by Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
Among Minnesota’s top women entrepreneurs to be honored by the National Association for Women Business Owners, two area business, one from Minnetonka and one from Hopkins, stand out as semi-finalist for the 2016 Women Achieve awards.
“These awards honor those women who are Minnesota’s true innovators, movers and shakers,” said Buffie Blesi, NAWBO-MN executive director.
Jen Swendseid, of Heart and Core in Minnetonka, launched her business to provide support, both emotional and physical, to women undergoing surgery for breast cancer and other ailments of the chest, heart or lungs.
Swendseid and her sister, Lara, started Heart and Core in 2009. They based their work on their personal experiences helping their mother after breast cancer treatment years earlier.
“When we went shopping, we saw all the options available either had enough underwire for an 80s TV antennae, which wasn’t comfortable, or they were just a flimsy piece of material and that wasn’t going to work for her,” Swendseid said. “We thought, there has to be something better out there. And there wasn’t, so we got together and designed something.”
Since starting the business, Swendseid said she quickly realized that the real potential for the success in the post-surgical market, where women undergoing operations often struggled to find bras that could comfortably accommodate their recovery.
“We realized there was a huge need,” she said.
Swendseid has a background in personal training and massage therapy and saw her clients experience similar issues.
“They’d tell me about what they were going through and it really resonated with me,” she said.
With no prior business experience or knowledge, Swendseid said she decided to take the leap, learning a lot and making more than a few mistakes along the way.
“When you get started, you don’t realize what a huge undertaking this is,” Swendseid said. “A start-up business is hard and it’s not for everyone.”
Swendseid and her sister were able to get help from WomenVenture, a nonprofit dedicated to helping support women-owned businesses.
The sisters relied on the WomenVenture help, and the assistance and support of many other friends and mentors along the way.
“Having people to answer your questions, who are there for you, is one of the most important things,” she said.
Swendseid added that she, like many women entrepreneurs, wrestled with self-doubt throughout the process in a business environment where men sometimes have an advantage.
“It’s getting a lot better for women, but there are still more opportunities for men,” she said. “It took a really long time to get where I am and there’s still so much more work to be done,”
Now, being named as a finalist for a NAWBO awards represents her journey coming full circle
“I’m ecstatic and honored. I’m so excited to be a part of NAWBO,” she said. “It’s an organization to lean on for support, we you feel like you can do this because you’re surrounded by women who have been through it already.”
Swendseid said she looks forward to continue to grow her business and support other women through Heart and Core.
“We have great products and get great feedback,” she said. “I know I’m helping women and I just want to keep getting our products to them.”
Rachel Knutson and Lisa Rudquist, the founders of Ladibugs Inc. in Hopkins and both registered nurses, united in a shared goal when their daughters acquired head lice at school.
“Lisa and I had an impromptu parking lot meeting, right there outside the school. She said, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking? … Let’s start a business,’” Knutson said. “Two weeks later, we were incorporated.”
The goal of the company is to offer safe, effective and all-natural treatment for head lice through a full line of products, as well as providing a 24/7 customer service helpline staffed by lice experts to answer questions. Knutson, Rudquist and their five employees also offer house calls.
“There’s not a parent out there that will smell a chemical preparation and think it’s okay for their kid. It smells very toxic.” Knutson said. “There’s not any reason a person can’t use our product. It’s safe and effective for everyone.”
Rudquist added that millions of Americans, both children and adults, suffer from head lice every year, making the market for solutions worth millions of dollars.
“It is big business. Really big,” she said.
She added that neither of the pair had any business experience before launching Ladibugs, leveraging their medical backgrounds and the support of people around them to learn on the job.
“We had such passion for this that we figured it out, built a team of strong mentors and asked a lot of questions,” Rudquist said. “You don’t need to know it all on day one. It’s a learning process.”
Knutson added that one of the big deterrents for new business owners, especially women, is a fear of failure.
“Obstacles will come up – let them be platforms to bounce back and be a stronger businesswoman,” Knutson said. “Some of our darkest moments have turned into our greatest successes.”
She added that the pair are both thrilled to be recognized by NAWBO and have a platform through which to share their health solutions.
“We’re super passionate about it and the more people understand and know about it, the better,” Knutson said “To be recognized this way after all the countless hours is a real honor for us … we couldn’t be more excited.”
Rudquist added that she hopes other women might be inspired to pursue their own dreams, with the help of a community of strong and successful businesswomen like NAWBO.
“We’re everyday suburban moms. We had a great idea and ran with it,” she said. “That’s the real message we like to share with other women — if they have a great idea and passion, follow that gut feeling, because that’s what we did and we found major success.”
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]