What Small Business Owners Know
Former winners of a small business competition share advice.
In honor of the occasion, we decided to check in with previous winners and finalists to see how things have changed and what advice they might have for this year’s winner and finalists.
‘I learned to be fearless’
2018 Rev-Up MKE winner Susie Roberts
Name of business: kalyANa Organics
Description of business: An organic and gluten-free kitchen producing baked goods and packaged mixes for sale in the Milwaukee area at Beans & Barley, Woodman’s (Menomonee Falls and Waukesha), Outpost Natural Foods (all locations) and online. (The name kalyANa is the Sanskrit word for well-being.)
How has life changed for you? I’m busier than I’ve ever been because of the exposure through Rev-Up MKE. (Also, she is sometimes recognized when out in public.)
What are you most proud of? I wasn’t afraid to take a chance. Looking at it, a lot of people would have said “you don’t have a chance of winning that” and … you have obstacles — age, experience, you’re going up against some really great companies. If I had stopped to listen … I wouldn’t even have entered. I’m also proud of being cool in the eyes of my grandkids.
What was your biggest “learning moment”? I learned to be fearless. Winning Rev-Up MKE is a selling point. Because I can say I won Rev-Up MKE, I can say, “Somebody believed in my company. You should believe in my company, too.”
What’s next for your business? We found a building on the Near West Side, and we’re working toward getting the building renovated. We hope to move in next spring. It would be a bakery, manufacturing facility and a small café.
‘I learned so much’
2018 Rev-Up MKE finalist Paula Hare
Name of business: Gearhead
Description of business: “The Gearhead brand is designed and founded by artist, creative director, New Yorker wannabe, concert-goer and troublemaker Paula Hare.”
How has life changed for you? I appreciate Rev-Up MKE for making me set actual goals for my business.
What was your biggest “learning moment”? I learned so much about setting a foundation for your business through the competition. My business has gotten so much better since I participated.
What’s next for your business? Since the competition, Hare has a new brand called Finn and Luca. Despite her success, her problems are still the same: She is still operating from inside her home. Hare plans, with the help of funders she met during Rev-Up MKE, to move into a new space.
What advice do you have for this year’s group? Have a solid plan of growth and be committed to your business.
‘We’re trying to hire within the neighborhood’
2017 Rev-Up MKE winner Lisa McKay
Name of business: Lisa Kaye Catering
Description of business: Catering for corporate and private social events, including weddings
How has life changed for you? Since winning Rev-Up MKE, McKay said her business has grown. One of her goals was to increase her corporate business, which she has succeeded at doing. “We have picked up consistent business from Marquette University, Aurora, Potawatomi and the YMCA, and they have referred other companies to us,” McKay said, adding that her profit margin has increased by about 20 percent.
What are you most proud of? “I am most proud of the space that was offered to us by Potawatomi,” McKay said, referring to the large remodeled commercial kitchen on the Near West Side Wgema Campus, where she moved her business.
What was your biggest “learning moment”? “Nothing has been a big challenge yet. We are working to grow our employees. We’re trying to hire within the neighborhood so our employees can walk to work,” said McKay, who has four full-time and two part-time employees. She’s looking to hire at least one more full-time worker and two part-time employees.
What’s next for your business? “Getting more employees so we can do more catering.” Another goal is to grow the nonprofit arm of her business, which operates a one-week culinary summer camp for youths. McKay wants to add a six-week after-school and weekend training program to prepare high school students for restaurant jobs.
What advice do you have for this year’s group? Take advantage of the opportunity for ongoing training that they make available.
Parting thoughts: “Preparing for the competition will make you do a lot of things in business that you probably should have already done and haven’t. It made me do a lot more in business than I was doing and I’m really grateful.”
‘Know your business’
2016 Rev-Up MKE winner Pete Cooney
Name of business: Pete’s Pops
Description of business: “We always say we sell interesting ice pops.”
How has life changed for you? In the summer of 2016, Pete Cooney decided to apply to Rev-Up MKE. At the time, Cooney viewed Pete’s Pop as a side hustle, given that he worked full time as an accountant. He ended up winning, and two years later, he opened the storefront located at 3809 W. Vliet St.
What was your biggest “learning moment”? Cooney said the competition brought attention to his business, but building the storefront created more awareness and community.
What’s next for your business? This year, Pete’s Pops will begin to wind down its season in October after starting in May. Cooney said Pete’s Pops plans to focus on expanding to Madison and St. Louis.
What are you most proud of? “I’m most proud of having our own space,” Cooney said, adding that there’s a sense of mutual support in the community with the added benefit of having regulars.
What advice do you have for this year’s group? Have fun with the competition and embrace the opportunity. “Know your business,” he said. “And don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
‘It took a long time to jump off the deep end’
2017 Rev-Up MKE finalist Annalies Tilley-Grantz
Name of business: Hands in Harmony Piano Studio
Description of business: Our main mission is for students in Milwaukee to have access to quality one-on-one piano lessons.
How has life changed for you? Life got really fast really quickly! It basically felt like we were cruising at 30 mph and we sped up to 70 mph. We were granted the MPS Partnership for Arts and Humanities, which allowed students financial help for transportation and helped us place instruments in more schools and homes. In October 2018, we moved into our studio.
What are you most proud of? That I took the risk and I did it! I probably spent three years on the fence about opening my studio. It took a long time to jump off the deep end.
What was your biggest “learning moment”? As a business owner, it was hire carefully. You have to be able to look at problems or challenges that arise creatively. When you are running a business you are wearing every possible hat all at once … And that’s where having a solid core team was important because I couldn’t do it all myself.
What’s next for your business? We are working on putting more infrastructure in to continue meeting the needs of our families, finding teachers who want to work in an urban setting and sustaining a diverse staff, for the diverse community of kids we are working with.
What advice do you have for this year’s group? You have to be able to look at problems or challenges that arise creatively.
‘Run with the opportunity’
2017 Rev-Up MKE finalist Latrece Nelson
Name of business: House of Weaving, 5007 N. Fond du Lac Ave. (Since Rev-Up, Nelson opened two other saloons: Shampoo’ed, located in the Sherman Phoenix, 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave., and Prenasis Hair Gallery, 8229 W. Brown Deer Rd.)
Description of business: Three black-owned, wellness-driven salons that specialize in hair services.
How has life changed for you? The entire pitch got me out of my shell. I had never done that before. It inspired me to go even harder in my business endeavors. Now I am the owner and master stylist of my three salons.
What are you most proud of? The fact that I am growing other stylists and other entrepreneurs through our training program.
What was your biggest “learning moment”? Managing more than one project at a time was mentally, physically, spiritually and financially exhausting. I had to lean on others for help, and I have never done that before.
What’s next for your business? We recently started our stylist training program. I take two days out of the week to teach speed, quality and customer service to train the next generation of future stylists and entrepreneurs. Another goal is to buy a building to put all three salons under the same roof.
What advice do you have for this year’s group? I think the biggest thing for me was the help and assistance from Rev-Up, and sometimes you need somebody at home that’s telling you they believe in you, too. For me, that’s my husband. To have that support system not just with Rev-Up but outside of it that can hold you accountable.
More advice: If you have the opportunity, you have to run with the opportunity. It’s like, what’s stopping you from pushing yourself? Whether or not you win should be the least of your concerns. You already did by being there.
‘The best nonprofit works themselves out of the job’
2016 Rev-Up MKE finalist Travis Blomberg
Name of business: Wastecap Resource Solutions
Description of business: Our mission is to provide waste reduction and recycling assistance to the benefit of business and the environment. We’re trying to teach all the other businesses how to property reduce their waste streams, recycle and divert more material from the landfill.
Parting quote: “The best nonprofit works themselves out of the job, so we’re working toward that.”
‘I am in charge of my destiny’
2016 Rev-Up MKE finalist Angela Moragne
Name of business: That Salsa Lady
Description of business: We’re the only black- and woman- owned gourmet salsa company in the country. We’re entering our 10th year. We grow most of our ingredients at our farm, Hood Ranch. We don’t add sugars or preservatives. Everything is always fresh. We’re vegan, vegetarian and gluten free.
How has life changed for you? We’ve taken on a lot more business. We’re in a peak new location on King and North. We’re at food stores, special events and farmers markets.
What was your biggest “learning moment”? I didn’t realize just how much we’d connect with people. The thing I’ve learned is it’s hard to find your home, harder than I thought it’d be.
What’s next for your business? Our goal is to find a standalone location for ourselves. We want to offer, not only our salsa, but feature other local food entrepreneurs as well.
Parting quote: “I am the boss. I make decisions for me and nobody else. I can be as creative and destructive as I like—hopefully more creative than destructive. I am in charge of my destiny.”
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.