Moms Moved by a Mission

Beyond money, winners in StartupNation’s 2009 Leading Moms in Business competition want to make a difference first and foremost.
Latest posts by Rich Sloan (see all)

Most businesses want to make money, but winning moms in StartupNation’s 2009 Leading Moms in Business competition want to make a difference first and foremost.

If you look at the characteristics of an entrepreneur, one thing’s for sure: Entrepreneurs are risk-takers. Their nature to venture against the current is what drives them to do all they do and why small business remains the backbone of our economy. Their go-getter attitude plays a significant part in their careers and how they make everyday decisions compared with your Average Joe or Jane in corporate America.

Where entrepreneurs differ from individual to individual, is when you compare the nature of female and male entrepreneurs. “If we think back to evolutionary psychology, men are wired to be the ‘hunters,’ while females are the ‘gatherers’,” explains Colleen Long, a psychologist with an emphasis in entrepreneurship. “This often translates into men being more impulsive and aggressive as entrepreneurs, while women are more likely to mull over decisions, ask for help and consult with others before making an entrepreneurial leap.”

And when you throw motherhood and fatherhood into the mix, you get an even greater distinction in breed of entrepreneur. In StartupNation’s competition, the Top 200 Winners consistently exemplified not only the female “gatherer” qualities, but also the nurturing qualities of mothers. Mom entrepreneurs, it became clear to us, tend to be more “other-focused” in their business practices, engaging in behaviors they know will make the world a better place and promote their genetic offspring. “It gives these moms a sense that their work is going to make a difference for generations to come vs. just bringing home a paycheck,” Long says.

Lending a Hand

Bringing home a paycheck was the last thing Margaret Light was looking to do when she created her first TwiddleMuff, a plush toy that promotes increased flexibility and brain stimulation in individuals with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. At the time, her 90-year-old grandmother was living in a nursing home with diminishing vision and little to do. So Light merely wanted to send her something that would improve her quality of life. But not only did Grandma Lily love it, the tactile toy impressed others, too. Light’s sister encouraged her to make more, but she was working a full-time job at the time.

Nearly 10 years later, she found herself with a severance package from her employer and free time on her hands. “I thought, ‘Now what do I want to do with myself?’” recalls Light, 49. “Maybe now’s the time to take the TwiddleMuff to others who’d appreciate it.”

So, in 2006, she began investing different fabrics and styles, conducted focus groups for input, tested out several manufacturers and applied for a patent. She named the Naperville, Illinois, company after her grandmother, Beaulily, ranked No. 50 in the 2009 Leading Moms in Business competition, and created three more TwiddleMuff models. She then proceeded to quickly ink deals with various hospitals and nursing homes. Consistent with moms who live by a do-gooder mission, she’s also been pursuing the Alzheimer’s Association in the hopes of forming a partnership where she’ll donate a percentage of Beaulily’s profits.

A Cut Above

Charlene Blacer, founder of The Secret Mane (ranked No. 13), also hopes to partner up with charitable organizations as part of her desire to make a difference. Three-year-old The Secret Mane is a specialty salon in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, that caters to sufferers of various types of hair loss, 90 percent of whom suffer from a hair-pulling disorder called Trichotillomania. To help build awareness and assist financially disadvantaged “trich” sufferers get necessary hair treatments, she formed She envisions the nonprofit partnering with qualified salons across the country, giving suffers access to more treatment centers and hosting events for the cause. “My dream is for trich to come out of the closet and to create awareness about the condition,” says Blacer, 37. “[Picture] what the breast cancer community is doing for cancer.”

Hairpieces and extensions have been an interest of Blacer’s since she was a teenager, and despite being a nursing student at the time, she spent many of her Saturdays working part time at a hair salon. That exposure inspired her to leave college and attend beauty school, and after graduating, she rented out her own private space to specialize in hair extensions. In 2004, she met her first trich client, who she first fitted with a hairpiece and then added extensions. The solution worked for the client, and “a bubbly, more confident personality emerged,” says Blacer with pride. “This rare bliss is what we as ‘regular’ women take for granted in our everyday lives. After that, I became inspired to help more people like her.”

A year later Blacer was granted membership at the Trichotillomania Learning Center and one of its participating salons, and very quickly her trich clientele grew more than 50 percent, exceeding her hair extension client base. “When more and more reactions, feedback, testimonials, suggestions and tears of joy kept pouring in, I became driven to help bring more joy to the world and feel rewarded at the same time,” she says. “I want to take this international and change millions of lives worldwide.”

More Mission Means More Success

Money, sure – it’s a big part of running a successful business. But “mission” reigns supreme among the leading moms in business, we’ve concluded. Maybe that’s why they’re so successful. We’ve always argued—and observed—that the more passion you pack into your entrepreneurial endeavors, the more likely you are to succeed. The meaningfulness of the work helps you be creative, resourceful, resilient in tough times, and contagious among employees, financiers, strategic partners and certainly customers. If nothing else, these driven moms in business are leaving the world a better place.

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