Alverno entrepreneurs

How to: Bring Ideas to Life

Is it any surprise that where some may see a problem, enterprising Alverno graduates see an opportunity? Meet some of our alum entrepreneurs, who share what they’ve learned on their startup journeys.

Amy Pietsch ’97, Fox Valley Technical College Venture Center

Amy’s story: As the founding director of the Fox Valley Technical College’s Venture Center in Appleton, Wis., Amy has overseen the training of more than 2,000 entrepreneurs. She’s helped launch or expand more than 450 businesses in northeastern Wisconsin (and counting).

Amy’s advice: “Welcome useful critical feedback. It can be crushing to be told that you’re not ready or there are gaps in your business model that you have to shore up. Surround yourself with service providers and people in the ecosystem who can help you use that feedback to improve and get to the next step.”

Erica Flores ’05, Healing Harmonies LLC

Erica’s story: Erica didn’t plan on being a boss, let alone a business owner. But the board-certified music therapist saw a need to educate the community about what music therapy is and the positive impact it can have, so she founded Healing Harmonies LLC. Erica now leads a team of four board-certified music therapists who serve clients throughout southeast Wisconsin, including children and adults with development disabilities as well as people experiencing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Healing Harmonies also provides adapted piano, guitar and voice lessons.

Erica’s advice: “Be patient and have grace with yourself. Everything is changing, every single day. You have to be flexible, creative and resourceful. You may not be successful immediately, but just know that if you truly believe in what you’re doing, it will eventually lead to success.”

Kenya Hagans ’12, Families First Childcare

Kenya’s story: Kenya kept her full-time job in the corporate world when she started Families First Childcare out of her home. She did both for a year before deciding to focus on the daycare. She’s proud to not only financially support her family (including a daughter who began her Alverno education this fall) but to also employ nieces and nephews to help fund their college educations.

Kenya’s advice: “Know that it’s going to take some patience, persistence and support. Find a mentor by networking in your industry, attending events and tapping into your personal networks of family, friends and coworkers. Network until you find the right fit.”

Mara Pylypiv ’06, Bread Basket Farm LLC

Mara’s story: Food allergies and intolerances have come hand-in-hand with chronic pain and illness for Mara. As she adapted her diet, her husband began exploring his farming roots. The birth of their son, Micah, heightened their need for fresh and organic food. Last year, the couple purchased the perfect land to start Bread Basket Farm LLC, which grows tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, basil and other vegetables and herbs. They’re now working toward organic certification.

Mara’s advice: “Appreciate advice. Wisdom comes through trials, battles, hardships and mistakes. It does not come from consistently winning. In order to win, you’ll want to take the trialed advice from someone who has fought their way to success.”

Amanda Santoro ’97, Little Food Company

Amanda’s story: Amanda prided herself on serving her children homemade baby food. But when her fourth child was born, the working mom (she’s a registered nurse) sought to simplify her life. She figured that growing demand for organic foods would make it easy to find what she’d want to buy. It wasn’t the case. So she started Little Food Company to sell baby food made from locally sourced, organic produce.

Amanda’s advice: “It can’t all be about the money, because it costs 10 times more than you expect, and it takes 10 times longer. It has to be something that’s true to your passion and the core of who you are in order to sustain you through the inherent challenges of launching a new startup business.”

Click here to read more about Amanda’s story.


This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of Alverno Magazine.

ARE YOU: A master networker? A super volunteer? A seasoned traveler? Share your expertise — on any subject — with us by emailing magazine@alverno.edu. You could be featured in our next issue! 

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