Liftoff class graduates local women entrepreneurs

Published 1:15 am Saturday, May 6, 2023

CentreWorks graduated its sixth LIFTOFF entrepreneurship class on May 3, during which graduates shared insight about their businesses that they might launch.

Led by Anthony and Andrea Margida, directors of CentreWorks, Liftoff combines Centre College students with community members who want to start businesses, pairing them in teams to work on their business ideas.

Entrepreneurs usually come in with a tentative business idea. During the class, they conduct empathy interviews with community members who may become customers. Then, they define a problem that their business will solve, come up with business ideas to solve the problem, test it, and make final prototypes.

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This semester’s class was dominated by women, made up of nine local women entrepreneurs, in addition to Centre students. Some have already launched their businesses, and others may launch soon.

The entrepreneurs and their businesses they presented are as follows:

Mary Beth Murray: Women’s Wellness Collective

Danville resident Mary Beth Murray presented Women’s Wellness Collective, a website that helps women through their health journeys.

Murray’s inspiration for this business is from her own health journey, from being diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 28, to having heart surgery at age 32. Murray said she felt alone and didn’t have many answers, so she wanted to create something that would help women through their health journeys.

In talking to people she could serve, she learned that some women were confused when going to certain doctors appointments, they didn’t have all their questions answered, or they felt rushed through the process. Her solution is an online website that would allow patients and providers to gain access to a network of health educators, supporters and confidants to help guide their healthcare journey.

The website would have curated information about women’s health, text services during or before a doctor’s visit to answer questions, a note-taking service, and provide an educator and peer support through the process. It would be a membership model with an introductory free period, and tier levels. Healthcare providers could also purchase this program and provide it as a benefit to patients.

Sallie Dawkins: Kingdom Scribes451

Local author Sallie Dawkins presented a service that would help new authors publish books. In talking to people who may want to write something to eventually be published, most of them said they felt overwhelmed by the process, and the time and money it would take.

Dawkins started her self-publishing journey in 2020, writing and publishing nine books since then. She said that both working with a publisher and self-publishing can cost writers up to $10,000. But she’s developed a cost-effective system for self-publishing books at 1/10 of that original cost.

Kingdom Scribes451 would have a detailed guidebook with the exact step-by-step system that Dawkins uses for self-publishing. It would also have an exclusive invitation to join an online writers community, so authors don’t have to go through the process alone.

Breanna Mullings: Habitat Solutions

Habitat Solutions by Breanna Mullings is a service that would help underserved nonprofits, or nonprofits just getting started. Mullings has been working with nonprofits for many years.

She said the biggest problem facing most nonprofits is money. But in talking to those she may serve, Mullings learned that they also have trouble with websites, online donations, not having enough time to meet with potential donors, and learning how to do everything that comes with running a nonprofit.

Her problem statement that the business will solve is: How might they increase sustainability and decrease frustration for underserved nonprofits by finding alternatives to time-consuming fundraising?

Habitat Solutions would do marketing for them, set up a website and social media pages, set up online donations, and continue to look for new ways to bring in donations for that nonprofit. The service would be one-on-one, as Mullings is currently a sole proprietor working directly with nonprofits to create their custom solutions.

Sarah Pollom: Finally Sorted

Local pilates instructor Sarah Pollom presented her custom organizing service, Finally Sorted, which she started in November 2022.

Through empathy interviews, she learned that people want their spaces to stay organized, and for others in their home to put things back where they belong. Pollom wants her organization to be sustainable and realistic, instead of having an unreachable bar of perfection that many other organizers reach for.

Organized spaces can easily become a mess again, so she wants to keep people’s systems similar to how they were before, make small tweaks instead of overhauling a person’s system, and she wants people to feel comfortable with the changes.

Service starts with a consultation where Pollom comes in and learns about what a person wants changed, what doesn’t work, what items get used the most and least, and then Pollom will give a quote with different budget and service tiers. A few weeks after the job is done, Pollom goes back to the house for a follow-up on whether things stayed organized, and if any changes are needed.

Kasey Padgett: Kasey’s Sweet Creations

Kasey Padgett is a Lincoln County High School sophomore from Waynesburg. She started baking at age 10 when she entered her desserts in a 4H contest.

During her empathy interviews, people said they wanted healthy menu options, smaller portion sizes, high-quality ingredients, good presentation, customizable for all different events, and an easy-to-use app or website for ordering. Ideas people gave her include writing a guide on how to make baked goods, putting her service on Doordash, and selling her desserts in other stores.

Her bakery service provides a wide range of desserts, made with quality ingredients and presentation. She sets up at local events to interact with customers, since she doesn’t have a storefront, partners with other businesses to use their storefronts, and takes orders through social media and in person. Padgett baked a cake and cupcakes for the Liftoff graduation, so everyone could try her food.

Kelsey Jenks: MentorMe

Kelsey Jenks is a senior at Centre College studying behavioral neuroscience, and will be attending U of L in the fall to get her PhD. She said that one thing important in her educational journey is research and mentorship opportunities. She presented MentorMe, a service that connects mentors with mentees.

In empathy interviews about research and mentorship, she learned that people want professional development and life development, they want something to be accessible, and they want to collaborate rather than to work in isolation. People told her they want to see more multi-generational collaboration, and more diversity in terms of background, belief, thought, areas of study, etc.

Her problem question is, How might we create accessible mentorships that also drive collaboration, certainty, development and connections?

MentorMe will have a website that connects people all over the world, or with local colleagues. Mentors can take courses on how to be a good mentor, take a personality quiz, and find people to mentor.

LaTonya Cineus: Cabana Fresh

LaTonya Cineus has been a nurse for 22 years, working in the ER, ICU, Home Health, Spinal Surgery and Dialysis. She’s currently a telehealth nurse working remotely. She wanted to start something different to focus on the health of locals, possibly by growing produce and microgreens and teaching others about nutrition.

Her idea changed in talking with locals, when she learned about community challenges around fresh locally-grown food. The Boyle County Farmers Market is only once a week, and not everybody can make it. She also learned that lower-income families can’t necessarily afford going to the Farmers Market. Danville is also considered a food desert, which is an area that has limited access to affordable, good quality fresh food.

Cineus came up with the mobile farmers market, which she will call Cabana Fresh. It will be offered more days when the Saturday Farmers Market is not open; it’ll have an emphasis on being affordable; and will travel around especially to lower income communities that have barriers to accessing affordable fresh produce. She will also teach people about nutrition.

Mara Merchant: Creature Cafe

Mara Merchant is a Danville resident who works at the library, and loves her two pet rabbits. She noticed that there’s no designated place for pet lovers to gather with their pets, and came up with Creature Cafe in response.

She learned that people want a comfortable place to hang out with their animals, a designated place for pets to interact with other animals, and a way to support animals in need.

Creature Cafe would be a physical event space that serves drinks and small foods, where all proceeds will go to support animals in need at the humane society or other places. It would have an outdoor space, nervous pet rooms, all pets would be welcome, and would have events themed around different types of animals.

It would be run as a nonprofit, they would post adoption information, provide resources for those who don’t know where to get affordable pet care, etc.

Mary Robin Spoonamore: Wine Seller

Local entrepreneur Mary Robin Spoonamore, who has had businesses in downtown Danville but recently took a break, presented a new business called Wine Seller.

In her journey to rediscover passion for the business, Spoonamore learned that people want to be supportive of local independent businesses, that people care about the community and want to collaborate, that they value personal relationships with small businesses, and that people want to build their own knowledge of wine and culture.

Her problem statement that Wine Seller addresses is: How can we design wine experiences that deliver education, a sense of community, and personal service?

Wine Seller has a functional ecommerce website with a platform that specializes in selling wine and wine clubs. It offers immersive experiences about where the wine is from, educational experiences, and they host events centered around wine. Spoonamore plans to have regular hours around June.

Centre students

The Margidas also taught a course at Centre College called Community Engaged Entrepreneurship. Those students supported the Liftoff students, and designed their own business startup ideas:

Sam Feingold: Bridge Fitness (A Fitness Establishment Which Crosses the Gaps of Traditional Gyms)

Brett Cooper: Farm2Truck (Danville’s Newest Fresh Eatery)

Amanda Blanco Feliz: U2 Wealth (financial education and guidance for young people of color)

Piper Madison: Aura (Wellness + Music Festival, where artists can perform on stage, with wellness stations, restorative food, and wellness vendors)

Bailey Stephenson: Nourish (Nourish Foods ebook)

Namgay Pelmo: Mockaholics (tasty, healthy, affordable, non-addictive beverages)