Shortly after Funlayo Alabi’s second son was born, he developed a horrible case of baby eczema. Funlayo and her husband, Shola, were worried about the pediatrician’s prescription of steroids to take care of it. “We were concerned about the long-term effects,” recalls Funlayo.
Originally from West Africa, the Alabis knew that Shea butter is effective when it comes to healing skin ailments. Both had grown up using it. When Funlayo’s mother visited that year from Nigeria, upon request, she brought some along.
“It really helped manage the eczema symptoms, and from there we realized that a lot of people didn’t really know about Shea butter,” says Funlayo. “We felt that we could educate people on the benefits.”
Actually, they did much more. They began mixing products in their kitchen in a food processor, blending in essential oils. Funlayo says they gave the products to friends – who loved them. With that, Shea Radiance of Columbia was born.
Today, seven years later, Funlayo works full-time for the business, which the couple moved from their home to a small warehouse. They are still involved in producing and packaging everything themselves with the help of employees (Shola has kept his day job in information technology, but spends evenings and weekends working for the business). And their products are carried at some Mid-Atlantic Whole Foods stores as well as select Target stores. They are also available online.
shearadiance.com –Michele Wojciechowski
HEALING ATTITUDE – Ellicott City Pharmacy
“Pharmacies are really limited in the amount of time they can spend with customers. They really concentrate on producing,” Kim explained.
So when a karate studio in Laurel closed down, Kim saw potential. There was nothing but walls and carpet inside the space, so she and her husband went in and built Main Street Pharmacy. Soon after, Kim – who has six children herself – began doing mastectomy and lactation consultations upstairs.
After six years, Kim decided to open up a new pharmacy in Ellicott City that would allow her to flex her muscles in a larger space and be closer to her children.
“We do everything a regular pharmacy does,” says Kim, but in addition, her business tries to get to the root of its customers’ problems, by recommending improved nutrition and supplements. “We’re trying to help people get better instead of maintaining their status,” she says.
To help reach that goal, Kim partnered with a certified nutritionist on the new venture, which combines both traditional and Western approaches to medicine. She strongly believes that whatever industry an entrepreneur finds herself in, she should stay aware of trends in the market. For example, in response to growing need, Ellicott City Pharmacy recently launched a medication management program that packages medicine in daily allotments for seniors so that they don’t miss any doses.
“I’m always going to conferences and shows and speaking to owners of successful businesses,” Kim says. “You can’t sit in your shop and wait for people to come in.”
ellicottcitypharmacy.com –Libby Zay
EMBRACING THE GEM – St. John’s Jewelers
When she was in high school, Linda Miller worked in the jewelry store that her parents, Irwin and Charlotte Farber, had founded in 1973. This year, St. John’s Jewelers in Ellicott City celebrates its 40th year in business. But now, Linda is the owner.
Miller didn’t join the business right out of high school. Like many children of family business owners, she wanted to try something different. So she attended college and played collegiate volleyball. After graduation, she felt the tug and decided to come back.
Miller became a certified gemologist and joined the family business. About seven years ago, she says, she became the owner.
“I love the business. I love what I do,” says Linda. “[My parents] built it on such a solid foundation.”
While ownership of St. John’s Jewelers has changed, one thing has stayed the same: it’s still “all in the family.” Linda’s parents help out, and her daughters, Nicolette Miller, 15, and Margaux Winnard, 23, work there as well.
Miller purchases a lot of new pieces to keep the store up-to-date, but also keeps an inventory of estate jewelry. The store purchases gold and silver that they melt down to transform into new, custom pieces.
Over the years, says Miller, “our reputation has stayed strong.”
stjohnsjewelers.com – MW
DOG IS LOVE – Club Pooche
Her love for dogs only became stronger, and 24 years ago, Elisa began her first canine-related business as a dog walker. At one point, she was walking 24 dogs.
You read that right—24 dogs. Then “a light bulb went off,” she recalls.
Six years ago, Kamens decided to expand her business, and she began Club Pooche.
Club Pooche is not just a dog walking service. Kamens is a certified professional dog trainer as well as a behavioral specialist, so she offers a range of services to care for the whole puppy. Along with dog walking, the Red Branch Road business has dog boarding, daycare, and training. There are even special classes for puppies known as pre-school and kindergarten.
“It doesn’t feel like work to me,” she says. “It feels like just where I’m supposed to be.”
The road wasn’t easy. The first hurdle Kamens encountered was a zoning restriction that prohibited pet boarding in the area she’d chosen for her business. So she appeared before the County Council to have the law changed. “I just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” says Kamens.
clubpooche.com – MW
HAIR’S THE THING – Patrick’s Hair Design
Jodie Gil didn’t start out her working life intending to be a hair stylist, much less to own a salon. But college didn’t feel like the right place for her. She was interested in the business world, and began working as a receptionist, first at one hair salon, then at another.
Finally, she realized her true calling and apprenticed with a stylist. Today, 33 years later, the owner of Patrick’s Hair Design still loves what she does.
“I fell into it,” she jokes. For the last six years, Gil has owned Patrick’s Hair Design but she didn’t expect to be the sole owner. In fact, she had worked with the owner, Patrick Hagen, for years, and they had discussed becoming partners.
Tragically, Patrick passed away, leaving Gil with a decision: She was the manager, but did she want to be the owner?
“I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” she recalls. With the support of Rudy, her husband, and Kyle Schlining, her daughter, Gil decided to go for it. She invested time, and she invested money.
Even as owner, Gil continues to see clients. “I love it,” she says. She still trains apprentices and works hard to keep up with the trends in hair and beauty. “I don’t want to let go of it yet,” she says.
patrickshairdesign.com – MW
HELP FOR THE AGING – Being There Senior Care
For Linda Cromwell, the journey to start her business began long before she even realized it. Growing up with a brother who had cerebral palsy taught her how valuable the caregiving relationship can be.
After working as a caregiver for 25 years, Cromwell decided to start her own company. She enlisted a partner, but that collaboration only lasted a day. The partner left after she showed up for her first appointment to learn that the client had died.
But Cromwell didn’t give up. For the first five years, she worked seven days a week, hiring a marketing consultant for branding and publicity and carefully screening health workers who could represent her company.
“I especially look for passion and compassion, because you can’t teach that,” Cromwell explains. “I hire really compassionate people because it’s not just a business to me. It’s making a difference in someone’s life,” she says.
Twelve years later, the company has grown to employ more than 100 caregivers and supporting staff members – many of them single mothers who work with the company part time.
“What makes me different is that I really care about my clients. I still have a phone by my bed at night to help,” she says.
Of course, there have been a few hurdles to overcome. The first was having the nerve to start her business in the first place, and the second has always been time management.
“It’s a juggling act between being a wife, a mother, a daughter, and trying to do it all. It takes practice. You can’t please everyone, but you try.”
beingthereseniorcare.com – LZ
A THRIVING CARE CENTER – Thrive: A Mind-Body Health Center
“Ask any of our children, and they complain that we eat and sleep work,” says Rose Cohen, who, along with her husband Dr. Richard Silver, runs Thrive, a center for comprehensive mental health care in Columbia.
Cohen had been working as a technical education teacher in Howard County Public Schools when her husband, then a psychiatrist at another practice, came up with the idea for Thrive. The couple have three children, two with ADHD and another with learning disabilities, and together they wanted to create a place where people could access a variety of treatments and services under one roof.
“The common notion of ADHD is the kid who can’t sit still in class,” Cohen explains. But ADHD can also involve difficulties with emotional well being, socializing and making friends. “It can have some devastating effects on kids,” she says. “We saw it with our own children.”
The center started small with Dr. Silver as the sole practitioner and their daughter answering phones. It has grown to employ 20, and Cohen has found herself involved in nearly every step of the creation and expansion of the business. In the past six years, she’s done everything from pricing proposals and designing marketing plans to working with Heron’s Gate, Thrive’s adult transition program, that provides youth with the experiences they need in order to eventually apply for a job.
“To see what a young adult is capable of once they’ve been in our program for awhile and how different it is from when he or she may have started with us is tremendously gratifying,” Cohen says, explaining that Heron’s Gate has become a model for other practitioners to support young adults and their families.
As for advice for those looking to start their own business, Cohen says it’s not for the faint-hearted.
“Pay attention to what excites you and what brings you satisfaction,” she advises. “It’s not like you can put your name on a shingle and start a business. There are skills and systems and ways of thinking that you need to learn about. The business side is the challenging part of it.”
mythrive.net – LZ
ENRICHING, ENTERTAINING, EDUCATIONAL – Page’s Corner
Beth Panageotou has worn many hats over the years, including a public policy stint in Washington, DC, a social studies teaching position in Baltimore County, and taking the lead on getting a nonprofit cancer fundraising organization off the ground. It was after she left teaching and was at home with her first daughter when an idea really sparked.
“We were always running to Michaels or Barnes & Noble or Target to get supplies for playdates,” Panageotou, a book lover, recalls. Her idea was to promote the themes of books through crafts and activities. “So parents who aren’t crafty or don’t want to run to 7,000 different places can open it up and spend time with their kids.”
Panageotou, who believes in literacy as a foundation for success, creates boxes that connect children ages 3-8 to books. For example, along with “The Big Orange Splot,” a story about a cookie cutter house by Daniel Pinkwater, is an activity to create a wooden birdhouse and a dream house collage.
Panageotou writes the enrichment activities and does the social media marketing, while one partner manages the money and website and another acts as the creative director.
“It’s a very collaborative effort,” says Panageotou, who says she puts stock in collaborations and brainstorming. “You need to trust the team and be able to talk,” she says, admitting that she also uses her children, 4 and 8, as guinea pigs.
“First we see if we can do it as grown ups, and then we put our kids in front of the box and see if they can do it,” she says. “They’re the most honest critics.”
pagescorner.com – LZ
SHE FELL HARD FOR SOFTWARE – Software Consortium
Janet Amirault fell in love with software in 1974 when she took her first programming class in high school. After working in training and project management positions with several large companies, including Citicorp and Blue Cross Blue Shield, she grew disillusioned with the world of big business.
Amirault found a new job as the director of consulting at Software Consortium, a software development startup that helps companies leverage technology. Within 18 months she was promoted to the chief operating officer. But three days after her promotion, the founder of the company had a heart attack and never recovered. Amirault was asked to step in as the company’s leader.
“The last thing I wanted to do was run a company and be an entrepreneur,” Amirault, who at the time was the primary caretaker for both her two children and her parents, said. “But when I found myself as CEO, it turns out I was a natural.”
Since Amirault took the reins in 1996, her entrepreneurial skills helped the company expand from a Baltimore-only business to serve Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. The company’s clients include small businesses as well as big names like Geico and Amtrak, as well as the State of Maryland and the federal government.
But expanding the company has been far from the only challenge she faced. Eight years ago, Amirault had a devastating stroke. Her long-term memory was gone, she lost the ability to read and write, and she had only a 100-word vocabulary.
“I’m pretty driven, pretty motivated, and having gone through the founder’s health issues as well as my parents, I knew how to research and deal with doctors and therapists to develop outside-the-box solutions,” Amirault said. She was back at work within six weeks.
“If I hadn’t gone back to the office, there’s no doubt in my mind I wouldn’t have recovered,” she explained.
But Amirault cautions other entrepreneurs to take care of themselves first. Exercise is the first thing she does every day. “Make sure you exercise and keep yourself healthy.”
Last year, Amirault accepted the 2012 Maryland Small Business Person of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.*
softwareconsortium.com – LZ