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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of columns about startups participating in UpStart, a free entrepreneurship program for women and people of color supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF.
On a trip to Nashville in 2017, Kate Fletcher Heaney was looking for a place to eat. She’d been trying to make a more conscious effort to support women-owned businesses and couldn’t find any resources to help with her search.
Pretty soon she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“I woke up one night, literally out of the blue, with DirectHERy in my mind and that’s when I decided I had to try it,” she says.
So she reached out to people she knows in the startup community, including a friend who helped her do some research to find out if anyone else was publishing any kind of directory of women-owned businesses. There wasn’t anything comparable to what she had in mind, and her friend encouraged her to pursue it.
“He said, ‘You know, it’s my job to tell people “no,” but I think this is a really good idea,’ ” Heaney recalls.
A stay-at-home mom, she said she felt the time was right to explore the opportunity as her kids got older.
“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, be my own boss and have the freedom to still be there for my kids when they need me,” says Heaney, who began her career in event production for ESPN and has explored other small business concepts.
Heaney also knew she didn’t want to do it alone, so she reached out to a fellow stay-at-home mom, Melanie Bean Galle, whose pre-mom career was in media and marketing for NBC News, the TODAY show and MSNBC.
“We both have three kids, we understand ebbs and flows of family and work, so here we are,” says Galle.
DirectHERy, which has a platform built by another woman-owned company, Cricket Designs, launched in August 2018 as a free online marketplace for consumers to find and support women-owned businesses and for those business owners to find and support each other. The revenue model is membership. For $25 a month, businesses create custom profiles to promote their product. Consumers can search by business type and ZIP code.
Heaney and Galle are refreshingly real about the way they intend to grow their business: slow and steady.
“I don’t want to be the person that’s up until 3 in the morning working on a startup,” says Heaney. “That’s not a good work-life balance for me. It doesn’t make me the best mom I can be.”
Heaney and Galle recently completed UpStart, a 10-week entrepreneurial education program for women and people of color supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF.
The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison runs the curriculum. SBDC Director Michelle Somes-Booher teaches several units, including The Business Model Canvas, a visual tool for participants to sketch out the building blocks of their business concepts, including value propositions, customer segments and revenue streams.
Known and respected for her supportive but blunt reality checks of business models, Somes-Booher has worked with hundreds of businesses of all shapes and sizes at various stages of growth, from ideation to scaling to the next level.
“We ask people this a lot: ‘What is it that you want out of this business?’” she says. “There’s no wrong way to do entrepreneurship. It’s about the business model you’re creating.”
While Somes-Booher says Heaney and Galle’s choice to grow the business while fostering a healthy life-work balance environment may be different from other startups, there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.
“They are going to go at a different pace,” she says. “Is different wrong? No. Different is different. They have to understand the challenges in front of them and also to appreciate the wins they get.”
Brennan Nardi, former editor of Madison Magazine, has been writing and editing in the Madison area for more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.