Small Businesses, Big Dreams

2015 Presenters (l-r) Sherrill Mosee, Rita DiOrio, Vanessa Chan

2015 Presenters (l-r) Sherrill Mosee, Rita DiOrio, Vanessa Chan

By Katherine Herbst, Buyer, Household and Garden, QVC

Over the past three decades, QVC has launched and fostered the growth of many successful brands, which also happen to be founded by women, including bareMinerals, Spanx, IT Cosmetics and Lori Greiner. As a buyer at QVC, I am always looking for that next brand or product that will surprise and delight our customers.

At last year’s Pennsylvania Conference for Women, I had the pleasure of watching nearly 40 women pitch their ideas to a panel of QVC experts and receive real-time feedback. Three of these women then went on to participate in Today’s “Next Big Thing 2,” a week-long competition where promising “momtrepreneurs” had the opportunity to pitch their breakthrough ideas and ultimately sell their product on QVC. I’ve asked these budding entrepreneurs to reflect on their experiences and offer advice for others following in their footsteps.

Realize that the only limit is yourself

Sherrill Mosee is already on her second great idea. Her first came in 1999 when she founded a nonprofit to promote higher education among low-income mothers. After seeing young moms struggle with multiple bags, she came up with her next great idea: MinkeeBlue, a tote that combines a purse, a laptop case, and a lunch bag.

Two of Sherrill’s greatest qualities as an entrepreneur are that she isn’t afraid to stand out from a crowd or ask for help.

“Since I had no experience starting a fashion business, I knew I needed to learn as much as I could,” Sherrill says. “Someone introduced me to the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator. Initially, I was intimidated by the designers with fashion degrees in their 20s and 30s. They are the same age as my children. But I got over that quickly, blended in with the group and learned so much from the young designers.”

The source of her tenacity?

“I expect the rejections, setbacks and obstacles. It’s the life of an entrepreneur. Most of what I’m doing along this journey is experimenting and learning as I go, so I’m bound to make mistakes. I’ve come to believe that there is always more than one solution to get the task done.”

Build a strong network of support

Growing up in a family of eight children, Rita DiOrio worked as a teenager to pay for her braces. Not surprisingly, she didn’t want stains to mar her pearly whites, and she took to using a straw to drink even coffee. Years later, though, when Rita learned that a normal straw is not optimal for consuming hot beverages, she developed the Koffie Straw—a silicone straw for hot beverages with a unique shape and flow.

Her large support system, also known as her family, has been key to the launch and success of her business. Koffie Straw’s seed money came from her immediate family’s savings fund, and her husband, sons, nieces and nephews pitch in daily.

“Our personal investment motivates us as a family,” Rita says. “We each have a stake in the product’s success.”

What’s more, Rita’s support system expanded at the Pennsylvania Women’s Conference.  

“So many of the QVC women took the time to speak with me,” she says. “They were so genuinely interested in helping my success with the product. Getting advice from such a range of talented people was priceless!”

As Koffie Straw has grown nationally, so has Rita’s network.  

“I find such appreciation in the messages from strangers that fill up my inbox. Koffie Straw is resonating with so many across the country.”

Don’t be afraid to take risks

Vanessa Chan’s entrepreneurial journey started with a leap of faith: she left her job as a partner at McKinsey & Company to found her company, Re.design. Her first product is Loopit: practical, stylish headphones with a tangle-resistant magnetic clasp and chain.

Vanessa’s next risk came by doing something many struggle with—simply putting herself and her product out there. Vanessa used a Kickstarter campaign to crowd source the funding for the first run of Loopit, allowing the market to decide whether her product would sink or swim. The risk paid off—she surpassed her original goal of $15,000 in one week, and ended the campaign with $35,000, more than enough to seed Loopit and order additional inventory.

How did Vanessa get the courage to take all these risks? With a very specific vocabulary.

“I think it’s important to get rid of words like ‘failure’ and ‘rejection’,” Vanessa says. “Ultimately, anything we do in life has results. Some are positive and some are negative. In my mind, I focus not on the outcomes but on the journey. As an entrepreneur, you need to move to a growth mindset. If you can flip your mindset, you will have the energy and the stamina to keep moving, which ultimately give you more positive results, since you learn more and get better.”

Attendees at this year’s Pennsylvania Conference for Women on October 6 will have the chance to pitch their products directly to a panel of experts from QVC and zulily. Go to paconferenceforwomen.org/productsearch to learn more and reserve your spot!


▶ Read more from the September 2016 newsletter