Martha Keith Spreads Love and Smiles Through Illustrated Gifts

er-martha-keithMartha Keith is the founder of Love Give Ink, a UK-based online store offering “delightfully illustrated gifts and stationery” that can’t be found anywhere else. All Love Give Ink designs are based on original hand-drawn and painted artwork, which are then turned into beautiful gifts, home accessories, stationery, greeting cards, and more using high-quality materials and processes. Many can be personalized, and everything is made in Britain and designed and finished at Love Give Ink’s “Paint HQ” in West London.

Prior to launching Love Give Ink in 2013, Keith was working in health care, where she hoped she could improve people’s lives. Still, she always felt one step away from the patients. She started Love Give Ink to be able to experience firsthand the happiness from the people giving and receiving illustrated gifts. Encouraged by friends and family, Keith founded Love Give Ink and has been making people smile since.

Jan Erickson, Founder of Comfortable Clothing Company Janska

Jan Erickson is the founder and president of Janska, a Colorado Springs-based fashion company dedicated to both style and comfort. Using elegant fabrics, classic designs, and refreshing colors, Janska creates apparel that not only looks good but also feels good.

Erickson founded Janska in 2003 after dreaming about a comfortable jacket for a friend, Jean Jauchen, who had suffered several strokes and could no longer dress herself. Jauchen was living in hospital gowns and was always cold. One night, Erickson dreamed of a jacket that was warm, soft, and easy to get on and off. She woke up in the middle of the night, sketched the jacket, and went back to sleep. Erickson became obsessed with the design and kept tweaking it in her mind. She didn’t sew or have a background in fashion, so she took her sketches to a contract sewer. She then took the completed jacket to Jauchen, who lit up when she put it on.

Erickson used her and her husband’s savings to launch Janska and make apparel that is both comforting and beautiful more widely available. Janska clothing uses Malden Mills Polarfleece, a synthetic fleece fabric that is soft, lightweight, warm, comfortable, fast-drying, and durable. The material is also very easy to care for and can be machine washed.

Erickson is on a mission to show that fleece can be fashionable. “People don’t normally associate fleece with style and year-round comfort, but we dare to challenge that view,” she writes on Janska’s website. “Our clothing doesn’t just keep you warm during the winter months. It’s also light, breathable, and gorgeous during warm times of the year.”

Designed and manufactured in the US, Janska turned its first profit in 2011 and is now available at more than 900 boutiques across the country. Earlier this year, Erickson was named the “2014 Colorado Small Business Person of the Year” by the US Small Business Administration and the “2014 Business Person of the Year” by the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

Bill Schmid Helps Babies and Parents Sleep Better

Bill Schmid is the founder of HALO, a Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company that makes sleep safety products for babies. About 20 years ago, Schmid and his wife lost their firstborn child to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The leading cause of death among American infants between 1 and 12 months old, SIDS does not show any warning signs and is not predicted by medical history.

Schmid and his wife made it their mission to prevent the same tragedy from happening to other babies and parents, and HALO was born. The company is dedicated to putting the health, safety, and well-being of babies first. Its bestselling SleepSack wearable blankets help babies sleep safely and are the number one choice of hospital nurseries across the US. HALO also offers ComfortLuxe sleepwear for babies with sensitive skin and Healthy Hips diaper covers that help reduce the risk of infant hip dysplasia, among other products.

HALO has received the Home Safety Council Commendation Award for Product Innovation for Consumer Safety, the Parent Tested Parent Approved Award, the National Parenting Publications Awards Honors Product Award, and more.

Anna Bance Gives Women Access to a Bigger Closet

Anna Bance is the co-founder of Girl Meets Dress, the UK’s leading luxury fashion rental website. The London-based fashion rental pioneer aims to make fashion accessible to everyone, offering women access to over 4,000 dresses each season from more than 150 British and international designers, including Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Herve Leger, Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Alice and Olivia, and Gorgeous Couture. Designer dresses and accessories can be rented for up to 95 percent off their original retail price, and Girl Meets Dress even takes care of the dry cleaning for customers.

Bance got the idea for Girl Meets Dress when she was working as the UK PR manager for French luxury brand Hermes. She lent dresses and accessories out to fashion magazines, shoots, journalists, and celebrities on a daily basis, and thought it would be amazing if everyone could borrow dresses for just one event and wear a different designer for every occasion.

Girl Meets Dress was launched in 2009. Bance brought her background in fashion to the table, while her co-founder Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise handled their digital media efforts. Girl Meets Dress now offers women across the UK, Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Wight, and the Isle of Man numerous options for weddings, birthday parties, black tie events, girls’ nights out, prom, graduation, and all of life’s special occasions. The company has been featured in Vogue, Grazia, Daily Candy, The Guardian, Elle, and InStyle, among others.

One of Bance’s tips for success is to not overthink it. “There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk your salary decrease, take a chance on an idea which might not work – but what’s the worst that can happen?” she says. “You’ll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea!”

Ulife’s Abraham Choe Combines the Entrepreneurial Spirit With School Spirit

er-ulifeAbraham Choe is the founder and CEO of Ulife, a Eugene-based company that specializes in officially licensed collegiate products. While he was attending the University of Oregon, he received a laptop as a gift from his family. A diehard Ducks fan, Choe headed to The Duck Store to buy a university-branded laptop sleeve. To his surprise, he couldn’t find one, so he adhered a University of Oregon decal sticker to a plain laptop sleeve.

That was Choe’s aha moment. He assembled a small team to help him bring his idea to life, and Ulife was born. Some friends and family members also agreed to invest in Ulife, setting the foundation for the company. Today, Ulife’s university-branded phone cases, travel pillows, protein shakers, and more are available at The Duck Store, The Mac Store, Walgreens, Just Sports, Made in Oregon, and PDX International.

Aside from promoting school spirit, Ulife gives back to students by donating to textbook funds.

Glamour Kills’ Mark Capicotto: An Indie Entrepreneur Inspired By Rock and Roll

Mark Capicotto is the founder of Glamour Kills, a youth lifestyle brand inspired by music. Glamour Kills is known for combining rock and roll with chic modernism, resulting in an aesthetic that is fashionable and palatable, but still underground and edgy.

Capicotto started the company fresh out of high school in 2005, setting up shop in his parents’ basement in suburban New York. The artist and entrepreneur began with five T-shirts and slowly built the brand by selling at local shows and launching the Glamour Kills website. The first shirt he made, called “When Pigs Fly,” featured the company’s now signature flying pig and represented his philosophy that anything can happen.

“I simply wanted to put my art on shirts, and it was a bonus that people bought them,” says Capicotto.

And people did buy them. Glamour Kills first caught on in the music world and eventually seeped into American pop culture. Glamour Kills has been seen on members of rock bands and in media outlets such as AP, Rolling Stone, and Nylon. It is available at retailers nationwide, including Zumiez, Tilly’s, Evo, Gypsy Warrior, Brick & Mortar, and Amnesia. Part of Glamour Kills’ success can be attributed to the fact that it has found “the middle ground.” When Capicotto started his company, a lot of the clothing worn in the music community, its target market, were all black or very dark.

“That’s not us,” says Capicotto. “I wanted to introduce something that was bright, colorful, and fun, but not overbearing.”

A true indie business owner, Capicotto created the artwork and fulfilled orders himself to achieve that goal. He draws most of his inspiration from music, which has always been a huge part of his life. The company has participated in the Vans Warped Tour and is currently hosting the Glamour Kills Tour with pop punk band New Found Glory.

Craig Handley, Founder and CEO of Top Spanish Language Call Center

Craig Handley is the founder and CEO of Listen Up Español, the leading Spanish language call center and online marketer focused only on the Hispanic market in America. Headquartered in Portland, Maine with a call center in Hermosillo, Mexico, Listen Up Español delivers a wide range of call center services to corporate, non-profit, and direct response clients, including Mercury Media, Gray Matter Media, Tristar Products, Capital Brands, and The Humane Society of the United States. The company specializes in customer service, inbound sales, and lead generation, as well as offers online Hispanic marketing solutions like SEO, SEM, organic marketing, social marketing, social advertising, and conversion rate optimization.

Recognized as one of the fastest growing private companies in the US by Inc. magazine, Listen Up Español employs more than 800 native Spanish speakers who provide Spanish teleservices that turn customer interaction into revenue. Listen Up Español boasts higher conversion rates and average order value than any other Spanish language call center.

Handley began his career in door-to-door sales, where he honed his skills in maximizing the sales process. Under his leadership, Listen Up Español has received the Contact Center World Award, Best in Biz Award, Halo Award, Top 50 Teleservices Agencies Award, and Call Center World Award. Aside from overseeing Listen Up Español, Handley is a respected consultant for numerous products and services in nearly every category. He has also written articles on how to effectively boost revenue and profitability for eRetailer, Response Magazine, and DM News.

Handley maintains his productivity levels by resting regularly. Both a businessman and family man, Handley travels a lot for meetings, conferences, and family vacations. Recharging his batteries enables him to “grow some brain cells” and “live life like an extreme sport,” which are two of his company’s core values.

Prior to Listen Up Español, Handley studied music in college and served in the US Army.

Kate Elfatah: From Corporate Worker to Entrepreneur

Kate Elfatah is the designer and entrepreneur behind House of Minerva, a design house specializing in children’s apparel, women’s bags, and accessories. Elfatah began making cosmetic bags for friends a few years ago. As demand for her products grew, she started creating totes and handbags as well. Elfatah, who has worked in the corporate world for several years, juggled her budding design career with a full-time job and home life. She later decided to quit her corporate job and follow her dream of becoming a designer and local business owner.

Within two years, Elfatah grew House of Minerva into a profitable business. What was once a weekend hobby is now a family endeavor – Elfatah’s daughters and niece have joined her in crafting House of Minerva products.

In addition to running House of Minerva, Elfatah offers coaching and consulting services to her fellow small business owners. She believes in helping other entrepreneurs in her community.

John Swanciger, CEO of Manta

John Swanciger is the CEO of Manta, an online directory for small businesses. A seasoned tech exec with more than 15 years of experience working with B2B and B2C companies, Swanciger leads Manta’s efforts to enhance its current offerings as well as expand its products and services.

Prior to Manta, Swanciger was the chief commercial officer of Switchfly, a cloud-based e-commmerce platform for the travel and loyalty industries. At Switchfly, Swanciger oversaw sales, marketing, partner relations, and business development. Earlier, he served as the vice president of marketing and business development at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, where he led global web strategy, web partnerships, and online marketing for all of the company’s brands. Swanciger has also fulfilled management consulting positions at Cambridge Technology Partners and Accenture and several management roles at Hotwire.

In addition to leading Manta, Swanciger presently serves on the board of directors of Liftopia. He graduated from Boston College with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

Susan Solovic Shows Entrepreneurs How to Reinvent Themselves

Susan Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur helping small businesses unlock their potential and make more money. Using practical advice that can be applied immediately, she teaches entrepreneurs how to go from ordinary to extraordinary. Her expertise has also made her a sought-after keynote speaker and media personality; Solovic regularly contributes to Fox Business, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC, and The Huffington Post. She was previously the ABC News small business contributor and the host of the PBS feature Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World.

Solovic is the co-founder of Small Business Television, the first video news and information website for small businesses. She grew Small Business Television from a humble startup to a multimillion dollar enterprise. In 2006, the company won a Stevie Award for the “Most Innovative Company Under 100 Employees” and was voted the “Best Investment Opportunity” at a Venture Forum event.

Solovic is currently an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Saint Louis University and a member of the advisory board of the university’s John Cook School of Business Entrepreneurial Studies. She also sits on the board of trustees of Columbia College and on the board of the college’s Fishman School for Entrepreneurship.

An avid supporter of female entrepreneurs, Solovic serves on the board of directors of the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women. She is a former member of the National Women’s Business Council and the former vice president of the board of directors of Women Impacting Public Policy. Solovic was the first to receive AT&T’s Innovator of the Year Award in 2008 and accepted the Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship Leader of Distinction Award in 2009.

Solovic is the author of four bestselling books that have been translated into several languages: It’s Your Biz, Reinvent Your Career, The Girls’ Guide to Power and Success, and The Girls’ Guide to Building a Million-Dollar Business.