America is in turmoil. While suffering from a seemingly never-ending pandemic, America is also facing an “it’s-about-time” reckoning over racism. And it’s still answering for the predatory sexism brought to light by the Me Too movement. If that wasn’t enough, its citizens are ideologically divided on the verge of a national election. Who doesn’t need MORE EMPATHY now?
This is a question that Reilly Brady has been pondering as she considers her place in the world. Reilly is a Senior at Drexel University, majoring in Behavioral Health and Counseling. She is also a prolific maker and small business owner. For the past few years, Reilly has run a handmade jewelry company, called Tilly’s Art Box. Tilly is the nickname her parents gave Reilly when she was a little girl. Although she has great sentimental affection for the name, Reilly has decided that it is time for Tilly’s Art Box to re-brand to include her social agenda in her business model. Tilly’s Art Box is now More -Empathy, a brand whose mission is to raise awareness about the issues of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility; to advocate for non-profits that support under-represented populations; to raise awareness about the importance of mental health wellness and to normalize the discussion of mental health issues in the workplace.
Whew! That is a lot to think about, especially for one so young. Although More – Empathy may be in its start up infancy, Reilly believes that, for there to be true change in this world, brands and businesses need to step up and declare what they stand for – right from the start. Reilly aims to establish a company whose values reflect who she is as a person and as a business leader.
Reilly began making jewelry during her freshmen year at Drexel University after she contracted e.coli. Already prone to anxiety, this illness sent her mental health into a tailspin. She moved out of student housing and home to Doylestown to live with her parents. She began drawing and making jewelry and discovered that the act of creating helped alleviate her anxiety. These creative pursuits led to the establishment of Tilly’s Art Box; first, as an Etsy store, and then as a marketplace website, using the social media platforms of Instagram and, especially, Twitter for marketing. She describes her jewelry aesthetic as “Funky, fun and different” with a bent towards bold colors. (Sounds a lot like Reilly’s personality, actually.) As Tilly’s Art Box has evolved to become More – Empathy, so has Reilly. She continues to learn new skills that include working with polymer clay and learning how to screen print as she plans to add a fashion component to her collection in the future.ti
Casey Wood remembers the first time she held her very own professional camera. She was a freshman in high school when her Nana gave her the gift of a DSLR camera (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera). This gift represented the turning of a dream into a reality. Not only did she now own a professional camera, but she was also regularly being asked to shoot portraits and birthday parties. In her junior year, she was hired to photograph her first wedding.
Casey began taking photographs in middle school. She was playing on her Nintendo DS one day and decided to try its camera function to shoot portraits of her friends. She was excited by its ability to create images, but she was also frustrated by its limitations – the user had little control over the images it captured. She upgraded to a point and shoot camera and enrolled in a local photography summer camp at The Wallingford Arts Center, which is near her hometown of Media, Pennsylvania. At summer camp, she learned how to use PhotoShop to manipulate her photographs in the editing stage and she was hooked.
Her interest in photography continued into high school but unfortunately, the once popular photography program at Penncrest High School had been cancelled before she arrived. Casey is highly motivated and she didn’t let Penncrest’s defunct photography program stop her – she formed a photography club. She asked her Visual Design teacher, Stephan Mescanti, to be their Staff Sponsor and he enthusiastically agreed to let the club use his classroom computers after school. Casey became its leader; she proposed photography challenges for her club mates to complete every week to keep them motivated and engaged.
When it was time to choose a program of study for college, she decided her best bet, in advancing her goal to become a professional photographer, was to study entrepreneurship and learn how to successfully start, operate, and sustain a business. She enrolled in Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship and is currently entering her fourth year at Drexel.
Casey’s two Co Op experiences at Drexel have had a great impact on the growth of her business, Casey’s Photography, which she founded her freshman year. Her first Co Op was with JPG Photo, a photography studio. It was there that she gained experience shooting weddings and other special events. Her current Co Op is at the Philadelphia-based marketing firm, En Route Marketing, where she is learning skills that she is already utilizing in the marketing of Casey’s Photography. In reaction to COVID-19, she put her newly learned marketing skills to work by offering to take free portraits of first responders, graduating students and prom pictures for students who had their proms canceled. These free portrait sessions served to expand her network and have led to paid jobs. She also recently started producing another great marketing tool: notecard sets featuring local landmarks. She has Media, Swarthmore and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sets available for purchase at a local gift store, Home and Gifts, located at 15 East state Street in Media, and directly from her.
Featuring Paris Gramann and Rebecca Lee of Just Be Books LLC
Drexel graduate (’20) Paris Gramann began developing the idea for Just Be Books LLC when she was in high school. As a young person, she battled mental health issues that included anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. She never felt that she had the words or the permission to tell the adults in her life how she was feeling. Paris has experienced mental health difficulties throughout her young adult life. It wasn’t until college that she realized she was allowed to talk about her struggles and ask for the help she needed. Paris believes that childhood is the most important time to learn how to talk about our needs, about how to speak-up for ourselves and how to listen to others. Just Be Books gives parents the tools to teach children how to do what Paris struggled with as a child – how to use their words to express their emotions. The Just Be Books tool kit includes the illustrated children’s book Just Be which tells the story of an apple named Albert who discovers, with the help of friends, how to manage his feelings of sadness, a plush Albert Apple toy and downloadable supplemental information.
The current COVID-19 pandemic makes this a scary time for everyone and especially kids who haven’t developed the skills to express their fears. Children have been pulled out of school, isolated in their homes; they can sense their parents’ anxiety over not only health, but also about the financial repercussions of a shut-down economy. Children are most certainly struggling with fears of illness, death, dying and uncertainty. Now, more then ever, they need Just Be Books!
I asked Paris and her partner, Rebecca Lee (an undergraduate student studying Middle School Education at Temple University) to answer a series of questions aimed at discovering how Just Be Books is pivoting to face the unique challenge presented by this “new normal”. Here are their answers:
Describe your pre-pandemic business model plan:
Before the pandemic, our sales were all Business to Consumer. We fulfilled 85 book orders prior to December 1, 2019, and we raised $4,205 from a Kickstarter campaign.
At the start of 2020, we continued online sales from our website and began working with Business to Business organizations. By March 2020, our books were in two retail locations: Magical Child in Encinitas, CA and Blue Literacy Bookstore in Cincinnati, OH. We began to work with schools and tested at three different schools and were hoping for more testing at additional schools.
Our focus was on 1) School District Partnerships 2) B2C online sales 3) B2B retail store wholesale partnerships and 4) Clinician Partnerships.
How are you turning the hurdle of social distancing into an opportunity?
With most schools closed and people practicing social distancing, parents are turning to online resources to help continue their child’s learning and creativity at home. Just Be Books LLC is shifting our focus from in-person school assemblies (which have been canceled) to creating free content for parents and kids — accessible via our social media accounts and our website. Since parents are cooped up in the house, we have noticed greater activity on social media so we are using this time to become more present on social media platforms. We are currently working with our adviser, Shannon Sweitzer, Ph.D in School Psychology, to create positive mental health activities and crafts that keep kids learning and help them work through some of the anxieties and stress that can arise from an unprecedented situation like this. Just Be Books hopes to provide free, fun, and helpful content to our wonderful existing customers as well as gain a greater following by reaching out to our partners and networks.
How has your business pivoted?
We had assemblies and readings scheduled throughout the end of March that were either canceled or postponed. With this disappointment comes a fantastic opportunity to get more creative and pivot to better meet our customers’ new needs. Just Be Books is launching a 20-Day Mental Health Activity Challenge that will give parents ideas and instructions for positive activities such as arts and crafts projects and brain teasers that they can do from home with common household supplies. We also plan on utilizing video platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to do live readings, breathing activities, and yoga. All of this content will be saved and available for customers to view at later times.
How important is “thinking outside the box” to the survival and growth of your business?
Thinking outside the box is very important to our business! We always want to be bringing something new and creative to the families we sell to, but we also always want what we are doing to be rooted in research. We are striving to create new “outside of the box” content that is grounded in what’s known to work for kids. We are brainstorming activities with professionals and modifying them to be do-able with simple things that most families have around the house. We are really excited to make these educational crafts accessible to all families. These activities can be accessed here.
How important is resiliency to you?
Resiliency is an important aspect of every part of both our business and professional lives. In regards to the pandemic, we took a few days to process and readjust, but we think our shared resiliency and passion for our customers is helping us stay motivated.
How are you connecting with your peers?
We are so happy to have built amazing relationships with our peers at the Baiada Incubator. We have been able to continue some of our “break times” (aka playing cards or a game called Spyfall) via video chat. Using technology like Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts has helped us all stay connected with one another. We have also been able to touch base emotionally with our peers and give emotional support to one another through text messages and “vent sessions”.
Everyone is going through this together. Some peers are taking a hit and others are thriving with the extra challenges that the pandemic is providing.
How important are Mentors to you at this time?
We are excited to explore the additional resources that our Universities provide (Paris is a recent graduate of Drexel University and Rebecca is currently an undergrad at Temple University). Among those resources are the Mentor Match program where we can find extra support to help us better understand our current challenges. As I mentioned before, our adviser, Sharon Schweitzer, is helping us to create positive, research-based, activities for our 20 Day Mental Health Activity Challenge.
What new learning are you planning?
Our team at Just Be Books is excited (and anxious) about all of the new challenges that will come from the changes in the world right now. At the heart of us both, we are students. We are currently working on our second book as well as the specific projects listed above. We are both learning how to provide effective content for families in need of mental health resources at this time.
To learn more about Just Be Books, visit the following:
On a personal note: As a kid, I had a crippling fear of death and dying. It took me years before I felt brave enough to say something to my parents. When I finally found my words, my mom very simply said, “Everyone dies. It’s just a part of life”. Not a particularly reassuring reply, but just the act of speaking my truth out loud provided instant and sustained relief.
How I wish the Just Be Books tool kit had been available when I was a child!It could have helped me find my words at an earlier age and saved me a lot of stress and worry.
This blog is the first of a series of blogs that feature young and upcoming creative entrepreneurs.
Catherine (“Cat”) Pfingst is an undergraduate student, studying fashion design and merchandising at Drexel University’s Westphal College School of Art and Design.
Cat grew up in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, in Bluebell, in an historic farmhouse full of character – creaky floors, horsehair plaster walls, antique furniture, and an accumulation of knick-knacks collected over the years by a family that, according to Cat, “loves their stuff.”
She also spent a lot of time at her family’s second home in Talbot County, the heart of the eastern shore of Maryland. Cat’s childhood summers are filled with memories of the Chesapeake Bay, being out on the water, crabbing for Blue Claws and learning how to sail. These summer memories are an integral part of who Cat is and what she is attracted to visually: think of the Susquehanna River spilling into the Chesapeake Bay – its dark blue-black waters under a cirrus-streaked cerulean sky, punctuated by snow white geese and steel gray herons; salt tidal marshes dominated by blue-green sedge grass turning a soft yellow in the fall.
Her fashion aesthetic reflects the impact of these early, formative summers spent in nature. The color palette of her clothing designs leans toward neutral and agrestal colors. The fabrics she gravitates towards are tactile and textural, not sleek and man-made, but natural.
As a child, Cat was always finding ways to express herself. She would draw on place mats at restaurants, write stories and songs, and sculpt characters out of Model Magic clay. She would bring home natural objects that she had collected while exploring outdoors that she would later incorporate into artwork or store away in one collection or another. One of her earliest artworks is a collage of a a leaf transformed into the dress of a girl wearing long earrings. It hangs in her parent’s kitchen to this day.
Looking at this, Cat’s first significant piece of art, it is easy to see its correlation to her fashion design work. Her designs are inspired by unconventional found objects or textures she sees while walking down the streets of Philadelphia, such as the concrete surface of a city sidewalk. She enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to turn these “not-traditionally-fashion” things into “fashion”.
Cat began to realize her love of fashion design when she was in middle school. It was at that time that she began to push herself out of her comfort zone by choosing clothes that expressed her individuality. She also began shopping at thrift stores, buying used clothes and reclaiming them as her own.
Cat felt exhilarated by the idea that she could communicate information about herself and her perceptions of the world through the language of clothing. In the fifth grade, a fortune teller predicted that Cat would be a fashion designer one day.
The person in Cat’s life who has influenced her most is her mom. Cat’s mother went to Tyler School of Art for graphic design in the late 1970’s, and later studied textile design at the Philadelphia College of Textiles (now Jefferson University). Cat has always been surrounded by her mother’s creativity and passion – she grew up having unfettered access to her mother’s drawers of art supplies. She credits her mom with teaching her the value of observing the natural world and with training her to be observant.
Today, Cat’s fashion design continues to focus on up-cycling. She looks through her own closet for clothes that she can re-purpose and she still shops at second-hand stores. She enjoys the process of transformation; she likes the idea of breathing life into something old and its role in sustainability.
Cat says, “I think we have enough clothes out there. We all own so much fabric in the form of clothes, so why not use that? All it takes is some imagination.” To that end, she and a friend are collaborating to make a coat entirely out of re-purposed home textiles, such as potholders and tea towels. Humor is very important to Cat. Fashion is meant to be fun, and she hopes that people can see the whimsy in her work.
One day, Cat would like to have her own line of made-to-order clothing. She wants her line to be versatile and comfortable and her silhouettes to be “gender-less”. She sees this unisex realm as another way to increase an item’s sustainability – its universality extends its lifespan.
Of the process of fashion design, Cat writes: “… it’s like you create this world and decide what lives inside of it— what shapes, what colors, what textures— it’s like the manifestation of something living inside of you … and your job is to pull out what’s going on to visually represent it.”
You can explore Cat’s world at “The Proving Ground Pop Up, Women’s Edition” on March 9th, 3 – 6pm. Behrakis Grand Hall, Creese Student Center, Drexel University, 3310 Chestnut Street as part of the Maguire Empowerment Summit for Women Leaders. Cat will be showing and displaying her designs as one of the female entrepreneurs and makers featured at this event. For more information about the Summit or to RSVP for this free event, visit http://bit.ly/WomensSummit20.
Sheetal Bahirat was born in India in 1986, but spent her early school years in Cupertino, California, before moving back to India with her family to Bangalore, India, when she was in the 8th grade. Like all of India at that time, Bangalore was in an economic boom. Information Technology was exploding; in fact, Bangalore was, and still is, considered the “Silicon Valley” of India. It was there that Sheetal launched three startup businesses, all before the age of 30!
Sheetal started her first business while studying Business Management in undergraduate school at Sri Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain College. As a student, Sheetal was struck by the difference between her educational experience in California compared with her experience in India. In California, the education system included experiential and project-based learning techniques that helped in a child’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development. In India, the system focused on a teacher-based system, leaving a big gap in the development of students.
Born with an innate sense of fairness and a penchant for social responsibility, Sheetal saw how India’s educational system could be supplemented. Sheetal’s first business tackled this issue. Seed Leads, as it was called, attempted to bring the California educational model to India’s primary school system. Seed Leads quickly landed its first Elementary School client; but, Sheetal had little actual business experience and Seed Leads closed at the end of that first school contract.
Her next venture, Voonik, was a personal styling and shopping app geared towards wealthy housewives of Indian CEO’s. Voonik was extremely successful: it grew from 6 to 600 employees and raised over $10 million dollars.
At first glance, Voonik and Seed Leads seem like two very different businesses. But there is a commonality: both businesses are about learning, self-help, personal growth and the idea that change comes from within.
The belief that change can be affected from the inside-out was even more evident in her third startup, Big Blender (a cold-pressed juice company). Sheetal had always had an interest in whole foods and their positive impact on a person’s well-being. There was just one problem: as the company grew, Sheetal became increasingly bothered by the amount of food waste generated by the production of her juices. Sheetal began researching ways to utilize every part of the fruit and plant and eventually found herself at the website for The Culinary Arts and Food Science Program at Drexel University. She contacted Professor Jonathan Deutsch, the director of Drexel University’s food product development program and Food Lab, Drexel’s culinary innovation testing ground. Deutsch was so impressed with Sheetal, her history of entrepreneurial ventures, and her passion for the science behind food that he offered her a position (which she accepted) as a Research Assistant in Drexel University’s Culinary Arts Graduate Program.
It was there, while making guacamole, that Sheetal and her co-founder, Zuri Masud, first started thinking about the avocado seed and whether it could be used to create a food product on its own. Could it be a resource, rather than a waste product? Guacamole only used the fruit’s pulp – but what about its seed and skin? Sheetal discovered that the majority of the healthy antioxidants contained in an avocado are found in its seed and skin. Her discovery that these antioxidants are also water-soluble led to the creation of a beverage made from the avocado seed. Sheetal used the resources at her disposal – all that she had learned in her Food Science classes and in her experiments in Drexel’s Food lab, as well as her experience in product development with Seed Leads, Voonik and Big Blender – to create a tea from the avocado seed which she named Avoh Tea. In the process, not only did she create a delicious and refreshing beverage, she made a sustainable drink that is zero-calorie, sugar free, probiotic-rich, with three times the antioxidants of green tea.
In 2019, Avoh Tea was awarded a cohort with Food-X, a prestigious food incubator located in New York City. She has since re-branded her company, changing its name to Hidden Gems, and the name of her flagship beverage to Reveal. It’s mission:
Hidden Gems wants to change the way we look at our resources. Our mission is to create beautiful, environmentally safe, and socially responsible up cycled products by discovering the hidden value in the food people would normally call trash. Our hope is to reduce food waste, continue to create and support sustainable systems for sustainable living, and inspire everyone to discover the hidden gems in the world around us.
At the heart of Sheetal Bahirat’s entrepreneurial journey, from Seed Leads, to up cycling Avocado seeds, is the goal of making the world a better place. Hidden Gems provides consumers with a healthy beverage alternative (healing again from the inside out – a reoccurring theme in Sheetal’s story), it keeps food by-products out of the waste stream and it educates consumers about the possibilities of sustainable living. I can’t wait to taste what comes next!
Sheetal and her co-founder, Zuri, will be sampling Reveal at Drexel University’sWomen’s Empowerment Summit, on Monday, March 9th, at Behrakis Grand Hall, 3250 Chestnut Street Philadelphia. Admission is free. RSVP here.
Let me start this blog post by asking a question: do you drink kombucha?
If your answer is no, you should start!
Kombucha has multiple proven health benefits. First, it contains probiotics and is good for your gut health – a healthy gut not only makes you feel physically better, it helps you lose weight and has a positive affect on mood. Second, kombucha contains antioxidants and therefore, has the potential to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. And third, there is evidence that kombucha helps patients manage their Type 2 Diabetes.
What did you say? You’ve tried it, but don’t like it?
Admittedly, kombucha is not to everyone’s liking. Kombucha is a slightly alcoholic (veryslightly), bubbly, fermented, sweetened tea with a hint of vinegar. Nohra Murad, the owner, founder and brewer of the Philadelphia-based kombucha company,”Camino Kombucha”, knows this and has set out to create a kombucha that delivers all the health benefits with a delicious, more universally-palatable taste.
Nohra first started making kombucha completely by happenstance. She was a Drexel University student working at her third Coop in Washington DC when her boyfriend gave her a pickling kit for Christmas. He thought she would have fun pickling vegetables. But instead, a small tag that read, “Can be used to brew kombucha”, sparked Nohra’s interest. Nohra liked kombucha but, as a student, she couldn’t afford to drink it on a regular basis. She decided to give brewing it a try.
Norah was lonely in DC – she was far from her Philadelphia home and friends. The act of brewing kombucha became a life-saver. Not only did she enjoy the process but she also loved to share the results with friends. The power of shared food to form community is an important motivator for Nohra. She was hooked.
Nohra’s parents had immigrated to the United States from Iraq, settling in the Phoenix suburbs of Arizona. A large Assyrian community existed there and the dry, desert heat reminded her parents of Baghdad.
They joined the Assyrian Church of the East and church became central to their life. The Assyrian Church of the East was welcoming and not only shared their Assyrian traditions, but also their food. Black tea, samoon, lavish, dolma, booshalah and goopta thoomurta (a poor man’s fermented cheese which involves burying a cheese blend in a hole in the ground for three months – sounds delicious??? hmmm…not so sure) were foods that they bonded over.
As a young girl, Nohra would also travel to the midwest to spend part of her summer vacation with relatives. Memories of hours spent, sitting in her aunt’s kitchen on summer days, eating and learning how to make Assyrian dishes resonate with Nohra to this day.
Nohra had a distinct idea about how she wanted her kombucha to taste. Nohra was studying Biomedical Engineering at Drexel and her engineering brain kicked in – she loves to figure things out. Through experimentation, she was able to perfect the technique and the taste that is unique to her Camino Kombucha brand. Camino Kombucha is a traditional kombucha with a slight variation. Nohra brews a typical 50/50 black to green tea ratio but she slightly reduces her fermentation time and adds more sugar, decreasing its vinegar taste. She also adds CO2 for consistency. The result is a sweet, effervescent, light kombucha.
When Nohra graduated with her Bachelors and Masters in Science in June of 2019, she decided to concentrate on brewing kombucha rather than finding an engineering job. Nohra had been inspired to study engineering by her dad who had his PhD in Engineering. Nohra’s father never encouraged Nohra to be an engineer. He was passionate about history and had wanted to be a History teacher. However, when Nohra decided to pursue her own passion making kombucha, he was not on board. He was proud of his daughter’s academic achievements and was afraid she was throwing her Drexel degrees away.
Nohra was not discouraged by her dad’s unenthusiastic response. She is a tenacious pursuer of her goals. Once she sets her mind to something, there is no stopping her.
When Nohra began taste-testing her finished recipe, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Even people who had tried kombucha before and claimed to dislike it, liked her kombucha. This was Nohra’s aha moment: if hers’ was the kind of kombucha that a person who thinks they don’t like kombucha likes, then there was a huge opportunity to bring a niche drink to a much wider audience. Nohra’s kombucha had the potential to be the next Vitamin Water or Snapple.
Nohra decided to go for it. She moved quickly. Within a year of brewing her first kombucha, her company was formed. She decided to call it Camino Kombucha and branded it to have a retro feel, reminiscent of Route 66 which had its heyday in the 1950s. Route 66 runs through Arizona and reminds her of home.
Through a series of lucky breaks, Camino Kombucha also moved out of Nohra’s West Philly apartment kitchen and into its new home – a space in Kensington’s Maken Studios, the same launchpad for entrepreneurs that Thu Pham and Caphe Roasters (read previous blog) calls home.
She now brews four signature flavors from her Maken workspace – Prickly Pear, Rose, Lime Ginger and my personal favorite – Grapefruit. You can purchase Camino Kombucha at 3 locations: 1) the Pennsylvania General Store in Reading Terminal Market, 2) V Marks the Shop and 3) The Tasty.
Starting a new venture is hard and requires capital. Camino Kombucha has been self-funded almost entirely by Nohra and her family. In order to grow, she is going to need to find other sources of funding. Banks won’t lend her money – she has no proven track record and is too big a risk. Nohra is looking for people who believe in her product to invest in her idea.
And her idea is a good one. In November, at Drexel University’s annual Start Up Fest, she impressed a panel of New Venture experts with her Camino Kombucha pitch and was awarded a cash prize plus space in Drexel’s prestigious Baiada Incubator, beating out some serious competition.
If you would like to support Camino Kombucha and help Nohra Murad realize her dream of seeing her kombucha sold everywhere (including in your local Wawa), consider investing.
we don’t completely understand that we are raising these creatures to leave us.
They have to. But you don’t get that until it happens. –
When you are in the trenches of parenting, it feels like it will last forever, but then, poof! One day, your kids are grown and out of the house. And you mourn the time when you felt like you couldn’t catch a break.
As Julia Louis-Dreyfus says, “we raise these creatures to leave us” and a big part of raising successful children who can leave us, is the fostering of their entrepreneurial spirit.
There are many desirable qualities that constitute the entrepreneurial spirit: independence, adaptability, risk-taking, resiliency, creativity, curiosity, among others. These qualities, though mostly innate, can be nurtured through encouragement and example. Setting an example is one of the most important things a parent can do to nurture an entrepreneurial mindset.
Last weekend, I stopped by my sister Deirdre’s house. She was outside with her daughter, Nora, having a driveway sale. Deirdre is the epitome of a parent who leads by example. Nora is in the 3rd grade and this spring marks her second year in business with her mom. Together, Deirdre and Nora browse thrift stores to look for vintage vases that they can re-sell, with flowers or plants that they purchase for cheap at Produce Junction or cut from their garden.
One cannot minimize the value of their little cottage industry. Nora is as invested in this business as is Deirdre. The positives are numerous: Nora is learning the value of earning money through work; she is earning the reward of selling beautiful things that brighten a person’s day (and seeing their reaction) and she is learning resiliency. As in any retail business, there are good days and there are disappointing days. Sometimes, hardly anyone stops to buy what they are selling – that doesn’t deter Nora and Deirdre from showing up. Another important benefit of their entrepreneurial pursuit is the time spent together.
Deirdre is an expert in the field of gig-economics. In addition to her business with Nora, she earns a living by singing at weddings and funerals, is the lead singer in a rock band, performs as a sole cabaret singer, and, as a member of Artists Equity, she directs, choreographs and stars in local theatre productions.
“We are raising our children to leave us.”
Every parent knows this. It is a gut-kicking, hard truth.
But when we raise our children to have entrepreneurial mindsets, we can take comfort in knowing that we are raising them to lead the most interesting, independent life available to any of us and as Deirdre shows us, we can have fun doing it.
Ellen Rubin is the owner of Luv2Knit & More – a lovely, little, shop, located on Route 611, Old York Road, in Jenkintown, right behind The Outback Steakhouse in the historic art deco building that once was home to Strawbridge & Clothier. There, she has created a community of knitting/crocheting enthusiasts, who come to her shop, not only to purchase beautiful yarns and notions, to learn to knit or crochet, but also to be part of the Luv2Knit family.
The communities that gather to knit in silent camaraderie or jovial conversation are a hint at Ellen’s vision for the future of Luv2Knit. She sees its potential expanding far beyond its modest four walls.
First, a little of Ellen’s backstory.
Although Ellen learned to knit when she was pregnant with her second child, Jacob, her appreciation for yarn work began years before. She fondly remembers, as a child, sitting at her grandma’s feet as her grandma crocheted, watching Laurence Welk, while helping to wind yarn into a ball.
Ellen is a trained scientist. She graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Biology, conducting toxicology and E-coli research during her college Co-op experiences. She credits her scientific mindset with the ease with which she learned to knit and with her ability to comprehend its complex structures and mathematical constructs. She credits Drexel University with teaching her how to be a creative thinker and to think outside the box.
The fact that Ellen is both a visual artist and a scientist intrigues me; I have never given much thought to the possibility that left brain logic and right brain creativity could co-exist. When I googled, “correlation between science and knitting”, I was surprised at just how many articles appeared.
Some of the articles spoke about visual similarities – how the patterns of knit and purl rows resemble patterns in nature – such as the growth of coral reefs, the construction of bird nests, bee hives, otter dams and other natural elements. While others addressed the connection between knitting and scientific thought processes. Carolyn Yackel, Math Professor at Mercer University in Atlanta, proposes that knitting, like science, encourages “people to visualize, re-contextualize and develop new problems and answers”, building neural plasticity in the brain and slowing the effects of aging.
And there was a ton of research into knitting’s therapeutic value and its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Creative activities like knitting/crocheting that require focus (including meditation), naturally elevate dopamine levels, boosting mood and happiness.
“You are using up an awful lot of brain capacity to perform a coordinated series of movements. The more capacity you take up by being involved in a complex task, the less capacity you have for bad thoughts,” Betsan Corkhill of stichlinks.com writes about the process of knitting.
Additionally, knitting, crocheting and other handicrafts lend themselves to “stitch and bitch” social circles, reducing depression by making us feel less isolated and more connected to our neighbors and communities.
The therapeutic value of knitting and crocheting and the social communities it creates is where Ellen feels most passionate and where she sees the future of Luv2Knit & More. She says, “I don’t know how much time I have on this earth, but while I am here, I truly want to make a difference. I can feel it in every fiber of my being.”
Ellen first saw the meaningful impact she could have when she taught a dear friend who was dying from lung cancer how to knit. Currently, she sees its transformational power in the weekly knitting lessons that she brings to the Maternal Observation and Monitoring (MOM) Unit in her partnership with Abington Memorial Hospital, helping expectant moms find relief from their physical and emotional stress.
As a true “social entrepreneur”, Ellen envisions knitting and crocheting as part of the solution to mainstream patient-care and as an integral part of a patient’s treatment plan, particularly in the field of cancer treatment. Her vision is to create more and more therapeutic partnerships between Luv2Knit and area hospitals, domestic abuse homes, treatments centers, and nursing homes and to build dedicated “Makers Spaces” at these facilities.
For more information or to see how you can help be a part of Ellen’s social entrepreneurship dream, or to join her Luv2Knit Community, stop by Luv2Knit & More at 610 Old York Road, Jenkintown, or visit https://www.facebook.com/luv2knitandmore/.
Owner, Founder, Chief Cookie Officer at Snackadabra
Memories of food are inextricably woven into our childhood memories and are some of the strongest memories most of us have. The holiday season is particularly full of nostalgic, food-related memories.
Personally, I will never forget Christmas Eve sundaes. Instead of dinner, my family would skip right to dessert: a sundae buffet with maraschino cherries, assorted ice creams, whipped cream (out of a Cool Whip tub, of course), hot chocolate and caramel sauces and red and green Jimmies. I lovingly remember those sundaes – always better looking than their over-the-top-sweetness that inevitably resulted in a Christmas Eve stomach ache. But mostly I remember my mother putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree while we six kids sat, in it’s and the television’s combined glow, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time.
Other childhood food memories: pulling a soggy peanut butter and jelly on white bread out of a plastic sandwich bag in the school lunchroom; the thrill of hot campfire flames while roasting marshmallows, dipping a grilled cheese into a bowl of Campbell’s Tomato and Rice Soup on a cold, winter night, Friday night pizza and the taste of charred Acrylamide as Mom routinely left the Ellio’s in the oven for five minutes too long… And who can forget, the texture of a milk-soaked cookie crumbling in your mouth at bedtime?
Michelle Silberman, Founder, Owner, and Chief Cookie Officer at “Snackadabra” certainly can’t. She has built her food business on precisely that last memory.
Michelle was a 12-year old, 7th grader when she and her best friend, Dana, came up with Snackadabra’s flagship treat – the Cookie Cup. “Kids love cookies and milk, why not make a cookie that actually holds the milk?”, she thought. Ten or so years later, give or take, while enrolled in an entrepreneurship class at Drexel’s Close School for Entrepreneurship, she and her classmates are tasked with the assignment to invent a Start-Up business. Remembering her cookie cup idea, Michelle pitches it to her classmates who then choose her idea as their group project. That afternoon, after class, excited, she returns to her dorm room kitchen and begins experimenting, late into the night and into the following days, weeks and months, until she perfects the recipe that forms the basis for today’s cookie cup.
As an entrepreneur, Michelle is particularly good at telling the story of the birth of the Cookie Cup and her business. She understands intrinsically the power of a good story to create connection and to illustrate the basic human need to share a history. And food is a link that connects and crosses generations, cultures and divides.
In Michelle’s story, the Cookie Cup is not just a tasty vessel that can hold any sweet treat – ice cream, fruit, liquor, whatever you desire. It is a receptacle that holds the memories of a young girl and her best friend, dreaming up a clever way to enjoy their favorite childhood snack. Today, the narrative continues, with our protagonist, Michelle, as a young, 26-year old entrepreneur running a successful business that employs both a professional staff and a kitchen staff who still bake every single cookie cup by hand, using only natural and whole ingredients.
Snackadabra’s Cookie Cups are the perfect new tradition for you to share with your friends, family and loved ones this holiday season. Cozy up and enjoy some Hot Spiced/Spiked Cider in a Pumpkin Cookie Cup on Christmas Eve or fill a 24K Rose Gold Cookie Cup with a shot of Veuve Clicquot to toast in the New Year. Or like my family, create a cherished holiday memory by including Cookie Cups on your Christmas Eve sundae buffet bar.