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Kids and startups: nothing a mom can't handle

For this Mother's Day, I interviewed five momtrepreneurs

Entrepreneur interview by Ronny Kerr
May 8, 2011 | Comments
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/1a23

Happy Mother’s Day!

At Vator, we like to highlight the awesomeness of entrepreneurs, those fascinating and unique human beings that have devoted their lives to an idea and business, no matter the adversity. You might have never thought about it, but entrepreneurs have a lot in common with moms, those ultra-fascinating and unique human beings that devote their entire lives to their children. For Mother’s Day, I decided to interview a few of those even rarer individuals that find themselves at the cross-section of moms and entrepreneurs, or “momtrepreneurs.”

Christina Grushkin

Her startup: After nearly a decade of hectic work in advertising, marketing and sales in California, Christina Grushkin moved her family to Texas, where she became a stay-at-home mom. Sort of. She also founded The Ladybug and Bean, a one-woman shop for handmade infant blankets and gift sets. Besides all the products advertised in the online store, including multifunctional crib blankets, no-scratch infant mittens and burp cloths, Grushkin also accepts specially-customized orders.

Her family: Grushkin’s company is actually named after her two daughters, Etta (Bean, 2) and Adelaide (Ladybug, eight months). In the photo, they’re laying with mom on a Glamorous Criblanket from The Ladybug and Bean.

Being a momtrepreneur: “It’s a 24-hour job. When the kids go to bed at 9pm, I start working until 3am.” (!) When I asked her if she ever sleeps, she says she gets it when she can, like when the kids are napping. Unfortunately, they don’t always nap at the same time.

Despite being at home most of the time taking care of her two little girls, Grushkin understands the power of social media in making business connections over the Web. The Ladybug and Bean has a healthy presence on its own blog, on Facebook and on Twitter, each with its own unique voice.

Mother’s Day plans: “Weekends are my workdays,” said Grushkin, echoing the sentiment of many an entrepreneur. That said, the family will be going out to eat at a Benihana-style restaurant, where the children are sure to be wowed by flying food and knives.

Cindy Engstrom

Her startup: With Oprah’s viewership in decline (the show ends this year) and soap operas going off the air, the media world for adult women is experiencing a sea change. Unsurprisingly, many more women are going online. That’s why CEO Cindy Engstrom designed Is That Odd, which, in conjunction with SIRCLE Advertising, aims to be a key sample platform on the Internet. The platform, which just launched in January, gives brands the ability to hyper-target users, send them tester products and reward them for reviews with coupons. To start earning rewards, users must share stories on Is That Odd.

Her family: The man Engstrom married was originally the CEO of a startup (and one of the original developers of DirectX!), so she calls her family a “tech love story.” The two have two daughters, Stephie (6) and Bridget (3).

Being a momtrepreneur: “It takes a village.” Originally an African proverb and later the title of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s 1996 bestseller, the phrase has taken on very real meaning for Engstrom, who says she couldn’t do everything she does without the help of her nanny, Holly, teachers at school, and many more. “I'm like a lot of other moms. I'm not good at multitasking, I'm good at fast transitions. I can't change a diaper and participate in a conference call,” she says, but she is razor-focused on whatever task she needs to attend to at the moment.

Since having kids, Engstrom says she “really [tries] to communicate better and be a little more patient. I think very highly of my children, so I’d hate to damage their curiosity or how they conduct themselves. Curiosity is a beautiful thing at all ages.” Even for employees at a startup blazing new ground.

Mother’s Day plans: “Next weekend, I get to go to the spa. This weekend, I just want to hang out with my kids.”

Kasha Ritter

Her startup: A designer and artist for several years, Kasha Ritter’s latest creation is Yoga Mat Made, producer of handbags born out of love for yoga, art and the little messes we make in life. But these aren’t your typical handbags. It’s probably best if I let Ritter explain:

“When I realized that the yoga mat was able to take what I could throw at it, messes and all, it hit me that this would be the perfect platform to change the world. Just as the iPhone or Facebook has changed how we communicate, Yoga Mat Made will change the way we interact with our surroundings.

How incredible to know that what you carry can absorb, repel, protect and float when need be, with all that life may put in your path. No longer are you on edge, wondering what if it rains or I better not drop this in mud, or whoops, I think I just backed over my purse. (I did this). These bags (and other products) bounce back, remind us to bend with what is and show us how things can roll right off without a struggle.  We don't need to fear life, whoopsie's, what-if's, or the weather. We can now flow with life. (Can YOU feel that, ahhhhhh?) They are even machine washable too.

Om. Yeah!”

Her family: The only one I interviewed, Ritter is mother to three: Zachary (21), Hannah (18) and Molly (16).

Being a momtrepreneur: Whether you’re a mom or owner of a small business, Ritter said, “you’re taking something that’s a part of you--your idea, your child--and you’re nurturing it, guiding it and helping it grow. You try so hard and they end up doing their own thing.

“I literally pour my heart and soul and time and energy into it, I have good intentions, and I’m honest and genuine to the purest and best of my ability and still… I find myself on my knees crying and screaming.” Is she talking about raising children or running a business?

Mother’s Day plans: “Cleaning Zack’s room because Bill brings him home from Purdue on Sunday. Then a family movie, which if I have my say will the the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. And possibly my FAV meal of all time: sushi.”

Mimi Chen

Her startup: Cognitive Code Corporation is developing artificial intelligence capable of conversational speaking, or “the stuff of science fiction,” says Mimi Chen, the company’s co-founder and president. SILVIA (all AI require human names) has a boundless number of use cases but here’s just one: instead of calling the bank and speaking your way through a maze of a tree-base system, you could just say what you need, just as you would normally say it, right from the beginning.

Her family: Like Cognitive Code, Chen says her two daughters, aged 13 and 16, are a 24/7 operation. “The only difference is that they talk back.” We both had a laugh once we realized that SILVIA talks back too.

Being a momtrepreneur: Chen, who works from both her office in Los Angeles and from home, says she definitely sees the similarities between managing a family and a business. “When I see arguments between co-workers, it crosses my mind that somebody didn’t have enough to eat or sleep, which is most often the case,” she explained.

Plus, kids give you a new, more profound perspective on the future: “Children really expand your outlook. As startups, we all want to make vast amounts of money, but we also start to think about social enterprise,” which is why Chen hopes to see SILVIA being used in medical devices or even as a personal companion.

Mother’s Day plans: “I’d like to get some sleep.”

Ana Abraham

Her startup: Mini Cities, which CEO Ana Abraham founded in 2006, helps people find local businesses in their neighborhoods. In her own words:

“Mini Cities is all about strengthening communities and creating areas where people feel connected to their local businesses and their neighbors. Our franchisees are called Community Connectors, and they personify that title. Mini Cities franchisees are the hub of their communities – we all share a common belief. We believe in local communities, we believe in local business”

Originally started in Tampa Bay, Fla. and Atlanta, Ga., Mini Cities has begun expanding to several more locations, including Miami and Orlanda in Florida, Seattle in Washington, and South Jersey.

Her family: Abraham is mother to two boys, Jack (9) and Max (6).

Being a momtrepreneur: Abraham works from home with her co-founder (and husband) Steve Abraham, CTO of Mini Cities. “We’ve always worked together,” she says.

Though I had made plans to talk with all the momtrepreneurs over the phone, Abraham went ahead and messaged me a bunch of information about herself and Mini Cities to help me write the article. When I told her she wasn’t the only one to do so, she confessed that “moms are like that. We try to make everybody’s lives as easy as possible.”

Mother’s Day plans: Abraham tells me she’ll be “taking the day off.”

On that note, I’m going to go spend some time with my own mom. Hope you enjoyed reading!


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