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WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
WOMEN Entrepreneurs presented by First Security
GLASS IS FOR TABLES.
NOT CEILINGS. When you have a vision for taking care of customers, the best person to work for is often yourself. First Security is proud to serve women entrepreneurs – and everyone else – investing in our home state.
WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
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OSEI-DANQUAH’S PASSION STARTED WITH A SIMPLE THANKS.
ernice Osei-Danquah, born in Ghana but raised in the United States, bought fabric when she went back to Ghana to visit family and used it to make tokens of appreciation. She learned to sew from her mother, a teacher who worked as a seamstress to make extra money, and began by putting her skill to use altering her own clothing to fit her 5-foot-2 frame. “Anybody who took me to the airport, anybody who watched my house for me while I was gone, anybody who did anything for me, they would get those as a thank you and then they would post pictures of them on Facebook or just wear it out when they were with their kids and other people would see them and say, ‘That’s so cute. Where did you get it?” says Osei-Danquah, a full-time pharmacist. Osei-Danquah and her husband, Richmond, married in February and they posted photos from their nuptial celebrations on Facebook. “I was just overwhelmed by responses from people who were asking me to make them outfits like the ones I was wearing,” she says. Friends had urged her to make her Ghanaian clothing designs and accessories available to a broader audience, but she had resisted until then. “I was just being resourceful but after our wedding pictures went up and there was so much response, I was like,‘You know what? Let’s go for it,’” she says. RNB Ghanaian Fashions, named for Richmond and Bernice, claims space on Instagram, Facebook and Etsy and markets wares to people from coast to coast. She has a booth at the Little Rock River Market as well. Richmond is the primary fabrics buyer for RNB. “He looks for the higher quality fabrics or the bright colors or whatever I’m asking him to look for and I do the designing and styles,” she says. “I’ll make something here or if I have something here that I like, I’ll say I would like to wear this but I would like for it to be in such-and-such fabric.” He also makes sure things are on track
with the seamstresses and tailors they employ in Ghana. RNB Ghanaian Fashions debuted with accessories, like earrings and bracelets, mostly hand-carved wood bought by RNB directly from Ghanaian artists. “It’s authentic, it’s real wood, it’s not plastic or whatever that stuff is. If you were able to go and you got to see these people working, you would be moved to tears. It’s so beautiful. So for me to have my pieces from there it’s means so much to me,” she says. “I know what it’s like to make a whole bunch of stuff and have it sitting around your house and it’s eating up your cash flow and you can’t feed your kids. So we buy a lot from them and then anything that needs to be customized, tailored or whatever, I’ll do some of those things there.” The fabrics, styles and techniques she sells as finished products are authentic Ghanaian. “I feel there are a lot of people out there who would love to go there and get an authentic piece and they just can’t afford that. You can get imitations but if you want the real deal, that’s us. When you are buying from us, you are buying a piece of history,” she says. “I’m authentic, too, because I was born there but I want people to remember that they are also feeding somebody from there, that they are blessing somebody. They’re helping that one person who’s going to help someone else who is helping someone else.”
MCREYNOLDS OFFERS HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES WITH PREPARED-MEAL SERVICE.
ollin McReynolds’s path to entrepreneurship has been less a linear trajectory than an evolution, organic in more than one sense of the word. The brains and (wo) manpower behind Crave Fuel for Life, the North Little Rock-based prepared meal service, she has grown into her role as chef and nutritional adviser by following her instincts. “I spent four or five years figuring out what I wanted in life,” McReynolds says. “I went down some paths and made my way here.” McReynolds came to her passion for nutrition through CrossFit. Though she’d been highly active in high school through competitive cheer and dance, a few years after graduation found her at what she terms a dark spot in life. One day, she says, “I saw people on the side of the road doing CRAZY stuff, and I don’t know what came over me.” She was hooked after her first class. As she gained confidence and made friends, she became more and more interested healthy diet principles to fuel the intense workouts and active healing inherent in CrossFit. As a kid, McReynolds was enchanted by Sue of the now-defunct Sue’s Pie Shop in Little Rock, who “had the best chicken salad and iced tea ever. I told my parents I wanted to own a deli.” McReynolds cherished the vision of herself in this role, and nearly two decades later, with no formal training in the kitchen, she set out recreate healthier versions of some of her greatgrandmother’s most beloved dishes. “I wanted to create healthy options that still felt familiar,”McReynolds says, which, for her and her clients, means those southern homey dishes we all grew up with. Drawing on her great-grandmother’s recipe collection and more research than she really needs to get into right now, she began making Paleo-based versions of traditional favorites like butternut squash lasagna and the popular chicken and waffles. Soon she started adding ethnic twists, resulting in dishes like chicken enchiladas and crispy orange beef.
“I started with $50 dollars,” laughs McReynolds, but these days, Crave Fuel offers a weekly rotating menu, complete with full meals, snacks, desserts, and condiments comprised of high-quality seasonal and local ingredients, with an emphasis on ethically and health-consciously raised meats. Meals are available for on-site pickup or Monday delivery. “One of the most rewarding things every week, when we do deliveries, is getting feedback from clients,” says McReynolds, who thinks of food as medicine. “A lot of clients are dealing with serious illnesses and long recoveries, so when I hear they’re enjoying the food and at the same time their bodies are healing…that’s what I love.” Not to mention seeing her son Braden’s health flourish. Much of McReynolds’s work is motivated by her aim to provide the best diet she can for her growing boy. (He loves the Crave protein bars packed with nutrient-dense Arbonne protein powder.) “Food is such an important aspect of health,” she says, in tandem with other holistic healing techniques, including exercise. She says,“We are daily researching and reading and trying to help clients with their own problems. We’re trying to spread knowledge and tools for healing.” One meal at a time, she’s doing just that. WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
SMITH LEADS LOCAL RETAIL REVOLUTION WITH DOMESTIC DOMESTIC.
omestic Domestic, a trendy men’s lifestyle store in Little Rock, isn’t Heather Smith’s first retail rodeo. Not even close. “This is my sixth start-up,” she said. “I think I’m just a natural-born salesman. I love the work.” As a matter of fact, Smith can step out onto the sidewalk, look left and see one of the businesses she started — Eggshells Kitchen Co. — just a couple of doors down. She can also look around the neighborhood and around the community to see how unique the independent business community has become. “In so many other communities, everything is cutthroat,” she said. “And here [entrepreneurs] just truly want to see each other succeed. No one is looking to edge out the competition. We all realize the better I do, the better my neighbor does down the street and vice versa.” Smith, 37, has lived enough places to know the difference between a welcoming small business environment and the notso-friendly variety. It’s one of the things that drew her and her partner, attorney Sarah Ort, back to Central Arkansas. She launched Domestic Domestic as an online store in 2013 — half of the store’s sales are still online — and opened her brick-andmortar location in the Heights in 2014. “In other communities where I’ve lived, people are quite selfish and they look out for No. 1 and No. 1 only,” Smith said. “It might not be the best business model for us to say we all cooperate but those relationships make [Little Rock small merchants] very unique.” At each stop along her entrepreneurial journey, Smith has demonstrated an eye for opportunity, of which Domestic Domestic is a prime example. One of the few shops of its kind anywhere in the city, it creates a vibe that’s palpable from the first step through the front door. “It definitely has that masculine, kinda woodsy feel,” she said. “There are just so many great feminine boutiques in town, and there wasn’t really anything for guys. People have a real easy time finding a place 4
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to get gifts for women and we wanted to be able to complement that with gifts for men.” Smith not only stepped into this underserved niche, but did so with a commitment to feature only American-made products, something many people didn’t even know was possible, let alone find a market for them. But that’s precisely what she’s done, including a fair number of Arkansas-made products. “When I owned Eggshells Kitchen Co., my personal buying habits and buying habits for the store started to shift to higher quality,”she said.“I wanted products that were more generational, that could pass down more like heirlooms, that sort of thing. And I started noticing that a lot of those products were manufactured in the United States. That aesthetic was really appealing to me and so that was the concept for this store.” Now expecting her first child, Smith hasn’t slowed down much and is generally front and center in the showroom most days. “I find that my success comes from being an owner-operator and not just an owner,” she said. “I’m in the business on a daily basis and not just in the back, but on the sales floor. That’s the part that really drives me. I love the customer interaction.”
FAMILY AND FAITH TURNS BAD SITUATION INTO THRIVING CAREER.
o look at Javonne Jordan’s business now, you would think her timing was practically clairvoyant, perched as she is in one of the trendiest neighborhood in Little Rock. The truth is, as she’ll gladly tell you, bringing Inretrospec Recycle*Regift*Reuse to life was as much about adjusting to changing tides as having an ironclad master plan. “You always have a tendency to set out with what you think is the plan and then the plan always gets altered,” she said with a chuckle. Jordan, 40, had no intention of getting into retail when she purchased two decrepit apartment buildings on the corner of 12th and Center Streets, well ahead of the development and new affluence that would eventually come to the South Main area. “We bought these two properties that had been dilapidated for years, around 2005,” she said. “I had every intention of renovating the apartment buildings. The bank gave us the loan to get the property, [but] when we went back to the bank to say ‘Here’s what we need to renovate,’ the bank said no, the market crashed on us. “After a couple of years trying to get funding, we also lost a battle with the city. They gave us so many days to knock the buildings down.” Owning little more than a commercially zoned patch of mortgaged grass, Jordan looked for ways to generate income while she pondered her next move. She found inspiration in a long-held talent she shared with her mother. “As a kid, my mom and I would go shopping and we could shop all day long,” she said. “I mean, our eyes would be bloodshot red and we would leave the mall and then rush to TJ Maxx because they closed 30 minutes later.” Jordan turned her inexhaustible spirit — and her knack for finding bargains — toward picking antiques which she’d flip at outdoor flea markets. She was so good at it, in just a few years she was able to build Inretrospec on her site in SoMa.
“The furniture and clothing and antiques here are all hand-picked,”she said “We take a lot of pride in finding really good things.” To see Jordan at work today is to see a woman pursuing her true calling, as well as a family affair. Her children — James, 13, and Nia, 6 — often work in the store with her and she’s extended her reach for picking antiques with a little help from her husband and fellow entrepreneur, Darryl Jordan. Darryl’s moving company takes him to all corners of the U.S. and when the client’s load drops, Javonne is more than happy to fill the homebound trucks with more locally picked treasure. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has caught up to Inretrospec. Sandwiched as it is between some of the city’s best restaurants, shops and reviving neighborhoods, the store looks like it’s always been there and moreover, that it was meant to be there, Jordan, for one, doesn’t disagree. “I definitely know that God has been in this the whole way,” she said. “Sometimes, we think that because something is not great that it’s simply that, it’s not great. But it’s really just his way of showing you that he knows what’s best. And it may not feel good right now but you’ll be able to see a result in the end.”
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MARSHALL BEATS THE GUYS AT THEIR OWN GAME.
GRAY BRINGS INGENUITY TO LITTLE ROCK KITCHENS.
ay you’re throwing a party for your daughter’s eighth birthday. Or having friends over to watch the Hogs game. Maybe you’re looking for the perfect host gift for a friend who loves to cook. Naturally, you head over to Eggshells, knowing you’ll find the perfect item, thanks to Little Rock native Lindsey Gray, whose unique taste and savvy management make the Heights kitchen store the homiest place you’ll find outside your own kitchen. Gray comes by her entrepreneurial spirit naturally. Her family has run the Little Rock fixture Ace Glass since opening it in 1986. “I watched that growing up and I always knew that my dream would be to have my own store,” she says. “Gifts are my love language, so I always thought it would be something in that area.” When she heard through the grapevine in 2013 that Eggshells was for sale, it was an easy decision. She started making calls, and three weeks later, she was the owner. With years of experience in her family’s store, a degree in accounting, and a passion for cooking and entertaining — but no formal culinary training — Eggshells was the perfect opportunity to break out of her shell (pun intended). For someone who describes herself as a former “behind-thescenes” worker, Gray is now at the center of not only a thriving business, but a food community of which Eggshells is the hub. Drop by and you might catch her trying out her latest idea in the full-size kitchen on the rear wall of the space. (Her most recent success? Champagne-infused gummy bears.) If you check the schedule ahead of time, you can sign up for one of the three or four themed cooking classes she holds every month, hosting a local chef for a relaxed evening of tasty education. Or just stop in to ask her advice on a party favor or a new project. She keeps the store stocked with a seasonal rotation of one-of-
a-kind items and is always happy to chat: “The fun side of the business is to be out on the floor talking food and barware,” she says, adding that she loves the tight-knit feel of the walkable Heights community. “It just feels so good to know people, get to know their story over time.” To give back to that community, Gray is an active volunteer. With three small boys of her own, ARKids Read is close to her heart, so she donates time weekly to practice reading with area students. A former president of the Junior League of Little Rock, she now serves on the Children’s Hospital Auxiliary Board. Between these efforts, being in the store every day, and wrangling aforementioned young children, Gray has her hands full. Now that her work life is so food-oriented, she enjoys trying new projects and recipes in the kitchen at the store, and her husband is her partner in the kitchen at home helping with dinner. Still, when it comes to having company and entertaining, Lindsey is the one to plan the menu and details to create a special event. It’s that innovative spirit that makes Eggshells a magical place — and its proprietor a community treasure.
eatcuttingmaynot have the highest female representation in the world, but that doesn’t bother Lisa Marshall of Sherwood, who’s been in the meat business since she was 16. Marshall cut her teeth — and a lot of ribeyes — in the back of her father Floyd Johnson’s meat market and deli, now known as Floyd’s Meat and Seafood, which she bought in 2001. “By the time I graduated from high school, this was my full-time job in the family business,” she said. “I’m a thirdgeneration meat cutter.” Marshall, 53, says she’s spared a lot of unwanted sales calls because solicitors never think to ask if she’s the boss. And you can see why: In nearly 40 years in this business, even she’s only known two other women meat cutters. “You should see the jaws drop when I tell people I’m a female meat cutter,” she said. “I’ll go somewhere and I’ll buy a big ol’ chunk of meat and people are like, ‘What are you planning to do with that?’ “See, it’s such a male-dominated career field and there’s so few female meat cutters, that meeting me is a shock.” Marshall takes in stride, amused even, such interactions. She’s been second-guessed throughout most of her career, starting with her dad who complained about her starting and then expanding the shop’s initial seafood inventory of catfish, one size of shrimp and the stray flounder fillet. “As time went on, we started stretching our inventory out, and over the decades I tried different things and most everything worked,” she said. “The advantage of running a small business vs. a big box store is I can say, OK, this isn’t selling, get rid of it and don’t put it back.” She followed the same instinct into Cajun items and had to stand her ground there, too. But the merchandise took off and
today the company’s tagline is Homesick Cajun Headquarters, stocked as it is with gumbo ingredients, boudin and other Louisiana delights. They say success is its own reward, but as Lisa tells it, she got one better than that. “I told the story at my dad’s wake that Dad always said “Well, that’s not gonna work, don’t do this, don’t do that,” she said. “And, like a typical early twentysomething, I ignored my parents and went and did exactly what I wanted to do and it turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done. “And bless his heart, my dad said, ‘Well you know, I see that you’re on the right path and I’m never gonna tell you don’t do this, don’t do that again because what you’re doing is working.’” Most of the year, Lisa and her fiancée, Larry Gordon, run the shop single-handedly, but crawfish season is a different story. The store takes on extra help to keep up with mudbug demand — 88,000 pounds worth by last year’s numbers. Watching her work is to observe someone doing what she was born to do in the kind of store you rarely see anymore — and winning. “The big box stores are governed by the suits up in their ivory towers and they have to do what the suits tell ‘em to do, even though the suits have never been in business and they don’t know what they’re doing,” she said. “Me, I’ve got my hands all the way up to the shoulders in this. This is my baby.” WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
SIKKEMA’S LITTLE RASPBERRY AND WHITE FOOD TRUCK WAS A LUCKY FIND.
t’s a refurbished horse trailer, the kind she had wished for to use as a food truck for her business, Velvet Whisk Cheesecakery, for a while. “I had gone online and seen some horse trailers used as food trucks and I liked that idea,” says Sikkema, who worked in higher education and the nonprofit sector before getting into the food business. “I just couldn’t believe my luck when I found one right here in Little Rock, and it was already a food truck.” Sikkema opened Morsels Desserts while she was still living in Yanton, S.D. She was selling to about 15 grocery stores when she and her husband, Keith Robinson, moved to Little Rock so he could take a job as philosophy professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She started out with a variety of desserts, but she began specializing in cheesecakes because that’s what the market demanded. “A lot of restaurants had them on their menus. But it’s a particular style of cheesecake that I didn’t really like that much,” says Sikkema, who says her cheesecakes are creamier than the dense ones she found. “I decided to make this different style and see how it goes and it turned out to be true that other people like it, too,” she says. Her Morsels cheesecakes were selected by The Nibble, an online gourmet food website, as a Top Pick for Food Connoisseurs. She established the New Cheesecake Co. in 2013, after she happened upon an ad on Craigslist from a woman who makes chocolates who wanted to share commercial kitchen space in Greenbrier. Sikkema makes her cheesecakes from scratch in that kitchen — party-sized cheesecakes as well as single-serve sizes. “Everything is made from scratch,”’says Sikkema, who also caters events. “I make the crust from scratch, if there are sauces involved, I make all those from scratch.” Lemon strawberry cheesecake is her personal favorite, but she says turtle cheesecake is the most popular with customers. “People like that one because it has chocolate sauce and caramel sauce and 6
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people really like that,” says Sikkema. She takes her food truck to events around Central Arkansas, though she is open to venturing further out into the state. “Some of the churches are inviting food trucks monthly as an outreach kind of thing,”she says. “Businesses do it, generally for employees when there’s no cafeteria, but it’s open to the public. Those are really successful. I try to do as many events as I can, some big ones and some small ones. It’s a hard slog, the food truck business.” Food trucks are at the mercy of the weather and the changing seasons. The Velvet Whisk’s food truck allows her to follow her dream of owning a business without the risk of signing a lease. “It sure as heck is a lot more economical to do food that way than it is to have your own restaurant. For people who want to do food and want to do it less expensively, this is a good way,” she says. Sikkema’s son, Christopher, is a senior at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.; their daughter, Nicole, lives in Little Rock. Having grown children makes it easier for Sikkema to focus on her food truck business, and having the food truck business makes it possible for her to spend time with her 1-year-old grandson. “You can choose to do certain events or not, you can work it around your schedule. There’s a certain amount of flexibility that gives you.”
HOOPER MAKES FITNESS PRACTICAL WITH MULTIFACETED CROSSFIT TRAINING.
oftspoken she may be, but René Hooper is all about explosivity. In the two years since opening CrossFit Align, the North Little Rock CrossFit training center, Hooper’s been making it her mission to provide quality physical and mental training to people from all walks of life. “I might have a woman in her 60s on one side of me and a high school baseball player on the other. We’re all pushing each other to be better,” says Hooper. After running competitively in college at UCA, Hooper was at a loss as to how to exercise once she graduated.“I got used to being on a team and having that outside drive, always having a goal and a coach,” she says. She was already working as a personal trainer at the Little Rock Raquet Club when she discovered CrossFit. Like many people, she’d always been skeptical of the exercise program, but upon looking into it further, she was drawn by its multifaceted and practical approach to fitness. “CrossFit is about getting you doing what you’re already doing really well,” Hooper explains. “It’s about building a better quality of life, whether that’s being more competitive in your sport, more agile in your workplace or simply staying out of the nursing home.” Hooper brings an impressive educational background in dietetics and physical therapy to her coaching, along with years of experience. Working in a variety of settings as a physical therapy technician, “I discovered my passion was more in teaching people how to move really well so they don’t hurt themselves,” she says. As a certified CrossFit coach since 2012, Hooper teaches athleticism as a way of life, focusing on the everyday benefits of improved strength, flexibility, endurance, and other principles built into the CrossFit program: “Whether it’s balance and reaction time on an icy walk, the UPS man using proper lifting technique, or training for the baseball season, we’re retraining movement patterns so you don’t hurt yourself.” Added bonus: it’s a LOT of fun. Hooper
refers to the gym as their “adult playground.” “Right now we’re all trying to get better at walking on our hands,” she says of her current training gang. Turns out the physical principles involved in handstands are beneficial all around. Because CrossFit is personalized to each practitioner, finding a knowledgeable and intuitive coach is paramount. Hooper is constantly self-educating based on her clients’ needs. “It’s very interactive work, consulting with other coaches and with students,” she says. Ultimately, CrossFit Align is a place of healing for both the body and the mind. Alongside Collin McReynolds, Hooper is building a safe space where people can develop according to their personal goals in a nonjudgmental, teamwork-centered atmosphere. “We try to instill in people to be OK with failure, to face it head on and break it down into bite-size pieces and figure it out,” she says. “That applies to every part of your life, so people come out of here more confident in general.” Providing reliable nutritional guidance, physical training, and unflagging personal support, Align has proven to fill a vital role in the area. “We got into it just trying to do the right thing,” Hooper says. Clearly, she’s succeeding.
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EVEN WHEN THEY DON’T. When you have a strategy for success, the best person to work for is often yourself. First Security is proud to serve women entrepreneurs – and everyone else – investing in our home state.
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DENTON SERVES CLIENTS, PROMOTES LEADERSHIP WITH PEDIATRICS PLUS
hen Amy Denton and her husband, Todd, purchased Pediatrics Plus 14 years ago, you could fit the entire company in a garage – employees, clients and all. “A friend of mine actually started [the company] and it was serving about 10 or 12 clients. Very, very small operation,”she said. “I went to work for her after hours because I got off work at 2:30 every day. When she and her husband were looking to sell it, I thought, you know what, I can do this and I can really make it awesome.” Recently married and relocated, it was a period of radical change in Denton’s life, to say nothing of having zero experience running a business. Undeterred, Amy developed a plan that focused on the basics and dug in. “I have very particular ideas on how I like things done,”she said.“I’m very progressive, I like to be forward-thinking and I like to look for new ideas and try to always be improving what’s happening. My experience at places where I’d worked was that these weren’t always welcome attributes. “I just took everything I’d learned from experiences of working at different companies through college and after college, got a core group of people together, and we sat down and created a vision and a mission and some values. We all just said, ‘We’re going to do this.’” Denton’s twofold plan – deliver the utmost in caring service and expertise to the patients and do all you can to take care of your employees – proved to be symbiotic components of the same equation. “What we did in the very beginning was sit down and say, ‘We’re going to put our patients and our families first and we’re going to treat our staff with respect and give them autonomy, lots of flexibility, really try to make sure we set it up where everybody is happy to be here.’ “We set the culture up from the very 8
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beginning with the mindset that we’re going to be all in. It’s a really positive culture which, when you’re serving children with special needs, the last thing they need from us is to not be positive and to not be happy when we’re there.” Denton’s simple philosophy has led Pediatrics Plus to big things in the state. The company now operates four offices throughout Central Arkansas, and grew its staff from around 10 in 2002 to nearly 450 today. The vast majority of executive leadership is homegrown, which has helped the original vison stay intact even as the company has expanded beyond Denton’s ability to manage every aspect. “The biggest challenge has been maintaining consistency and the level of quality across the board without being in control of every little piece. That’s definitely been the hardest part,” she said. “But, we still have the majority of the original crew that started with us 14 years ago and a lot of those people are now our executive team. “Our main goal has always been to create a culture where the kids of the families we serve have the best of the best we have to offer. That’s what we really try to do.”
MILHOLLAND’S EARLY START LEADS TO SEW FAST ALTERATIONS
my Milholland learned to sew quilts and clothing for her dolls and progressed to making clothes for herself. “One of my grandmothers quilted, and she had us make little doll quilts and doll clothes and other fun things. We would spend a week with her in the summer and she would have projects for all the girls to do – I had mostly girl cousins,” says Milholland, owner of Sew Fast Alterations in Sherwood. “She taught us how to crochet and things that were fun. I think a lot of things like that, if you learn, they just stay with you. I was really young when the interest was instilled.” Milholland started making her own clothes in her teens. “I started buying patterns at Hancock’s when I was in junior high and high school and doing that. I would start drawing what I wanted to make and combining patterns to get what I wanted and just did more creative things than I mostly do now,” she says. Milholland worked in the alterations departments of several stores before she opened her shop in 1985. She doesn’t make custom clothing there, although she tried that the first couple of years she was in business. “I decided I needed to focus on either that or on alterations and I realized there was more of a demand for alterations,” she says. She and the two women who work for her do everything from simple pants hems to more complex alterations, like men’s suits and prom dresses. They promise to have items ready within one week for simple items but may need more than two weeks for more complicated work. They do offer rush jobs on hems or minor repairs. “But for most things, we take our time and we go for quality work, and it really does take time,” she says. “I think people have a notion that we can just zip some-
thing out, and some things we can, but with most things we take our time and make it look just like it did when they bought it. We want to have it professionally finished and we do put a lot of time and thought into it.” Sew Fast’s busy season kicks off in September, with school uniforms and cheerleader uniforms, and that leads into cotillion, homecoming and holiday seasons. As prom nears, the shop bustles again. Milholland grew up in Little Rock, but the time she spent on her grandparents’ farm in Florida makes for precious memories. Besides sewing, she and her cousins got to help with gardening and other projects. “It was kind of like living in the past, kind of like living on the land,” she says. “I remember picking strawberries from the garden and coming in and my grandmother would make biscuits and we would eat those fresh strawberries.” Milholland doesn’t sew as a hobby much anymore, and she rarely finds time to sew things for herself, friends or family. She’s making something special right now, however – a quilt for her first grandchild, due in November.
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WEST LITTLE ROCK PHARMACIST SANDERS FINDS PRESCRIPTION FOR SUCCESS
he vibe you get walking into The Pharmacy at Wellington is one of immediate welcome. With a pleasant interior well-stocked with your daily needs, and smiling faces behind the counter ready to help, you know you’re in a place where quality care is paramount. This is exactly what founder and owner Brittany Sanders is going for. After working for several years in a chain pharmacy, Sanders knew it was time for a change.“I just felt like there were better ways to take care of patients than we were able to in a big-box setting,”she says. What she saw missing in this area was something that offered the convenience of a big-box pharmacy – longer and weekend hours, a drive- through pickup option – combined with the things that make for better service, like quality staffing, free delivery and on-site immunizations. With the goal of providing a better level of service, she and her business partner opened The Pharmacy at Wellington last October. Closing in on their one-year anniversary, the rapidly growing West Little Rock area has enthusiastically welcomed them to the neighborhood. That feeling is mutual. Sanders has loved getting more involved in her patients’lives. She says, “I like knowing what’s going on, that they had surgery last week and how that’s going. It’s nice to be able to help them manage more aspects of medication than just handing them something over the counter.” That personal interaction was what led Sanders to her profession in the first place. “I always knew I wanted to be involved with health care,” she says. “I loved people and the natural chemistry, so pharmacy was a natural fit.” Sanders graduated from UAMS in 2005, so with more than a decade of experience in pharmacy, along with management and front-end retail experience on her resume, she was ready for the challenges of running a business.
“It’s managing every little aspect, taking responsibility for things like hiring and health care benefits for my employees,” she says. But Sanders also has found unexpected help along the way. For example, information from the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas was invaluable in writing the business plan for The Pharmacy at Wellington. Sanders says, “There are a lot of resources out there that you don’t know about until you go and look for them and use them.” This pervasive sense of collaboration in the pharmacy is what Sanders thrives on. As a wife, mother of a 7- and a 9-year-old, and frequent foster parent, teamwork is important in her family life, too. The kids might roll their eyes when they have to stop at the pharmacy on the way home from church, but“they get it, they’re supportive,” Sanders says fondly. Being a business owner has expanded horizons for the Wellington community and for Sanders herself, who is getting used to looking at the bigger picture as a manager and care-provider. “Life doesn’t just happen from 9 to 5,” she says, “and I want to be there for people.”
EASON PARLAYS SERVICE, FINANCIAL SKILLS INTO SUCCESSFUL WORK
here was never a time in Erin Eason’s professional life that she wasn’t working with money. “Actually, I’ve never done anything else,” she said. “I started out as a teller in a bank right out of high school.” That humble first job sustained her through her time earning a degree in management at UALR and into the full-time working world. Eason steadily worked her way up the management ladder at local banks until she landed as an assistant to a financial adviser and discovered her true passion. “I like helping people and being able to tell people they have enough money to live the rest of their life,”she said.“And, being able to problem-solve when they don’t and figure out how we’re going to get there.” Eason, 45, moved into financial advising exclusively in 2002, and to say she did things the hard way is an understatement, trying as she did to manage clients’ money in one of the worst market slumps since the Great Depression. But the times also sharpened her instincts and her drive to succeed, allowing her to take advantage of opportunities. “It’s a very male-dominated field. I think the first time I walked up to a door for a cold call I realized I was 100 percent female,” she said. “In my client’s age range of 70 to 85, the majority of the women in couples ultimately make the decision on who to hire as a financial adviser. If you are able to relate financial information to both of them in layman’s terms without making them feel as though they are asking stupid questions, you can be successful. “A lot of people get into financial advising because of the analytics and stock-picking and number-crunching, but the reality is it’s a sales job. A lot of people like the investment side of it, but you can’t do that if you can’t do the sales part of it.” Eason, a Lonoke native, found a particularly strong toehold among seniors and niche populations such as firefighters, where word about her traveled fast. Her
natural wit and easy conversational style only added to the picture. “Working with municipalities across the state – fire and police – that’s a subculture unto itself,” she said. “They all referred me to their friends and employers because all firemen pretty much work two jobs. It’s just grown from there.” Eason launched her own firm in 2014, and having her name over the door just spurred her on. As a customer service, she regularly crisscrosses the state to call on clients who appreciate her straight-ahead style and measured investment approach. “I’m ultra-conservative,” she said. “I try and protect money with the slow, steady rate of growth rather than try and knock the cover off the ball.” Male-dominated and heavily regulated though her industry is, Eason can compete with the best of them, another payoff of years of experience in the business. “It’s not an impress-your-clients thing as much anymore as it is a down-to-business, cut-and-dried, here’s-what-I-can-do-foryou,” she said. “The reality is you can buy stock anywhere. It’s completely about trust and selling yourself and getting somebody to trust you.” WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
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LEAN EARLY YEARS FORGED RADKE’S ENTREPRENEURIAL METTLE
o you want it by the hour or the whole night?” Gina Radke remembers the shock at the desk clerk’s question, delivered sober as a Sunday, during a business trip to Seattle. The fledgling CEO had been tearing up the road beating on every door that would open – and a few that didn’t – trying to market the company she and her husband had sunk their last dime into back in Arkansas. And now, she and an intern along for the ride had landed a reservation in a hotel for which the term“business center” had a whole other meaning. “Have you ever seen the movie ‘Tommy Boy,’?” she asked. “That’s what I felt like.” It was 2008 and Radke and her husband, Wade, were living the downside of the American dream. Their company, Gallery Support Innovations, had suffered the one-two punch of a flatlining economy and the rank inexperience of its owners. Wade took a second job as the company sputtered and Gina dove into any source of information she could find trying to turn things around. “Google and YouTube became my very best friends,” she said. “I learned how to run a machine by YouTube, I learned manufacturing software via Google. I began to seek out any kind of education I could get on manufacturing. I went to Arkansas Manufacturing Solutions, SCORE, Small Business Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Commission; I mean, I knocked on every single door that would give me any information, especially if they would give it to me for free.” Gina, 38, regards the Seattle experience as more than just a great story. Looking back on it now, she sees the trip – which also included her contact at Boeing leaving her to rot in a lobby waiting room for eight hours – as a defining moment both personally and professionally. “It definitely taught me perseverance,” she said.“I’m not afraid to lose, at this point. 10
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I figured when you have stayed in a hotel where they ask you if you want it by the hour, you’re not afraid to get out there and do what you gotta do.” Perseverance paid off with an invitation by the state Economic Development Commission to attend the National Business Aviation Association’s annual trade show. It was the crack in the door the Radkes had been waiting on. “After we got our bearings the first day, it became we’re gonna shake every hand that we have to, meet every person that we have to, knock people over if we have to until we leave with something,” she said. “That show opened up a whole new world for us.” Today, the company is a leading supplier of custom after-market locks and latches for private and commercial planes, trains and yachts. The Sherwood headquarters employs 28 and just stepped up from 8,000 square feet into 20,000 square feet of space, signaling the best part of the company’s story is yet to be written. “I’m not afraid to work hard. I’m not afraid to do what I gotta do,” Radke said. “I know what being broke feels like, and it didn’t kill me, so I’m not scared of it.”
DANNELLEY ON TARGET AS CO-OWNER OF MAGNA IV
risti Dannelley expected her stay at Magna IV to be brief, but 18 years later now, she has no plans to leave. In fact, she’s now co-owner of the growing print and marketing business. “I had been in public accounting as an auditor and I really was tired of traveling. I took a job as the accounting manager for Magna IV and I really thought this would be a stopover and I would go on and work for a private company like an Alltel or a Dillard’s,” she says. “But I really loved it here. I still love it.” She moved up to controller, then chief financial officer and then chief operations officer, joining her partner Kent Middleton in buying the business from his parents. “We do all types of printing, but what we really do well is help customers solve problems by centralizing and streamlining the procurement of their marketing needs,” Dannelley says. “The printing business is very technology-driven and is rapidly advancing so we’re constantly making investments to ensure we’re delivering the most value we can to our customers. Today, I may be researching new equipment to make us more efficient. Tomorrow, I may be meeting with one of our larger client accounts to develop a program that will help them reduce their marketing spend while increasing procurement efficiencies.” Magna IV has full-time programmers and the technological capability to build online marketing portals for clients, effectively creating “one-stop-shops” for businesses’ print and marketing needs. “Our marketing portals are extremely valuable, especially for those big businesses like Dave & Buster’s or Gold’s Gym with multiple locations. The general managers can go to these portals and order brochures, signage or t-shirts—really whatever they need. By ordering it all through one central location, they are able to ensure brand consistency,” Dannelley explains. “Their colors are consistent, their logos are consistent, the sizing is consistent… We are able to do that because we have such varied capabilities. There are very few
printers, even in the nation, that have the breadth of services Magna IV does.” Magna IV has served national clients like Gold’s Gym, Dave & Buster’s, ConAgra Foods and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, along with several well-known local companies such as Dillard’s, Staley Electric and Harding University. Dannelley also founded and oversees Magna IV’s gifts company, Incredibly Charming Paper and Gifts, which offers monogrammed and personalized items, as well as grab-and-go paper goods, foam cups, apparel, sorority lines, tumblers and more. When she’s not creating new product lines or addressing customer’s needs, Dannelley spends her time volunteering and spending time outdoors with her husband, Scott, and their sons, Connor, 10, and Cole, 8. Scott bought her a bow for her birthday a few years ago. “Honestly, I’m always going, from the time I get up in the morning until I get into bed at night,” she says. “So when I started bow hunting and I realized I could sit in a tree, just sit there for hours, it became something that I really look forward to.”
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MAUMELLE LAWYER NASH PROVIDES PRACTICAL AND EMPATHETIC ESTATE PLANNING
ave you given any thought to your own or a loved one’s long-term care and estate planning? It may be an uncomfortable question on the surface, but attorney and author Mary G. Nash of Nash Law in Maumelle makes it easy with her gentle and practical approach. “Estate planning is a major step in one’s life,”Nash says.“The quicker you get it done, it’s something off your mind.” Currently at work on her third book, Nash’s most recent publication is “Helping Hands Across Time: Keeping Family Money in the Family” (2014, Outskirts Press), the title of which nicely sums up the ethos that guides her legal practice. Elder and family law is all about protecting people and their assets as they pass through different phases of life. Nash knows that her clients are concerned with making sure their children are taken care of. “We want what we have accumulated to be our legacy to our children,” she says. Nash was raised in North Carolina by working-class parents who were instilled with strong work ethic by their own parents. To that legacy, her parents added the value of education, encouraging her to work hard in school. “You weren’t allowed to breathe until you had your homework done,” Nash laughingly remembers. Apparently it worked: Nash has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, her Juris Doctor, and a post-doctoral legal master’s in international finance from Georgetown University, for which she spent about nine months in the Czech Republic conducting research. This cross-generational accumulation is how we build our family legacies, Nash says. As a lawyer, she ensures those legacies are protected, putting legal jargon in practical terms and encouraging her clients to establish living trusts for the material elements (“emphasis on living,” she adds). Her goal for clients? Family unity. “We don’t want dissension in the family,” Nash says. Nash herself has a small family and is keenly aware of the importance of building
trusting networks. Her grandson (by the name of Nash) is an only child, so she makes sure the both of them have close bonds in the neighborhood. The younger Nash’s crew, or “band of brothers” as Mary calls them, are largely Latino kids whose own grandparents may still be in their home country. “So I have 13 grandkids who’ve adopted me,” she says. She is also followed everywhere she goes, including the Nash Law offices, by Bear, the miniature poodle she rescued a few years ago. As the frontispiece of her second book reads, “You can always tell the character of a person by the way they treat children, animals, and the elderly.” Nash’s empathetic nature means that sometimes her job working with aging clients and their families is tough emotionally. She’s present in some of the most difficult, personal moments of their lives – providing legal counsel, yes, but Nash also says, “Sometimes we truly are counselors.” Whether she’s fighting for veterans and proper treatment of elders or providing vital planning services at sensitive times, Mary Nash is unfailingly committed to her work. In her words: “This is absolutely the best part of the law that anybody can practice because I know when I leave home in the morning that I’m going to do something good for my clients today.”
GUTIERREZ DISPLAYS PLANNING APTITUDE WITH APTUS FINANCIAL
uring the financial crisis in 2008, Sarah Catherine Gutierrez noticed that people were suffering because they had taken on too much mortgage debt on the advice of lenders and real estate agents who had vested interests in their purchases. Financial planners weren’t the answer in all cases because most price their services as a percentage of their clients’money, but if people don’t have money to invest they can’t be clients, says Gutierrez, a Harvard University graduate. She started Aptus Financial in 2011 after meeting a longtime financial planner who had been giving financial advice for 20 years, charging by the hour and working out of her home, to help people save more and avoid spending traps that can come with home and car purchases. “When I saw what she was doing and lives she was changing, I realized that an hourly financial planning model could be a significant solution to help this group of people not served by most financial planners,” she says. “We charge for all advice by the hour, the way a lawyer or a CPA charges. It was highly experimental but I can attest to a pretty significant demand for hourly financial planning advice, particularly by young doctors and professionals. We are currently serving clients in 27 states.” In most cases, Aptus is helping people avoid financial pitfalls rather than helping them dig out of financial holes. “Knowing the statistics about high divorce rates caused by financial problems, people unable to retire on their own terms, or parents without a nest egg for their kids’ college education, I know that what we are doing is life-changing,” she says. “We are starting so early in people’s lives that there is still plenty of time to avoid emotionally charged financial mistakes and to better prepare for retirement and other long-term goals.” She learned the rigor of analyzing companies through detailed modeling and research while working at Stephens Inc., and applies the same rigor to clients’ data.
“Along with my business partners, we built our own models that we use for clients to find answers to lots of financial questions, large and small, such as how to allocate investments, how much money to put aside for college, how much house to buy, and the best way to prioritize their spending and charitable giving according to their personal values.” Aptus became a registered investment advisor last year, adding a partner who is a chartered financial analyst with a doctorate in finance so the company could offer investment advice to clients. But Aptus doesn’t sell insurance or profit from clients’investments and makes money strictly through client fees. “We are quite unique because we believe that people can do nearly everything related to investing on their own — they just need a little education and guidance,” she says. Gutierrez and her husband, Jorge, have three children under 3 1/2 years old. Her perspective as a mom – and as a woman – benefits her clients in myriad ways. “I think it makes me a good financial planner,” says Gutierrez. “My passion is for the household budget, and I think I speak that language well. Investing is certainly important as a discipline, but if there is no money saved to invest in the first place, then investment advice is pretty irrelevant.” WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
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HELMS NURSES EVER-GROWING EMMANUEL COVENANT WITH DOWN-TO-EARTH APPROACH
hen you visit Emmanuel Covenant Community Church in Jacksonville, you get a glimpse of Pastor Berlinda M. Helms’ vision in action. Not just a church, Emmanuel Covenent is a multifaceted outreach center as well as an Arkansas Better Chance preschool serving about 80 children, many of whose parents serve at the nearby air force base. “We started with eight kids,”Helms says to walk out the present.” with a laugh. Four imaginatively designed These days, Emmanuel Covenant classrooms, each with multiple activecomprises not only a tight-knit, thriving learning centers with rotating themes, congregation of about 100 and the and a loving, dedicated staff overseen by Learning Center for Children, but also Helms reveal her conviction that children Behold Him Ministries, a charitable and young people are integral to the future outreach program that fosters commuof the church and beyond. nity leadership. “My goal is not just to teach them “We’re able to know the kids and their reading, writing and arithmetic, because families, and meet other needs in the family,” at this age it’s mostly social and emotional. Helms says. “We’ve got to always keep our We help them to develop the skills that will eye on this community.” take them through the rest of their lives,” As each component grows, Helms says Helms, adding, “We’re into teaching finds herself, as always, in need of more our children history. I want to provoke space. In its current building since 2002, compassion in them.” the church has added on extra wings but is This down-to-earth, long-game approach still growing. Helms dreams of expanding is typical of Helms’lifelong the current grounds, commitment to service and building a new and larger growth. Before becoming three-story school and a “We’re able to know the kids a pastor, she spent more multipurpose sanctuary than 20 years as a regisfor the many large events. and their families, and meet Walking the grounds, tered nurse working in one notices a theme: the the hematology-oncology other needs in the family. color teal, everywhere clinic at Arkansas Children’s from the baseboards in the Hospital and as a nurse We’ve got to always keep our school to the fabric of the manager at St. Jude sanctuary’s seats. Early in Children’sResearchHospital eye on this community.” the church’s development, in Memphis. In 1996, after Helms was inexplicably living in Arkansas for about drawn to this color and only later met the five years, her ethic of service sharpened Alabama pastor Ron Teal, who ended up into a call toward ministry. being instrumental in the church’s growth. That’s when she started Emmanuel For Helms, teal “represents our obediCovenant, which grew so rapidly that soon she could no longer divide her time ence to God, stepping out on faith.” By between pastoring and nursing, so she honoring her roots in this way, Helms committed full time to ministry. hopes to build an ever-stronger future for “Where you start is not where you’re her congregation. going to end,” Helms says of her unex“You’ve always got to have an eye on who’s coming after you,” she says. “I’ve got pected path. “You know God’s already in to pass on what God has given me.” the future, and now he’s just allowing you
NEARLY DYING JUMP-STARTS ERMA JACKSON’S LIFE IN MINISTRY
he funny thing about death is that amazing things can happen if it doesn’t kill you. Erma Jackson, pastor of Faith in the Word Christian Center in El Dorado, crossed over for an hour after being bitten by a black widow spider. The only reason she wasn’t hauled to the morgue is because her mother wouldn’t let them move the 5-year-old an inch. “I left this world; then a bright light came through and a man’s voice told me to get up,” she said. “That’s how I knew that something was different about me.” In 2000, the Lord called again, telling her to teach his people, lead a church, to get up. She dropped everything to comply, but the exclusively male establishment around her wasn’t impressed. “I told of the vision that God had given me and they did not receive me,” she said. “All the men were against me. I have never seen so many mean people in all my life until I spoke out on God’s word.” Undeterred, she founded her own church, setting it up to serve all who were searching, but especially those who, like her, had been marginalized by the existing houses of worship. “When God started my ministry he told me I was going to be dealing with drug addicts, prostitutes, the people that nobody else wanted to deal with,”she said. “I’ve been able to connect with everybody the same because I’m a mother, first of all. You have the motherly love, and it spreads out to everybody.” The congregation started out with 12 members inspired by Jackson’s message of love and salvation. Congregants fed the hungry, clothed the naked and threw their doors open to one and all until membership grew to more than 100 and needed more room. In 2005 the ministry built a new home in El Dorado and began to win the
grudging respect of other pastors in town. “I guess they figured if they’d be mean they would shut me down, but what I realized is man didn’t call me, God did,” she said. “Even in the midst of adversity I still had to push. That’s what kept me going because I knew that man didn’t do it, God did it. I’m on this journey that you didn’t put me on, so you can’t take me off of it.” She speaks most passionately about women recognizing their role in ministry, a message of hard-won experience. “When God needs somebody for the forefront, he’s calling us to the forefront to lead his people,”she said.“He said with him, there’s not male, not female, not Greek, not Jew. That’s why I want everybody to know God is not about male or female. If God has put a calling for your life, just go with it even though you do have to go through some obstacles. “I didn’t have the knowledge to open up a ministry. I didn’t go to nobody’s ministry school, I didn’t go to nobody’s ministry class. All this came strictly from God. He took me step by step where I needed to go and what I needed to do with everybody he put in my path.” WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
LOCAL FARMER HAM CLEANS UP WITH LUXURY HANDMADE SOAPS
eet Jan Ham, the force of nature behind Owl Ridge Farm, a goat and cattle farm near Bee Branch that produces, among other things, luxury goat’s milk soaps, along with a whole lot of joy for everyone close to the farm. As Ham says, “It’s, like, the bomb.” Working a fully operational farm and soapmaking business is no walk in the park. As soon as the sun is up, she’s caring for her goats – milking, feeding, moving, doctoring and more – and if it’s kidding season, well, forget eating and sleeping. On a normal day, once outside chores are done, it’s straight to the soap room where Ham hustles to keep up with the growing demand for her soaps, sometimes making several hundred bars a day. It’s a full-time job and then some, but every day, Ham says, “I can’t wait for daylight!” Ham’s energy easily carried over from her more than 20 years in coaching basketball and golf in East Arkansas. After finding success in the athletic world, Ham and her husband, also a coach, were ready to move on to something else, which for them meant the opposite of literal “retirement.” They moved to Owl Ridge in 2006 and immediately became involved in niche farming projects – Ham’s husband, Rick, in beef cattle, and Ham herself, who had loved raising goats growing up in Greenbrier, in dairy goats. Her unwavering commitment to quality meant she invested in the very best genetic lines. Her Nubians come from the best stock and make some of the best milk in the world. And, with a keen interest in genetics and advice from a close friend, Ham has continued improving her lines, one of which she calls “the Beans.” The first goat she had shipped to Arkansas from California “got off the plane and looked just like a pinto bean, so that’s who she was: Beans.” From that first Beans came others, with names like Cocoa Bean, Vanilla Bean, Refried Beans and Cool Beans. Of course, Ham knows her 18 does (and 14
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several prize bucks) each by name. The problem with that many dairy goats is the influx of milk. When another friend suggested Ham try making it into soap, she began a more-than-yearlong science project, testing different blends of food-grade, from-the-earth products to create the perfect soap bar. She sold her first bars in her brother’s antique shop, Arkansas Peddlers Mall in Greenbrier, and quickly found her way into other stores. Having just gained LLC certification this past September, Owl Ridge Farm soaps are available in Gearhead Outfitters in Jonesboro, and Ham says she hopes to keep growing. With luxurious ingredients like cocoa and shea butter, top-quality goat’s milk, and fun scents and designs such as Berrylicious, Dragon’s Blood, and Mayan Gold, her products are in high demand. But Ham still finds time to share her farm and story with others. She frequently hosts soapmaking workshops and school visits, where kids get to see farming firsthand. With humility and gratitude toward her goats and those she terms “friends of the farm,” her helpers and advisers along the way, Ham loves that she can share the bounty of Owl Ridge with her customers through the quality of her soap. “I’m just a farmer, just plain old Jan,” she says, but the success of her product and the atmosphere of her farm say differently.
YOUNG BUILDS SOUTHWEST EAP THROUGH LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS
aggie Young, president of Southwest EAP, was destined to make a career out of resolving conflict. One look at her college transcript will tell you that. “I grew up in Arkansas, I have an undergraduate degree from Auburn University, and my master’s in social work is from Alabama, which makes me a bit of an oddity in the SEC,”the Pine Bluff native said. EAP stands for employee assistant program. Southwest EAP helps clients provide help to their workforce, including in the areas of employee counseling for wellness, marital or stress issues; work/ life services such as providing adoption assistance or wellness programs; management consultation on various workplace and employee issues; and critical incident debriefing, such as what might follow a workplace tragedy or downsizing. “Corporate EAPs are more critical now than ever because they positively impact employee productivity and reduce turnover costs,”said Young, 44.“I call it a maintenance contract on your employees. People call us when problems come up, and so you really never know what your day is going to look like. The phone rings or a client walks in and you just sort of take it from there. It really is such a varying job and it’s about working with people and solving problems.” As a benefit that many companies offer to their workforces to help employees connect with a wide range of resources in addressing personal, professional and work-life balance issues, the company plays right into the elements of business that Young loves most. “I love working with people,” she said. “I love the collaborative nature of that and I love problem-solving. I get to do that in such varying ways where one hour I’m working with a supervisor about an employee situation, then the next hour I’m on the phone with HR talking about a departmental problem, and the next hour I’m doing individual counseling.” Young’s father, Dick Dewoody, founded the firm and taught her how to serve clients
and their employees in times of need. She started at the very bottom doing general filing and worked her way through the ranks before taking over for her dad. Having been at the helm for 16 years, she stresses responsiveness and communication as keys to effective customer service. “I think one of the keys with EAPs is how to get connected and how to stay engaged with the company on multiple different levels,” she said. “In some ways it’s easier to do now. We have more ways to stay connected and more ways to reach people with information. But you also have to stay abreast of those and you have to make some decisions about what technology is going to be effective and be putting the right message in the right avenue.” Most of all, Young said, the company has grown to become one of the leaders in its field by thinking big but operating small. “One thing that is so wonderful about working here is we are not a large 1-800 number EAP,” she said. “We have a regional focus, and some of our clients or client companies have been with us for 30, 25, 20 years. And being able to build those long-term relationships is rewarding. “Our client profile hasn’t changed dramatically. You meet people where they are, you assess their needs, and if you do that, you can demonstrate your value.”
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ADVOCATE, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER REITH LEADING SOCIAL CHANGE
s a girl, Mireya Reith often felt like the only one of her kind, the daughter of immigrant parents in a bilingual household. “Growing up Mexican-American in the state at the time that I did, many times I felt like mine was the only Mexican family,” she said. She’s still one of a kind, but not because of her ethnic background. Reith continues to stand out as one of the nation’s leading voices for the very immigrant and minority population that is so personal to her and that continues to transform the state in so many ways. “The first two decades of immigrant growth (in Arkansas) were very much focused on getting services, or even understanding what the immigrant community was and why the growth was happening,” she said. “Where we saw a lot of our earliest attention was in our schools and the non-profits that emerged were very much service-delivery oriented. It was amazing timeliness when I came back because folks were finally starting to talk about leadership and civic engagement.” Reith earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from Williams College in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in International Affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She spent 14 years in the field of international political development, working across five continents with American nonprofit organizations and the United Nations to engage marginalized communities in democratic processes. Upon returning to her home state in 2010, she co-founded Arkansas United Community Coalition (AUCC) and today serves as its executive director. Under her leadership AUCC spearheaded development of a Latino youth civic association, launch of a Latino/Marshallese nonprofit leadership academy and directing Hispanic voter outreach in Arkansas for 2010 election campaigns. Surprisingly, she found getting the needs and issues of Hispanics in Arkansas pushed to the top of political and social
agendas wasn’t just challenging among the Anglo-dominated centers of power with the state, but also within the national discussion. Her persistence paid off with AUCC being represented on high profile boards and commissions focused on Hispanic issues, especially challenges facing immigrants. “I remember starting off it was ‘Don’t forget about us in Arkansas.’ It was fighting just to get a seat at the table,” she said. “We’ve been able to make enough noise and lift up our work that this year, we’ve been asked to sit on all three of the major organizational coalitions in the country and we’ve been asked to take on leadership roles as well.” Her energy and drive has helped her break new ground. In 2011, Reith became the first Latina appointed by the Governor to the Arkansas State Board of Education (2011) of which she is chairperson. Through that role, she was tapped in 2015 to head a select committee of the National Association of State Boards of Education studying career-based education initiatives. She has also been awarded the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock’s Hispanic Woman Champion Award (2014), the White House Cesar Chavez Champions of Change Award (2013), Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families’ Sister Joan Pytik Child Advocate of the Year (2013), and Arkansas Times’ 40 Most Influential Arkansans Award (2012).
HART’S WAR EXPERIENCE LEADS TO HELPING VETERANS IN NEED
icole Hart’s military deployment was a few years in her past when she found herself finally coping with the experience. The memories flooded back after she witnessed an accident and soon after, she was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder. When she began to recover, she started ARVets, a non-profit that takes a case management approach to address the myriad needs of other veterans. Hart, deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the 39th Army Infantry Brigade, was part of the Arkansas Army National Guard’s Headquarters Company Support Battalion, which lost the most soldiers in a single tour during Operation Iraqi Freedom. When she came home 2005, she campaigned for Gov. Mike Beebe, who in 2007 tapped her as military and veterans affairs advisor. She represented the governor’s office on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, charged with evaluating the state’s homeland security and oversaw 30 boards as a special liaison. “I hit the ground running,” she says. “I did what every other veteran does, which is avoid. I stayed really busy.” She served on the Arkansas Yellow Ribbon Task Force, which found major shortfalls in the care of the state’s veterans. ARVets opened in December 2011. “We are kind of like subject matter experts on all things veteran,” says Hart of the staff of ARVets. Her work is meant to spur understanding of the complex needs of people who have served. Sometimes, the needs are simple. One veteran she knows has divorced several times, likely because of trauma he suffered in the line of duty. “His life is in shambles,” she says. “What he needs most is a friend.” Hart encourages veterans to express vulnerability and get help so they can move forward. She understands how hard that can be. She grew up in poverty and joined the military while enrolled at Harding University in Searcy to support her younger siblings after their father died.
Her first day of basic training was Sept. 11, 2001. “I had an M16 before I even really knew what an M16 was,” she says. “They just told us in a very military way that our nation had been attacked, handed us guns and told us to stand at the gates and look mean. It wasn’t until after I got out that I realized the real impact that it had.” She tries to compensate for what she considers a failure – the moment she couldn’t continue holding the hand of a dying soldier – by caring for others. “I feel like that’s a moment I will be reliving and trying to make up for over and over again for the rest of my life,” says Hart. Her heart lurched as she knelt before a fallen soldier’s son. He hadn’t spoken since his father died but leaned on her shoulder as she thanked him for his family’s sacrifice. “That was the first emotion he had had. It’s those sacred moments where I think, ‘For them our work will never be done,’” she says. “We will continue to have these same kinds of issues until everybody in the nation who has benefited from what veterans have done can step into that light and kind of say, ‘I won’t just be just ceremonial and put a flag on my car. I’ll do something to help.’” WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
VESTAL’S VAST CAREER CARRIES HER TO TAXATION EXPERTISE ON MEDICAL CANNABIS
arah Anne Vestal’s background in business development, accounting and greenhouse growing has led to an unexpected career niche. Vestal is recognized nationally as an expert in the taxation of medical marijuana production. Vestal is also recognized as a national transgender activist. In December 2015, she attended a class reunion at Catholic High School for Boys, the school she graduated from 40 years earlier as Charles Vestal. She wrote about that experience in an essay that was published in the Arkansas Times. Vestal grew up in Little Rock in an entrepreneurial family, and started a business of her own – Seasons, a manufacturing and wholesale distribution company of candles, potpourri and soaps – shortly after graduating from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a bachelor of science in accounting in 1980. When it sold in 1990, it had 200 employees and $25 million in retail revenues, Vestal says. Next came American Optimum Products in Moscow, Russia, where she represented multinational companies like Tyson Foods, Avon, Maybelline and Proctor and Gamble in financing and setting up foreign corporations in Moscow. Then she started Transmedica International Inc., developing a company and raising money to market medical laser and drug delivery technology. In 2005, she startedVestal Greenhouse Inc. “I had sold the medical laser company and I was trying to decide what to do next,” she says.“I went to Wild Oats and asked for a BLT and the produce manager told me,‘There is no tomato that tastes good in January.’That became my newest challenge. I developed the first certified organic greenhouse in the country growing tomatoes for Whole Foods and Kroger.” Ten years ago, Vestal moved to San Francisco and became a revenue agent with the Internal Revenue Service. She was assigned to help cannabis growers in Marin, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, north of San Francisco stay in compliance with taxation laws. 16
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Marijuana, classified as a Schedule 1 drug, by the Drug Enforcement Administration, can be legally sold in 25 states and the District of Columbia, but federal tax laws prohibit producers from claiming deductions for general or administrative expenses like many other retailers do. “You can only deduct the cost of goods sold,”says Vestal, who has a master of science from Golden Gate University and a doctor of management in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix. Rent, utilities and staffing expenses are not deductible for cannabis farmers, making brick-and-mortar buildings impractical. In California, she explains, where marijuana was legalized 17 years ago, buyers often purchase medical marijuana from distributors’ online stores and have their products delivered shortly after by a separate company, much like they might order a pizza, to get around tax implications. Vestal returned to Arkansas five months ago, and consults with agents in other states where medical cannabis is legal, as well as with groups in Arkansas, where there are two issues regarding medical cannabis on the ballot in the November general election. “I am working with people, such as in the state of Arkansas if they do pass medical marijuana laws, to make sure that we are in compliance and collect all the tax money that is due us. That is my latest entrepreneurial venture, on behalf of the federal government,”she says.“I would much rather these guys know the laws up front instead of me cracking down on them in two years.”
XAYPRASITH-MAYS ZEROES IN ON SUCCESS FOR OTHERS
upha Xayprasith-Maysisbymost accounts brilliant in business. She likes wheeling and dealing, but what she loves is helping people be the best they can be. She went to work in Walmart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville when she was 20, and within a few years had risen through the ranks. “I had an opportunity to learn from the best in the industry how to negotiate multi-million dollar deals before I got to be 30 years old,” says Xayprasith-Mays. Xayprasith-Mays arrived in the United States with her mother and sisters when she was 7 years old, speaking three languages, none of them English. She learned English at school, but wasn’t allowed to speak it at home. “My mother didn’t want us to lose our language or our culture,” she says. “I understand it now but I hated it at the time.” At just 13 years old, she began buying fabric and making things and purchasing at sale prices multiple accessories and pieces of clothing in styles admired by her friends and selling those items for a steep profit. “I’m a retailer,” she concedes. She has held various corporate positions over the years and created her own businesses, too – Thai restaurants and I Love New York Fashions, which sells items to various boutiques across the country, and also Inclusion, a Little Rock-based bimonthly magazine associated with her consulting business. She hosted an Inclusion & Multicultural Youth Empowerment Summit last summer, bringing in speakers to address 700 youths information about professional attire, selfesteem, education and careers. She did that to give kids a leg up – that’s something she likes to do for grownups, too. “I always like to make people better,” she says. “I learned early on that everyone is important and sometimes it takes other people to really build up their self-esteem and know that they can do better. I tell people, ‘You can do better. You could be making triple this amount. Let me show you how.’”
Xayprasith-Mays gets calls and emails from people all over the world who have heard about her from other people who excelled after consulting with her. Her fees range from $5,000 to $12,000 per month. “Money is not the motivating factor because I charge based on the size of the services I have to provide for them,” she says. “People give me lotion, power bars, power drinks, barbecue sauce, coffee, from all over. It’s amazing because I don’t advertise what I do, outside of my magazine and my conferences.” She is working with scientists in Germany to bring out an organic, natural skincare line with one client, and she has partnered with people in technology, food, healthcare and more. She only takes about three new clients each year. She understands advertising, product development, sustainability, pricing and more, and she shares her knowledge with her clients and helps them connect with buyers, with the goal of raising their income. “You can’t be a jack of all trades. You say, ‘I’m just really great at one thing and I try to find ways that are better and better at it,’ and then you can go into other areas,” she says. “It’s a lot of work. I’m a minorityowned company – it’s Asian female-owned – and they recognize that I have a company that helps bring products to life, whether it be with Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Dollar General, Tyson Foods, whatever. Let’s just say I was the Shark Tank before Shark Tank became alive. I love what I do.”
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HELEN Scott and CINDY Scott-Huisman
GINTY GROWS UP TO HELP KIDS AT HOME IN THE DELTA
ess Heisler Ginty thought she might want to work in international relations on the other side of the world, but it turned out she found her calling much closer to home. Ginty is the president and chief executive officer of Kids for the Future, started by her family in the Arkansas Delta in 1997. Kids for the Future provides early intervention and therapeutic services for about 1,300 children and adolescents with developmental delays and emotional or behavioral issues. It employees 450 people with a payroll of about $15.5 million and has facilities in Forrest City, Helena, Marianna, Marion, Parkin, West Helena and Wynne. Ginty worked there when she was growing up. “I would spend summers working in treatment rooms, the kitchen and I even cleaned my fair share of bathrooms,”she says. She enjoyed it – “Anywhere there are children makes for a very sweet environment,” she says – but she had other plans for her life. She double-majored in international relations and European studies, intending to move to Europe and work for the European Union. “Then I woke up,” she quips. “Not a very realistic endeavor considering the visa issues, even back then.” She changed course and set out to pursue her master’s degree in international relations instead, applying to both Denver University and George Mason University. “I’ve always been politically interested so I shifted in the last 2 weeks and moved to Washington, D.C.,” she says. “I chose public policy, mainly due to the fact that I knew very little about the US since I spent many years on international relations.” She got a job as legislative correspondent and staff assistant to U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, after she graduated. She later became senior legislative advisor for U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright of Alabama. After eight years on Capitol Hill, though, she was ready for something new. “I knew I wanted a change of pace and to be able to really make a difference in people’s lives. As you can imagine, campaigns 18
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and politics can be hard for the soul,” says Ginty.“I always knew I loved what my family did for east Arkansas, but it wasn’t until 2010 that I felt I wanted to come back. So, beginning in January 2011, I began working at Kids for the Future full time.” In addition to the work she’s done at Kids for the Future, Ginty has also dedicated personal time and energy to efforts improving the health of people in the Arkansas Delta, including addressing societal issues like toxic stress that contributes to illness. Being a woman, she believes, has helped rather than hindered her in her career. “I feel that it gave me more of an appreciation of being a woman, a woman leader,”she says.“We, as women, have such a cool ability to multitask, empathize, while being strong leaders. Kids for the Future has just given me this pride of being a woman, pride of being a leader, pride of the work we do.” When she isn’t working, Ginty likes to travel, spend time with her husband, Steve, and read everything from political biographies to vampire novels. She always looks forward to getting back to Kids for the Future, though. “There is something incredibly rewarding about helping children learn to walk, talk, swallow – to meet the families on their level by addressing the needs not only of the child but of the family,” she says. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”
MOTHER-DAUGHTER DUO PAIRS ARTISTIC TALENTS AT CANTRELL GALLERY
tep into Cantrell Gallery and you feel like you’ve entered a different world, a world of slightly “finer” things: the maze of varied artwork, softly tinkling classical music in the background and, of course, the elegant and friendly presences of Helen Scott and Cindy Scott-Huisman, the mother/daughter duo that has, over the years, made Cantrell Gallery a home for artists and art-lovers alike. The art gallery, exhibit space and custom framing service got what Cindy terms its “tiny beginning” in 1970 under the name Art Fair. It was located on Seventh Street, known then as “Furniture Row,” and moved to its current location in midtown in 1976. Originally the brainchild of Helen’s husband, Norman, an artist himself, the gallery grew out of his and Helen’s personal collection. As a longtime music teacher, Helen says, “I knew nothing about being in business, so it was just a whole new beginning.” She kept teaching for about six years to “support the habit,” but eventually moved full time into the art world. Now she puts her impeccable taste to work as a framing designer, helping clients select and combine different components of the framing process according to their needs and price ranges. “What else could I be doing that I would love as much as this?” Helen asks. “We have beautiful music, we have beautiful art, we have wonderful people, and they let me design framing they’re going to take home with them. It’s a win-win-win.” Both women will tell you that framing is an art in itself, as is running the gallery, which requires them to be designers, mentors, curators, event coordinators and more. “It’s something different all the time,” says Helen, and Cindy adds, “You’re putting on a different hat, even throughout the day.” The gallery hosts six or seven exhibits during the year, coordinated by Cindy and involving numerous events as well as artist promotion. They’ve become increasingly interested in representing local artists. An expan-
sion in the space allowed them to grow this aspect of their business, and they now represent about 30 artists. Helen emphasizes a difference between simply showing someone’s art and representing them: “It’s more than just hanging their art on the walls.” This focus on personal relationships in business is nowhere more evident than in the bond between mother and daughter. “Cindy has been one of those children that every mother wishes they had,”Helen says. “She always was my good buddy.” Cindy and her sister grew up in the store, working and playing in both locations. “I have fond memories of playing on this back parking lot,” she says. Helen worried about adjusting when her daughter went to college at Hendrix, but it wasn’t as much of a shock as expected. “I was 20 minutes up the road,” Cindy says dismissively. After studying voice and theater, Cindy worked at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. Eventually she realized she wanted to move on from theater and, in need of something to fill the gap, she went back to work for her parents at Cantrell Gallery. “It was completely different than working here when I was growing up because all of a sudden they were treating me like an adult,” she says with a laugh. “So then that feeling of ownership just kicked right in and there was no turning back.” The family-centered Cantrell Gallery is the hub of work and play for Helen and Cindy, who love sharing art with their community. As Helen says, “The objective is to make someone happy every day.”
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TUCKER COMES HOME, BRINGING WORLD-CLASS FILM EXPERIENCE WITH HER
athryn Tucker is the poster child for the sentiment that you“can take the girl out of Arkansas but not Arkansas out of the girl.”Her career has taken her from New York to New Orleans to North Carolina to Los Angeles before finally coming home; but, as she would be the first to tell you, it’s the home part that matters. “My family is sixth- or seventhgeneration Arkansan on both sides,” she said. “My parents live nine blocks away, my brother lives across the street from my parents. I’m nine blocks away and they think I’m too far. “I was gone for 16 years and the last time I saw my grandmother, she asked me to move home. So, I moved home.” Life is slower than it was in L.A. but maybe not by as much as one would think. She’s produced or directed several film projects in Arkansas, and in getting ready for her latest, “Antiquities,” she’s attending to a platter full of details. Having done this for so many years, she takes it all in stride. “I thrive in chaos,”she said.“Oftentimes, I can remain calmer in chaos than I do in kind of a boring atmosphere.” The Little Rock Central High alum walked right off the graduation stage of the University of Pennsylvania in 2000 and beat a path to New York with an armload of resumes and a penchant for knocking on doors until people answered. Originally wanting to pursue celebrity photography, she was taken with filmmaking and soon found her way into set production, crisscrossing the nation to work on projects from indie films to mainstream hits like “Knocked Up” and television’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” In 2006 she hit the entertainment industry’s version of the lottery by being accepted into the coveted two-year Director’s Guild Trainee Program. “It’s a training program where they train you to be an assistant director, which is also kind of training to be a producer,” she said. “It’s all-encompassing and the only
functional training program in the industry.” Exposed to every element of production via television, movies and commercials via such gigs as “Gilmore Girls,” “Bones” and the movie “She’s Out of My League,” among others, Tucker gained a milliondollar education, of which she earned every single penny. “They haze you; it’s really tough,” she said. “For three months, I was wearing a walkie in both my ears. I had one unit in one ear and one unit in the other ear and I was managing both. I was working 20-hour days and I would have four to five hours off at night. I was lucky I lived through it.” By the time she returned to Arkansas, she was pleasantly surprised to find the burgeoning film community that had sprung up since her time away, with which she and her cinematographer husband, Gabe Mayhan, have fallen right into step. And, 13 months ago, the couple also welcomed another member to the family production company, baby Gabriel Tucker Mayhan, who they call Tucker. “I didn’t know after I had a baby if I would want to work, but I now know that I have to work. And I just don’t know what else to do except work on movies,”she said. “I’m addicted to it.”
CARTER CONNECTS UCA, COMMUNITY THROUGH ‘HEART WORK’
risty Carter’s job is to connect the University of Central Arkansas campus with the community through continuing education and lifelong learning programs. She does that and more. “Day in and day out, I create new ways to get the public to engage with the university,” says Carter, marketing director for UCA’s Division of Outreach and Community Engagement. “I am an education advocate – a true proponent of higher learning, which makes it easy to do what I do and I love it!” Carter’s mother always said she should get her education, something no one could take away. “So far, my mom has been right,” Carter says. “My desire for learning along with my work ethic has afforded me many opportunities that when growing up I never thought were possible.” After high school, she began working toward an associate’s degree at National Park College in Hot Springs. She loved the higher education environment and knew she wanted a career in administration on a college campus. She completed an undergraduate degree in business education at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, then taught while she worked on her master’s degree in higher education and student affairs at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She began working at UCA about 10 years ago. “I am very much a servant leader and the reason why I love working for UCA is because I have been able to do ‘heart work,’ which is the work that tugs at your heartstrings and feels good because you know at the end of the day you’ve done something to help somebody,”Carter says. She wrote a grant that helped fund a domestic violence workshop and activities during UCA’s second annual Evening of Honor in partnership with the Unseen Homeless Campaign of Conway. She has toured the state, taking into consideration both the strides made and the improvements needed, like in small rural towns. “During my visits to these towns, I saw
the dilapidated housing and poverty for myself, and I also saw the mayors of these small towns struggle to locate resources to address these issues,” she says. Carter worked with state legislators and state agencies to raise $35,000 to help mayors in small, under-resourced towns find money to build homes, fix infrastructure and develop community programs through a program she dubbed Technical Assistance for Mayors or TAM. Carter recently graduated from the Edward G. Coleman Leadership Institute through the STAND Foundation and she is a current student in the UCA PhD in Leadership Studies program. When she’s not trying to better the community and the state, Carter likes to spend time with friends and family and take Zumba classes with her daughter, Armani, a 19-year-old UCA sophomore majoring in nutrition and pre-med. Carter has sage advice for women who, like her, want to lead in their fields. “Roadblocks and barriers to success in higher education or any other field are inevitable for women; however, it really is about having a positive outlook on your future and just reimagining the roadblocks as building blocks to success,”says Carter.“I once heard Oprah Winfrey talk about never looking back at her competitors when she launched the Oprah Winfrey Show. And I truly believe that looking back and being overly concerned about your competitors can cause distractions along the road to success. So my advice to women is to run your own race and only look back when you cross the finish line.” WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
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WINSTEAD BRINGS GOLF TO UNDERSERVED POPULATIONS
ll you need to know about Full Swing Golf Academy — and the attitude of its founder, Nicole Winstead — is in the organization’s tagline. “Full Swing Golf Academy is a placed based youth golf program serving under-served and under-represented youth,”it reads. “It is where we make the greens colorful.” Winstead loves such sly humor even as she conducts the dead-serious business of opening up the game. Full Swing is her vehicle for that, the result of a stubborn insistence to “diversify golf, one swing at a time.” “I started playing when I was really little; when I was 4, my father introduced me to the game of golf in our living room and then started teaching me on our front lawn,” she said. Her early introduction to the game didn’t diminish her awareness that without resolute disruptors like her father, Dr. Arthur Winstead III — who began one of the country’s first minority golf organizations in 1968 in Palo Alto, Calif., which still exists today — the opportunity for a black female to set foot on many golf courses would have been severely limited. “As I got older, I began to examine golf a little bit closer and see that golf is not so quick to move towards inclusion,” she said. “I decided that had to change.” When her father died, she shaped his vision of educating and nurturing the minds of marginalized youth through the game of golf for a population the game continues to overlook. Driven by Dr. Winstead’s memory and a rather sizable chip on Nicole’s shoulder for the longstanding golf establishment, Full Swing started as an after-school program one day per week at Little Rock Preparatory Academy. She landed a grant to buy clubs for the 40 participants that showed up the first year, but as robust as 20
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the interest was, she soon realized it barely scratched the surface. “My end goal for any of this is just to push golf in a direction so that the door is wide open vs. cracked for minorities, the disabled and women,”she said.“I don’t want us to be an afterthought anymore; I want us to be a core thought just like men are. And my goal is to yell the loudest, scream the loudest, write the most controversial blog pieces I can, and let the kids have as much fun and expose them to as much as I possibly can.” Full Swing provides free equipment and instruction to a maximum 21 participants per session, ages 5 to 17. Winstead pays for things with grants, the occasional sponsor and giving paid golf lessons and turning the fees over to the program. Like the game itself, the going is often tough, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding, as she sees the passion for the game passed on. “The golf course has taught me to forgive both myself and others for mistakes made and choices taken and to push forward,”she said. “In golf, the next swing and stroke is an opportunity to learn from the last one and adjust, forgive and play on, just as it should be in life.”
OKOLLOH LAUNCHES UNIQUE BUSINESS, GIVES BACK TO ALMA MATER
hamim Okolloh isn’t the kind of person who is intimidated by new places. The native Kenyan left her homeland at age 19 to travel halfway around the world to attend Spelman College in Atlanta. But in summer of 2010, on a full-ride scholarship to the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock where she would earn her master’s degree, the pastoral surroundings threw her an unexpected curve. “It was very small. I came from Atlanta, which is obviously a bigger city that had more diversity,” she said. “In Nairobi, the city alone is 4 million people. I’m used to big, big cities.” While she grew accustomed to Little Rock’s open spaces and slower pace – particularly after her two children were born – the lack of a pronounced African community in Little Rock meant she had difficulty finding authentic items from her homeland, especially native clothing. When family members sent gifts for the family, or on visits home when she’d bring back some authentic dashiki and kitenge for herself or her children, people started to take notice. “People would see it, but they couldn’t find it in Little Rock,”she said.“There was that demand there, but no one was supplying it. That’s how I started.” Okolloh launched Mimi Mwafrika, a business that provides authentic clothing and accessories fashioned by African craftspeople. As demand increased, so has her network of Kenyan tailors supplying her online store on Etsy and the Little Rock retailer South Main Creative. “They’re made in Kenya and they’re handmade. It’s not a factory,” she said. “It’s a very small operation.” Okolloh donates a portion of sales to her alma mater high school, funding a scholarship to help make education possible for those who have difficulty meeting tuition and other costs. “When I was in high school, and it was an all-girls school, it was in a rural area and mostly lower income families,” she said. “A lot of my peers and friends would
be sent home for school fees and they’d miss classes. Some would come back in three days, some would come back in a week, and some would just never come back because their parents couldn’t afford it. And at that age, the alternatives are becoming a maid or being married off.” She’s furthered the effort to give back by forming Kaimosi Girls High School’s first alumni group to provide more assistance than she can do on her own. The group stages reunions every summer at the school and takes on various charitable works on behalf of current students there. It’s Okolloh’s way of paying back what a similar group did for her. “International students don’t qualify for federal aid or grants or student loans, and so when I was at Spelman, a private college, I had to get scholarships,” she said. “The biggest chunk of my undergraduate scholarships came from the SpelmanWomen National Alumni Association. “I remember thinking, I’m able to graduate because of women who went to Spelman who have never met me and probably will never meet me, who are giving money to the school just because they went here and had that loyalty. And I wanted to do that for the girls in my high school.”
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McCord PATIENCE PAYS OFF FOR ZUNI LEARNING TREE FOUNDER
ina McCord’s idea for the perfect company came 15 years ago, although at the time, the brainstorm didn’t give her a lot of specifics. “I just knew I wanted to create a business that was good for the world and that was good for people, but I had no idea what that was going to be,”she said. The concept incubated until four years ago, when she launched ZUNI Learning Tree, a content management platform benefiting teachers, parents and students. ZUNI allows educators and families to quickly and easily organize curriculum content, collaborate with peers and communicate with one another from any digital device. It also makes it easy to integrate emerging classroom technologies and stay abreast of near-continuous change in educational requirements at the federal, state and district level. “I like that we’re an advocate for teachers, and also the students and families,” she said. “When you’re in that role, you’re for everyone. Everybody works together for the higher good of education and finding ways to bridge the gaps between federal requirements, state requirements and the initiatives that just overwhelm everybody.” ZUNI was born through Tina’s years in the classroom and marketplace. Growing up in Vilonia with an entrepreneurial family, she dabbled in business ownership until her 30s, when she decided to go into teaching. Immediately smitten, she followed her passion for special education and administration to several ports of call. Relishing the assignments that provided the most challenge — she moved to Alaska in teaching and administration roles five times — she found success with students the system largely gave up on. “One of the things I liked most about being a special education coordinator was finding the tools and resources for the teachers in the trenches and how I could help them to be able to do the job they need to do with the students they care so much about,” she said.
Returning to Arkansas in 2006, McCord found a job working for an educational technology firm that trained teachers on using classroom technology tools, which further helped refine her vision for stepping out on her own. She found additional inspiration in an audio tape by Dr. Wayne Dyer entitled “The Power of Intention,” in which he urged, “Don’t ask how, say yes and the how will show up.” ZUNI quickly struck a chord with area school districts and has grown steadily to become available for more than 100,000 schools nationwide. And, after a period of recent refinement, the product is also poised to make a splash in schools internationally. “When a teacher walks up and tells me ZUNI gave her her life back or a parent tells me he received a raise at his new job because his son put him on ZUNI to learn Microsoft Office, this affirms what ZUNI is all about, improving life through education,” she said. “I wanted ZUNI to be something that had heart and that really brings joy to the lives of the people that it touches. I believe that we are all born with a love for learning. I wanted to inspire a love for lifelong learning beginning with our K-12 years. And ZUNI is doing all of that.”
FARRELL’S ADVENTURES ARE FULL OF LAUGHS
rkansas wasn’t even in the running when Vicki Farrell and her husband set out in search of a new adventure in 2011. It’s now home for them and their company, The Joint Theatre and Coffeehouse in Argenta. The Joint opened in 2012, seats 100 people and offers a full-service bar, snacks and a variety of entertainment, including a stand-up comedy night, an improv act, Grammy Award-winning musicians and variety artists and more. “Now in its fifth year,The Joint has become a clubhouse for a fan base numbering in the thousands, with a hardcore group called ‘Friends of Doc’who function as our fan club and our extended family,” she says. Farrell, whose father was a well-known stage director and actor in the St. Louis area where she grew up, majored in theater at Fontbonne University in Clayton, Mo. She was working summer stock as an actor on a Mississippi River showboat when she met her husband, Steve, and together they became founders of and original actors with the Comedy Workshop in Houston. In 1984, they started their own act, Radio Music Theatre, featuring their original material. They, along with a stage partner, Ken Polk, portrayed dozens of characters through lightning-fast costume changes. After two successful years, and 10 original full-length comedies, the act attracted the attention of Lorne Michaels, and in the 1986 season of“Saturday Night Live,”their comedy film short“Pango, Giant Dog ofTokyo”debuted, Vicki Farrell said.“It was later selected as one of SNL’s all-time best film shorts, becoming part of a national tour of museums, where the top films were screened.” The 200-seat Radio Music Theatre sold out four performances a week until the Farrells chose to close it in 2011 and strike out in search of a new family adventure. “We considered Santa Fe, Austin, San Diego, Nashville, Athens, Ga., plus many more, and stumbled upon Little Rock on a trip to Memphis. We liked the look, feel and size of Little Rock and we loved the friendly people,”she says.“When we met the people behind the rebirth of Argenta, we decided to become a part of the movement to create
an arts district and entertainment center. We knew it was a gamble, because the area was still just beginning to recover, but we believed in their vision so we decided to join them.” When the Farrells moved from Houston to central Arkansas in 2011, they brought with them Steve’s parents; their son and daughter-in-law, Adam and Sarah Farrell, who manage The Joint; their daughter and son-in-law, Erika and Ross Peters, who handle The Joint’s promotions and marketing; and two friends to run the technology side of things. Vicki Farrell is one of the three-member comedy company The Main Thing, which performs every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. “Although I take pride in my accomplishments as a business woman, I’m happy to be training my very capable daughter-in-law, Sarah, to gradually take over those responsibilities. My greatest love is performing and preparing for our original productions.” In addition to portraying multiple characters onstage each weekend, Vicki also is the drummer when the group performs their original music. “Plus, I enjoy creating the artwork and images used in our screen projections which frame the different segments in our shows,” she adds.“I also have fun building props and designing the look of each character with costumes, wigs, hats and glasses. And I love the many laughs we have in rehearsals for our shows, joking around with Steve and Brett Ihler, our third cast member, and our tech man, Kenneth Hill. It’s a fun group to work with, and we laugh every bit as hard as our audiences as we prepare our original comedies.” WOMEN ENTREPRENUERS 2016
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