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North Hills Monthly

Taking Care of Business: Women Entrepreneurs Find Success Despite the Odds

Apr 30, 2016 12:04PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Jess & Fran Jolly Potter–Una Biologicals

The numbers are daunting. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of small businesses fail within the first year and almost half fold within two years.

The outlook is even less promising for women. Among companies that do succeed, businesses owned by men generate over five times as much revenue ($9.5 trillion) as women-owned businesses ($1.6 trillion), according to Rebecca Harris, director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University. While 11.3 million women-owned businesses exist in the United States, 89 percent have no employees; they are sole proprietors, said Harris, citing the latest data provided in the newly released 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN. Seventy percent of women-owned businesses have annual receipts of less than $25,000. 

Four local women have beaten these odds. While their individual journeys differ, they each demonstrate passion for their chosen businesses, relentless work ethic, and an absolute refusal
to fail. 

Carrie Nardini co-founded I Made It! Market in 2007. With a full-time job doing marketing and fundraising, Nardini made jewelry in her spare time but had trouble finding outlets to sell her creations. Realizing that other artists and craftspeople had the same challenge, she and her colleague, Nina Marie Barbuto, decided to take action. I Made It! Market, which Nardini described as a “nomadic indie crafts marketplace that provides opportunities for artists to bring their wares to market” was born.

Getting the idea off the ground proved no small task. Nardini continued at her full-time job for the first three-and-a half years. “I was up until 2 a.m. every night and then working events all weekend,” Nardini explained. She became pregnant during that time as well and recalled chalking numbers for booth placement on the street five days before delivering her son. 

Nurturing a start-up business and a newborn at the same time required a lot of juggling. Nardini credits her husband’s support, her own toolkit of professional skills and having a supportive community behind her with making it possible for her to continue I Made It! Market’s positive momentum in those early stages. Since 2010, Nardini has focused full-time on I Made It! Market, but continues to put in long hours with the business. Her dedication has its rewards.

“As a child, I never would have thought this job would exist,” she said. “I get to work with creative people, I can get my hands dirty, and I’m involved in creative happenings. I feel incredibly lucky to have tailor-made the exact career that plays to my strengths and interests.”

Dr. Christina Teimouri, a podiatrist who is founder and owner of Beaver Valley Foot Clinic, demonstrated an early aptitude for entrepreneurship. At 13, Teimouri convinced her mother to sign up to be an Avon lady, and despite the official minimum age of 18, she and her sister took over the account and sold make-up door-to-door. 

After a stint working in retail management and then attending medical school, Teimouri opened the foot clinic. Her early success was predicated on a major financial risk. When she began practicing, surgery was the final option for treating heel spurs that did not respond to other forms of therapy. Teimouri learned about extracorporeal shock wave therapy (EWST), a non-surgical intervention, and borrowed and invested almost half a million dollars in an EWST machine, based on her belief that the procedure would save patients from painful surgery. When insurance companies eventually declined to cover the procedure, Teimouri was one of the few podiatrists who continued to offer it. Her risk paid off.

“I stayed with it,” said Teimouri, “and that has propelled Beaver Valley Foot Clinic into being the leader in heel pain treatment in western Pennsylvania.”

Teimouri subsequently opened Sound Medical Technologies, a medical device leasing company, Body Beautiful Laser Medi-Spa, and five other related companies. All are owned by Teimouri and managed by her similarly entrepreneurial siblings.

Although Teimouri has faced challenges along the way, her approach is optimistic. “It’s not an option to fail,” she explained. “You keep going until you succeed; you just haven’t found the right way to do it yet.”

Shari Geldrich started as a stylist in a hair salon and then had a full career in business before opening Isle of You (say it out loud) Hair Color Studio. After years of success as a corporate trainer, Geldrich faced two rounds of downsizing and decided to go back to school rather than relocate for a new position with her employer.

After earning a marketing degree, Geldrich fell back on her original occupation. She opened a small salon to generate income while figuring out what to do next, and something unexpected happened. “I fell in love with doing hair again,” she said. “I realized how much I had missed the interaction with the clients.” 

That salon proved just the beginning for Geldrich, who said taking steps to grow the business came intuitively. “The first big jumping off point was the move to a new studio. It doubled my overhead, and I hired new staff. Sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff,” she explained. 

Five years in, she has built a client base that draws from well outside her salon in Lawrenceville, and she recently secured space for a second location to open in the Village at Pine in Wexford.

“I work with these amazing young people who are so talented. We have created a culture of support and teamwork. I want this business to be a place where staff has the best experience and the best outcome for them personally,” explained Geldrich.

Because her own experiences in corporate America were not always idyllic, Geldrich appreciates the autonomy that comes with being the boss. “Being able to define the experience I want my customers to have and being able to maintain my integrity are important to me,” she said. 

“It’s not about why you can’t, but rather ‘How am I going to do it?’” she added. “Women tend to second guess themselves. We need to listen to the voice that says we can do it, the one that asks, ‘Why not me?’”

Jessica Graves founded Una Biologicals in 2007, after she realized that there was a gap in the availability of affordable organic skincare products. Graves had been making skincare items for friends and family in her kitchen in her spare time. 

“I decided to open a business right as the market crashed,” Graves said. Consequently, she built her business slowly, selling products at farmers’ markets and allowing her customer base to grow as word spread. 

Graves kept her full-time job while working two to three farmers’ markets per week and selling in the Strip District every Saturday. The day her husband said that Una Biologicals was taking over the house was a turning point, and the decision to rent space for production required a new level of commitment to the business.

Four years after incorporation, Graves took a calculated risk and quit her job in order to handle the growing demands of Una Biologicals. Bringing on part-time staff in 2013 was another pivotal decision. “There is a lot of adversity, and some scary days,” said Graves. “My day often starts at 5 a.m. and ends at midnight, and you have to be doing something you’re really passionate about to make that work.”

Graves’ products are now available in stores across the country and online. She opened her first retail boutique in Lawrenceville in November and
believes that success depends on hard work and self-confidence. “You have to know in your heart that you deserve success. For women, that’s not always a given,” she explained. Her faith in herself has paid off. 

“I get to live my passion,” said Graves. “That’s huge.”

Defying the odds, Nardini, Teimouri, Geldrich and Graves have developed thriving businesses. Why do these women succeed where countless men and women have not? Said Graves, “It’s a decision to keep smiling and keep hustling, no matter what.”