something that dreams are made of. Maybe any day and every day can be a good ol’ day.
2017 Youth Entrepreneur Award Finalists and Winners First Place Winner, Brennan Agranoff, HoopSwagg, LLC Second Place Winner, Ehan Kamat, 321 Innovations, LLC Third Place Winner, Addison Bain, Addigrams Finalist, Sam Fleet, QuickShare Cloud Services Finalist, Cade Hudson, Hudson Pressure Washing Finalist, Evan Hara,Evan Hara Films Finalist, Matthew Hoenig, Matthew Hoenig Productions Finalist, Luke Stetler,Durango Tire Storage Finalist, Kyle Tananbaum, Sector 214 Finalist, JB Williams, JB’s Firewood