Starting your own business is no small feat. Take it from the entrepreneurs featured on the following pages. These women – four Meredith alumnae and one MBA student – have vastly different careers, but they all seem to agree on one thing: Despite the challenges that entrepreneurship may present, taking the leap can be the best decision of your life.
Knee-deep in production on her first film, struggling with an overwhelming workload, failing equipment, and mounting fear about how she’d make ends meet, Camden Watts faced a choice: walk away from her dream, or continue moving forward.
She opted for the latter – with gusto – not only recommitting to her project, but also resolving in that very moment to help others who might face similar circumstances.
That was 2008.
Today, Watts owns a production company, has created four films – including the acclaimed feature-length documentary Brewconomy – and operates the TriFilm Society, the organization she founded in 2009 to support her fellow filmmakers.
“There are so many challenges with starting one business, much less two at the same time,” Watts said. “The lack of resources has been the number one challenge. Everything I’ve done so far has been a bootstrapped, grassroots effort. It’s taught me so much about staying connected to the people I serve, creatively working within constraints, and doing the very best I can with what I’ve got.”
Watts and her work have been featured in Triangle-area media, and she has given talks to audiences at Meredith, the Triangle AdFed, and N.C. State University. She plans to start work on two more films in 2016.
“I’ve had some really low, dark moments,” Watts said. “They taught me that a life in filmmaking is something I want more than almost anything else, including my next meal.”
At Meredith, she majored in studio art, with a minor in professional communications and a concentration in graphic design. Watts said she relies on her Meredith experience every day.
“What’s been especially wonderful is the post-graduation support,” she said. “Now that I’m moving confidently in the direction of my dreams, I feel incredibly supported by the Meredith College faculty, staff, and alumnae.”
Watts wholeheartedly encourages others to follow in her footsteps.
“Chasing your dreams isn’t easy but it’s worth every effort. Leading a life that you really love – to the point where you’re obnoxiously happy – is something that the world needs to see.”
Cathi Bert-Roussel takes very seriously her company’s mission of “helping you create a better life for your dog.” In fact, the owner and editor-in-chief of The Triangle Dog magazine wants her readers to help improve the lives of all dogs in North Carolina.
Through the pages of the magazine – which is available in print and online – as well as an active Facebook community of more than 3,000 followers, Bert-Roussel offers resources for dog owners on everything from nutrition to grooming, creates connections for pet adoption, and advocates for animal welfare.
“It is very rewarding to hear how much people appreciate your product,” she said. “I am also proud that The Triangle Dog magazine is a fundraising partner for local organizations that help homeless pets. We often donate our issue covers to various non-profits to auction off during their annual fundraising events.”
After a career in corporate finance with companies like RedHat and Burt’s Bees, Bert-Roussel took the helm of The Triangle Dog LLC in December 2014.
Among the challenges of small-business ownership, she said, is time-management.
“It is incredibly time consuming to manage a growing business,” she said. “There will be times when you have to make trade-offs and deal with the consequences later.”
As an MBA student at Meredith (to graduate in December 2016), Bert-Roussel has been able to apply her classroom knowledge to her real-world work. A big believer in the value of learning from others, she advises aspiring entrepreneurs to spend time with people already established in their industries.
“Before starting your own business, consider working, even for free, for another successful business person who is already in your desired field,” she said. “Learn as much as you can from someone else’s mistakes and successes.”
Also important, she said, is not to be afraid of making mistakes.
“In the early years, you will make many,” she said. “But rather than letting it defeat you, look at them as valuable learning experiences. You will learn more from your mistakes than your victories.”
Horses have been a big part of Allison Pappas’ life for as long as she can remember. In fact, her first equine encounter came when she was just two weeks old. She got her first pony by age two and has lived and breathed this world ever since.
Even so, turning her passion into a career required a big leap of faith – and a bit of a detour.
After Pappas graduated from Meredith, she worked as a courthouse adoption clerk, but continued teaching and training horses on the side. Within a year, though, she mustered the courage to strike out on her own.
“The hardest part for me was actually telling my parents that I wanted to work with horses for a living,” she said. “My parents are so very supportive of me in all ways, but it was definitely hard to take that leap away from a guaranteed paycheck and into my own business. I was so afraid of failing.”
In August 2015, Pappas opened Windstar Stables, a 20-acre farm nestled in the bucolic outskirts of Chapel Hill, N.C. There she trains and boards horses for a growing clientele.
“The best part is definitely seeing my vision actually coming to life,” she said. “I started with just my own horses here, and now I have 18. The first month that I had a stack of board checks to deposit in the bank, I really couldn’t believe I had made it happen. Just to hear my boarders and visitors say how much they love the farm is fantastic.”
She advises those wanting to start their own businesses to “follow your heart and jump in.”
“It was stressful for me having to get a loan to start this business with the possibility of failing, but at the end of the day it’s so worth the risk.”
Having earned a bachelor’s degree in social work with minors in business administration and ethics and public interest at Meredith, Pappas said the College’s supportive environment played a big role in her decision to become an entrepreneur.
“While I could have made it in the horse world without a degree, my time in college had such a huge impact on me as a person. I’m not even sure I would’ve had the courage to start my own business without my experiences at Meredith.”
FabEllis.com is more than just a blog. It’s a lifestyle brand through which creator and publisher Ashley (Ellis) Carter, ’08, advocates for natural beauty, educates her readers on everything from skincare to fashion, and promotes women’s empowerment.
Since launching the site in 2010, Carter has amassed a loyal – and growing – following. At press time, she had 9,200 Instagram followers, 4,600 Facebook followers, and 3,000 Twitter followers. (Her social media handle, by the way, is @iamfabellis).
She shares her expertise and builds community by hosting and participating in networking events and beauty expos throughout North Carolina. Through partnerships with brands and collaborations with other lifestyle experts and bloggers, Carter has grown her website into a thriving business.
“I have really enjoyed seeing the impact of my personal passion of encouraging and uplifting women,” Carter said. “There is no better feeling than someone saying how much you’ve helped them. Also, working with amazing brands has been a dream come true.”
She addresses each post to her “Beauties,” and writes with warmth and honesty about everything from the importance of her faith in her life to how to apply eyeshadow. She also advocates for affordable beauty and regularly features budget-friendly products on her site.
Carter credits her Meredith experience with laying the foundation she needed to start her own business. A communications major with a minor in professional writing, she said, “Meredith taught me to be confident in myself.”
“At Meredith, I felt like I could do anything I set my mind to. Being around women, hearing their stories, and having so many become my friends made me want to build a business that encourages and empowers women daily.”
Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Do your research and go for it,” she said. “A lot of times we wait for everything to be perfect before beginning, but there will never be a completely perfect moment. Go for it, and be prepared to learn and grow in the process.”
Opening Johnston County’s first legal brewery couldn’t have been further from Lynn Auclair’s mind as she muddled through a corporate job in the early years of her career. That is, until the day she and her husband, Paul, realized two very important things: They had always wanted to be entrepreneurs, and they loved brewing their own beer.
Together they wrote a business plan, left their corporate jobs, and as Auclair said, “the rest is history.”
Deep River Brewing Company, located in downtown Clayton, N.C., opened its doors in April 2013 to a sold-out grand opening party and has been growing rapidly ever since.
Getting started wasn’t easy.
“Most banks did not want to work with us since we had no business sales history and no commercial brewing experience,” she said. “We were considered risky even though the existing brewing market was extremely strong.”
For Auclair, earning an MBA at Meredith helped turn her dream into reality.
“My Meredith experience was invaluable, especially when it came to writing my business plan,” she said. “Having the accounting, law/liability, and business leader knowledge also was a life saver. I refer back to the things my professors taught me on a daily basis.”
Auclair is responsible for the brewery’s marketing, HR, and general management, while her husband employs his engineering background to concoct Deep River’s custom brews, often sourcing locally-grown ingredients.
Her favorite thing about owning her own business?
“Getting up in the morning and enjoying going to work is the best part, plus I get to share the business with my husband,” she said. “The main reason we opened the brewery is so we could enjoy what we do and feel more satisfied with the path we are taking in our lives. Drinking beer at the end of the day is a plus!”
If you want to start a business, she said, always follow your heart.
“Don’t let anything get in your way of pursuing happiness even if it seems scary, stressful, or you have people in your ear telling you that you are crazy to take such a risk. All jobs are stressful, but if you enjoy what you do, it’s worth it.”
“There’s a nice marriage here in the School of Business between being innovative and being entrepreneurial,” said Kristie Ogilvie, who became dean of the school in July 2015. “I think that our curriculum has been on the leading edge, and now we have an opportunity to take it to the next level.”
Two new gifts are designed to bolster the school’s entrepreneurial programming: a $250,000 gift from the Clark family represented by Rogers Clark, two term Board of Trustee member, and Heather Clark Warren, ’93, to launch a family business and entrepreneurship program, and a $25,000 gift from George and Ann (’75) Gibbs to support an entrepreneurship week with guest speakers, panel discussions, and workshops.
A new faculty member – Nathan Woolard –joins the school this fall to teach entrepreneurship courses and start developing a strategic plan for integrating entrepreneurship and family business into the school’s offerings.
“Developing the curriculum first is critical,” Ogilvie said. “We want it to have a community tie and a professional development component. The process will take about a year.”
The second piece of the school’s strategy – hosting a Shark Tank-like event – is not only a good way to engage students who are aspiring entrepreneurs, but also could be an effective vehicle for community involvement, Ogilvie said.
“I’ve had a lot of success with events like this in my previous positions,” she said. “In fact, at Emporia [State University], out of the 30 applicants in our competition, six launched businesses in the community that year. We had tremendous community support for our program, and I think that makes a big difference.”
Community connections are so important to Ogilvie that she set a goal to have 100 meetings with members of the local business community during her first year. At press time, she had just completed all 100 meetings.
“This is a community that understands it’s growing,” she said. “And the only way it’s going to be able to attract and retain really good businesses is through engagement. We’re lucky to be based in a community that already gets that.”
Why is a focus on entrepreneurship so important?
“Eighty percent of economic development in the U.S. is small business,” Ogilvie said.
Assistant professor Kristy Dixon agrees, saying that training entrepreneurs is more important than ever.
“A lot of our students are coming from families who own businesses,” she said. “I always tell them to work somewhere else first, before you work for your family. I think it’s important to gain that outside perspective and learn from someone who not only understands the theory but also has been in the trenches.”
Dixon, who teaches HR courses in addition to serving as president of her family’s business, is a great example of a successful family business owner, and someone who Meredith students are lucky to learn from, Ogilvie said.
Dixon commutes daily between Meredith’s campus – where she teaches, manages the school’s internship program, and advises more than 40 students – to her office at McLaurin Parking Company, the business her father started in 1947. She has an equal share in the operation with three of her siblings.
“I always knew I would be in business,” said Dixon, who earned her MBA at Meredith. “We all grew up working … that’s just what we were taught to do. Every day I share stories with my students about what it’s like to run a business.”
While Ogilvie is excited about the school’s plans for the upcoming year, she also has her sights set on long-term goals for entrepreneurship programming.
“I really believe that family business could be our niche … that we could have that distinct imprint in Raleigh,” she said. “I want the Chamber to say, ‘If you’re in family business, go to Meredith.’”
Achieving these goals will require relationships beyond the walls of the School of Business, Ogilvie said.
“I would love to have engagement on a variety of fronts, especially here on campus among our different disciplines, and with our alumnae and the local business community,” she said. “We will only be successful if we engage everyone.”
“Never think ‘no’ because ‘no’ is in a box. You need to think ‘yes,’ and ‘how can we make it happen?’ Now at the end of the day, it might ultimately be a ‘no,’ or it might be a ‘no’ to exactly what you were hoping at the beginning, but if you can think outside the box enough to say ‘this is going to happen, we just have to figure out how,’ it may evolve. But if you start with ‘no,’ it puts you in a space that you’re never going to be innovative enough. You also have to establish networks, leverage networks, and provide value to those networks. Above all, the most important piece is to persevere. You’re going to have good times and bad times, and perseverance is critical.”