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The Passion Behind Women-Owned Businesses

Sep 06, 2017 12:20PM, Published by Melanie Heisinger, Categories: Business, Today


Mary Tiffin, demonstrating her RunLite product



By Phil Yacuboski

As a single mother, the only time Mary Tiffin could run was at night. “It’s dark and there aren’t a lot of streetlights,” she said.   

So Tiffin began to carry flashlights, but found those cumbersome and heavy.  She then attached headlamps to her gloves, which seemed to work.

“But I thought I could do this better,” she assessed. 

Tiffin was no stranger to adversity.  As a single mother of three boys, she detailed her late husband’s 2003 battle with leukemia in the book A Dream’s End.  

She took her business idea to Bucknell University’s Small Business Development Center and eventually created RunLites.  The lighted gloves, which are rechargeable thanks to a USB connection, allow runners to see where they are going in the dark. Tiffin said they last eight hours and allow you to see about 40 feet in front of you.

“The response from the market has been phenomenal,” said Tiffin, whose product has been featured on the Today Show, FOX-TV and even found its way into The Annual Frommer’s Travel Gift Guide. She’s also taken her product to many of the major marathons in the northeast including New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore.  RunLites also are used by many people she never dreamed would be part of her market—dog walkers, campers, hunters and anglers.  

Tiffin won the 2016 InnovateHER business challenge through Bucknell’s SBDC.  The program encourages, through educational resources, women-owned businesses in the region.  It fosters women entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.    

“There’s been a greater ratio of women-owned businesses in the past few years,” said Steve Stumbris, director of Bucknell’s SBDC.  “Many of those are also mixed ownership, where both women and men are in lead ownership.”

Bucknell’s SBDC works with about 300 clients each year with about 20 percent of those being owned by women, a number that has dipped in recent years.

“The numbers still do lag behind,” said Stumbris, adding that there is also glaring inequality when it comes to women in leadership roles in corporations.  “It’s history, and it’s cultural, that’s perpetuated across generations,” he said. 

But despite the numbers, it hasn’t stopped many women in the region from putting their passion to work and growing a business.

Appetite for food

Liz Furia, at her Elizabeth's
An American Bistro restaurant

Liz Furia grew up in New Jersey, but met her husband John while in Rome.  The two eventually found their way to Houston, TX, and then settled in Central PA where he works in orthopaedics.  
Liz now owns both Elizabeth’s, An American Bistro on Market Street in Lewisburg, and E tu Bistro on Mill Street in Danville.  

“It sounds crazy,” said Furia, “but I just always wanted to open a restaurant.  My parents used to take us out to eat all of the time as kids and the whole restaurant business fascinated me.”
Furia studied art while in college, but quickly found her way into the catering business in Philadelphia. She then picked up culinary skills in France and from her childhood hero, Julia Child.  

“I watched a lot of women in Philadelphia who owned their own restaurants,” she said of The White Dog Café, which was opened in 1983 by social activist Judy Wicks in University City.
 “There may have been a lot of men in the kitchen, but it just seemed to me like the thing to do.”

She said Elizabeth’s is known for its crab cakes, lamb and salmon dishes.  Both restaurants are known for dishes they create from locally sourced products.  

“I think what I’ve found is that working with really positive people is the best thing,” she said about being a woman business owner.  “You have to be yourself.  You have to work hard and you have to find your niche. Women bring a lot to the table and have that passion and caring.  It will get you far.”

Social concerns fuel idea

Kaitlin Schuck, with Solomon Wheeler, SBA, receiving the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award

Kaitlin Schuck, owner of Threading Love, a clothing and accessories store along Market Street in Lewisburg, combines two of her passions—fashion and helping others.  

“Everything we carry has a story behind it and we want our customers to know their story,” said 25-year-old Schuck.  One of the store’s clothing brands helps women who are victims of sex trafficking.  Another line of graphic t-shirts is designed by Josiah Viera, a 10-year-old from Hegins, PA, who has Progeria, a disease that accelerates the aging process.  The money raised through the sales of his items helps his family pay for medical expenses.  

“I saw a need where retail could capitalize on the social concerns of consumers,” Schuck said.  “There was nothing really out there like that, so I created this business model around a dream and put together a business that is also a story.”

She came up with the name Threading Love.  

Schuck, who earned a degree in biology, said it was complicated getting the store’s doors open, but did it within two weeks.  She then reached out to the brands she knew she wanted to carry and set up shop.  She opened three years ago and the business is growing, including her online business.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Schuck said, adding that she’s never felt she’s encountered any challenges because she’s a woman.  “A lot of late nights and early mornings, but it’s worth it because I’m doing something that I am passionate about, and I know in my heart that I’m truly making a difference in this world.  We’re changing lives and that’s what makes me motivated every day.”

She said knowing your target market is key.

“Networking is huge,” she said.  “I love working with other women-owned businesses and I love talking to them and using their products too.  There’s strength in numbers when women can partner together.”

Phil Yacuboski is a freelance writer from Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania.  

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