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“Ah-ha” Moments: The Inspiration Behind Starting a Business

Many business owners can think of a single moment that drove them to entrepreneurship. We have nine stories to surprise and inspire you.

Becoming an entrepreneur is a big leap. How do you find the courage to take the plunge? What drives someone to launch a business? We surveyed female entrepreneurs to get their answers. Some wanted to fill a market need. Others felt determination after facing hardships — sexism, discrimination, loss or illness. And many found joy in pursuing their passions and career dreams. Here are nine stories of how inspiration led to starting a business.

Changing the narrative

Liz Thomas, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Treeline Review:

Seven years ago, the gear editor of a well-respected outdoor magazine told me, “Women can’t write outdoor gear reviews.”

“So how does your publication review women’s gear?” I asked.

“I write it myself and put my wife’s name on the story,” he smugly revealed.

That left me flabbergasted, disheartened and disgusted. I knew I had to prove him wrong. I started my own company, Treeline Review, with my female hiking partner, Naomi Hudetz. We write about outdoor gear for every body in the outdoors — not just women. We’ve become a direct competitor to his publication. I created Treeline Review to change the narrative on who gets to write about the outdoors and who outdoor media represents. At Treeline Review, we’re one of few outdoor publications where the people in power are women. I had hoped for so many years the change I wanted to see would happen magically. But now I see if I want change, I have to do it myself. Creating my business is my way of creating change.

Finding purpose in infertility

Dr. Anna Flores Locke, mental health counselor, supervisor and assistant professor, Charlandra Counseling Services:

I’m a Latina fertility expert and mental health counselor. I wanted to provide others with the emotional support that I didn’t get on my journey with infertility. My business focuses on building a community and opening doors for conversations on the stigmatized topic of infertility for women of color.  

My “ah-ha” moment happened when I was writing my book about my infertility story. I realized that my life’s purpose is rooted in my diagnosis. I felt grateful because it led me to develop the Fertility Clarity counseling program and reach out to other women struggling to conceive.

Now, I have purpose and direction in my life which is manifested through my business. What keeps me striving as an entrepreneur is also the fact that my business is an inspiration to other Latinas and women of color to find their financial independence and stability through a business.

Saving a life through art

Corrina Thurston, Owner, Corrina A. Thurston Studios (C.A.T. Studios):

I began my business at the end of 2015. I was 25, had no college degree and had never aspired to be an entrepreneur. However, at the age of 18, I had fallen severely ill. I was so ill that I had to medically withdraw from my second semester of college and move back home where I was mostly bedridden and in excruciating pain for over six years. Each year that passed, I thought I would get better and go back to school, but it never happened.

Finally, I turned to drawing as a constructive and therapeutic outlet — looking for anything to help my depression, boredom and overwhelming pain. I taught myself to draw from the confines of my bed. Turns out I was pretty good at it. Immediately, I drew animals and wildlife, which has always been a passion of mine, and I now regularly donate some of my proceeds to support wildlife conservation.

I’m now also a TEDx speaker, an author of three books, a workshop teacher and a marketing consultant for other businesses, creatives and nonprofits. But what drives me the most, what keeps me going and pushing and reaching, are those years I spent in so much pain in bed. Without my parents, I have no doubt I would have died. And without the sudden ability and inclination to create art, I don’t doubt I would have been at severe risk of taking my own life. It gave me purpose. It still does.

Second chance, securing lives

Jaclyn Strauss, Co-Founder, 2nd Vault:

A personal need was the inspiration for starting my business. I was given a second chance after I nearly lost my life when I delivered my second child. The doctors told my family that I was not going to be coming out of the hospital alive.  

After making it home from the hospital, I had a horrifying realization. Given that I am a CPA by profession, I am the household CFO, activity director and pretty much the jack of all trades that held the keys to our very modest castle. The issue was I never shared the details with my spouse on everything that powered our lives and made it operate as seamlessly as possible each day.

With that, I took the opportunity to do better. I tried hard to organize things in a way to create greater efficiency today to allow me to be more present in my second chance at life — while at the same time making sure that if something happened to me tomorrow, all would be prepared to take over.

I was paralyzed and didn’t know where or how to start. There was no good tool to do this in the most time-efficient and straightforward way. So I created it. I built a SAAS application that provides a user experience down a journey of yes or no questions to help those who realize they want to get things in order with the recipe to do it most securely. This has already made a massive difference for hundreds of people that have related to my story of having a life “scare.”

I can also tell you that as a daughter to my aging parents, I do not want to be sent on a wild goose chase trying to find their things or sift through papers. My parents extended an act of love to me by using the platform, and I am a lucky daughter to have parents that cared enough to do this for me now. 

Paving ways in publishing

Ashley Finley, MSW, Founder, JJ CarsonPress, LLC:

My children were the inspiration for me to take the plunge and start my children’s book publishing business. When I became a mother and sought to find books for my sons with characters who looked like them and lessons that focused on social-emotional topics, I found a large gap in the market. I was reminded of how my own childhood reading experience was rough due to the lack of representation in the books I read. I didn’t want this to be the case for my children. So I founded JJ Carson Press, LLC to be a solution to this problem. We publish books that feature black protagonists and social-emotional lessons that readers of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy.

Childhood experiment to lifelong calling

Billie Zeelen, Owner, Bzice:

My business, which focuses on discovering what foods can and cannot be frozen (with detailed guides on how to go about it, which are helpful to readers), began 20 years ago. It was a rainy afternoon, and my brother and I decided to start freezing different things, as a sort of experiment to pass the time.

This soon turned into an obsession for me, and I ended up specializing in this subject. It was the inspiration for creating my business. My brother still jokes I owe him my business since he suggested the experiments in the first place!

I’m also a cold storage engineer, so this interest merged well with my job and allowed me to take the experimenting even further

A little push from loved ones

Justine Martin, Bakeshop Boss (Owner/Operator), Guilty Pleasures Bakeshop + Catering:

My business actually started by mistake… well, maybe not a mistake, but it certainly wasn’t planned. I had just finished up a contract working in the NHL and was back in my hometown looking for work. One day, I was procrastinating the job hunt, making cutesy little fall-themed fondant toppers for cupcakes. When I was done, I took them to my mom, who insisted I should sell them. I refused, but she didn’t listen. That night, she posted the cupcakes to her Facebook with the caption, “My daughter is unemployed and lives in my basement. Pleaseeee buy her cupcakes!”

That was October 2015. By January 2017, I was making cakes and cupcakes full-time. In February 2018, I opened the Guilty Pleasures Bakeshop storefront in Downtown Sudbury. Now, I’m an internationally acclaimed and award-winning cake artist who has competed on Food Network and been featured by HuffPost, Business Insider, Today’s Bride and more!

In all seriousness, while this business was tossed into my lap at the beginning, I quickly recognized that this was my opportunity to provide the life I wanted for myself. I was never a great employee — I like to do things my own way. Owning the bakeshop allows me to structure my schedule to fit my neurodivergent needs. It allows me flexibility in my day and the opportunity to wear so many fulfilling hats. I’m only a cake artist 40 to 50 percent of the time. Other times, I’m a marketing specialist (my professional background), a product photographer, a salesperson or a recipe developer. Ultimately, the inspiration behind my business is the opportunity for it to grow with, and for, me!

Who cleans the aftermath?

Laura Spaulding, CEO, Spaulding Decon:

I was working long nights and getting paid quite poorly as a law enforcement officer when we were called to a double homicide. Upon our departure, a family member of the deceased approached us and asked, “who is going to clean up this mess?” To be quite honest, we simply didn’t know. It was not law enforcement’s job to do so, and there weren’t any known companies at the time to do this sort of job. At that moment, I realized there was a need for this. I decided to start doing this as a side job. Today, we have 56 franchises throughout the U.S. and are a full-service restoration company.  

Starting from a small bet

Dr. Amy Osmond Cook, Founder, Stage Marketing; Chief Marketing Officer, Simplus:

In 2002, I was a 26-year-old recently divorced mother of two living in one room of my parents’ basement and working my way through grad school. In 2007, after remarrying and having two more children, my husband landed what appeared to be a promising job at Lehman Brothers. Unfortunately, this was one month before the Fortune 500 company went bankrupt in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. I started working night and side jobs, writing and editing.

My husband approached me a few months later with our $10,000 tax refund and a challenge. He said, “Amy, let’s split this in half and each take $5,000. We’ll see how much money we can make from it.” He invested his share in real estate. I took my share and started Osmond Marketing (now Stage Marketing), a full-service content marketing agency. I started the company from the ground up and now, 12 years later, it has gone on to be recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in Utah five years running. Guess who won our challenge?

Ready for more inspiration on starting a business of your own? Read more about the first steps you should take.

About the author

Laura Grant

As Managing Editor of Lioness, Laura Grant works with the editorial team and a slew of freelancers and regular contributors to produce a publication that offers equal parts inspiration and information. Laura is a graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master's degree in Communications. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day. Before joining Lioness full-time, Laura was a freelancer herself and wrote many stories for the magazine.

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