Embracing the Squiggly by Making Truffles

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In anticipation of Small Business Saturday, I had the opportunity to meet Jenny of J&G Chocolate and Tea. A self-taught chocolatier, she used Youtube and Pinterest to learn the delicate art of making chocolate. While working in a traditional job, Jenny learned that she was actually pretty good at making tiny moments of delight with her creations. One thing led to another and then she was able to leave her job to start building the business with her sister Gina.

Jenny and Gina

Pictured: Jenny (left) and Gina (right).

Having launched J&G at the beginning of the year, the startup chocolate shop has seen success pretty early on. With an ultimate goal of being a chocolate and tea cafe, the sisters have grown their reach by selling online and at farmer’s markets throughout the Central Florida area with new locations to be announced.

While many may pick up chocolate making as a hobby, Jenny’s commitment to building a business took timing and “growing a pair.” Not a natural risk taker, Jenny was encouraged to take the leap by her supportive husband and sister. With their backing starting a chocolate and tea company seemed completely doable.

Photo Credit: J&G Chocolate and Tea

Photo Credit: J&G Chocolate and Tea

At first, Jenny didn’t completely realize what kind of risk she was taking by leaving her stable job to start a chocolate company. That is, until people started to say, “Wow, you are so brave” and other things that made her take a second and question the path she had already taken. For example, challenges with figuring out the permitting rules, red tape with licensing, and the very steep costs when it comes to shipping chocolate. These constraints led the sisters to start doubting what they had already accomplished and the research they had done.

But then Jenny had a moment of clarity, “until you know what you are going to do, you can’t do the research.” It took making the mistakes to learn how to ask the right questions so she could get the right answers and get the business to where it is today.

Photo: Jenny at a Fall Pop Up Shop

Photo: Jenny at a Fall Pop Up Shop

In addition to being in a constant game of trail and error, Jenny noticed how at times she felt like the odd duck in her circle of friends. To have a work schedule where she may not get started until 10am but was working until midnight in the kitchen, sometimes did not come across to anyone else as work. That simple difference in schedule can be hard for others to understand. However, for Jenny, having that flexibility is one of the most rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur.

Another challenge that almost every female business owner has dealt with is the self imposed need for perfection. In Jenny’s case, she learned to overcome getting bogged down with the details through the valuable experience of planning her wedding. “As the planner you can get all wrapped up in the teeny tiny details, but no one else will know but you if it is missing. Now with J&G, time is what influences how things will get prioritized and accepting that has allowed me to keep getting our product out there and refining it as we go along” and it might come out even better than planned.

When asked about the greatest piece of advice she would give to anyone who would want to start something like J&G,”research and testing are the most important things for anyone developing a product, especially a food product. Get the feedback of your family, your friends, everyone you know so can be confident in your product.”

Photo Credit: Candace Dyer at http://bit.ly/12cYvU0

Photo Credit: Candace Dyer at http://bit.ly/12cYvU0

Now I had the chance to eat one of J&G’s Caramel Pretzel and Bacon Apples and I can honestly say it was one of the best things I ever ate. But don’t just take my word for it, check out Candace Dyer’s review on her dessert blog Dessert Geek. And if you are interested in purchasing any of their chocolates or teas go to their online shop here or visit them at these locations.

Federal Employment and Why Millennials Want More From Their Work

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Photo Credit: Ingrid Taylar from San Francisco Bay Area - California, USA

Photo Credit: Ingrid Taylar from San Francisco Bay Area – California, USA

As the dust settles from the midterm elections, citizens far and wide return to their regularly scheduled programming. However, according to the Office of Personnel Management, for 4.312 million people these changes impact who are their coworkers and how their work is accomplished. Working for the red tape laden federal government, as one millennial working at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has learned, can actually be the most rewarding job.

What is the FMC? Well. You know the screen you are looking at? It’s safe passage, like almost everything else we interact with daily, are regulated by the Federal Maritime Commission. Established in 1961 by President Kennedy, the commission handles tariffs, ports, and trade regulations to help businesses with the actual importation and exportation of their goods. But how does one get a job working with such an organization? Just ask my friend Jewel Jennings – Wright. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Jewel is currently a Counsel at the Commission, meaning she supports and advises a commissioner.

Jewel Jennings Wright

Prior to landing this dream of a job, Jewel received her B.A. in Political Science at Carnegie Mellon, then her Master’s and J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. With an ongoing interest in the strategic aspects of international security, Jewel first became interested in port security during her graduate studies in International Security and Intelligence. “We have ports leading to almost every major city, and almost anyone can ship anything” therefore creating a very murky security challenge. By interning for the Commission she was able to bring together her love for ports and law.

Upon graduation, however, a position was not available. Instead, she went to work with a private equity firm in Detroit. But, after about a year was able to return to D.C. to work with the Commission. “It’s rewarding, yet demanding work” as Jewel isn’t just pushing paper, but is actually making a difference.

Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Along the way Jewel has been able to learn some important life lessons. The primary among them being,

“Actually listen to your gut. If you are absolutely unhappy and upset where you are change your situation or make steps to change it that may mean changing jobs, it may mean moving (usually both), it may mean taking a leap of faith of some kind but actually try. If you feel it ‘in your bones’ that something is bad, it most likely is.”

When asked about millennials in the workforce,

“I think millennials often get a bad rep because people think that it’s a soft generation. We’ve seen the baby boomers and our parents work lives that didn’t necessarily lead to a good home life. There are a lot of people asking millennials to ignore that and do it anyway. For baby boomers, a hard days work sometimes was at a factory and it was actually hard. Now we’ve seen baby boomers come down with things like asbestosis, unions being busted, pensions going bust and our parents going through bubble after bubble. Are we supposed to do exactly the same thing?” 

Although early in her career, Jewel has found herself as one of the youngest counsels at the commission. With that experience she has identified the key issue that drives millennials. During our childhoods, we’ve witnessed the damaging side effects of our current systems and how our families have coped with them. Is it entitlement to demand for more from our professional lives, or simply a desire to avoid the terrifying challenges our families have had to weather? Post your thoughts in the comments below or tweet @themtakeover.

The Best Conference for Orlando Problem Solvers… EVER!

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BigExchangeScreenshot

Entrepreneurship. A buzzword that either inspires like a life changing lecture or spooks like a perfectly executed Halloween prank. But what does it really mean? Can it be experienced without risking it all? And what would happen if a variety of fields came together to innovate? In 2007 the brainchild of the Kauffman Foundation, Global Entrepreneurship Week, was announced as the world’s opportunity to celebrate the entrepreneur in every person so they could provide solutions to the world’s problems. At this time, 77 countries have officially joined the movement. For the first time, Orlando, FL will be joining with a collaborative week long un-conference and partnership events called: The BIG Exchange.

How It Started in Orlando

Co-organizers Shea Glenny and Ryan Mickley attended a conference together and walked away, well, yearning for a bit more substance. Discussing it at a local coffee shop, Shea and Ryan identified that they wanted to host their ideal conference. It’s mission would allow anyone to explore their entrepreneurial spirit while addressing some of the community’s most pressing problems. Encouraged by a neighboring customer, Ryan and Shea discovered they were on to something pretty big. Less than a year later, the duo have pulled in 4 other millennial visionaries from a variety of fields to pull off this year’s celebration of entrepreneurship. With a focus on the power of bringing the unique gifts of each participant, the ultimate goal will be to create a sort of cross-synergy that allows true innovation to occur.

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The Run Down

Once registered, participants will self identify as Makers, Artists, Thinkers, or Educators. Then at the kickoff, participants will form groups of 8-12 and creatively solve a problem during the week. In addition to problem solving, participants will have access to workshops held throughout the greater Orlando area and partnership events throughout the city. At the Friday Showcase, teams close out the week with a presentation of their solutions and be in the running for a $30,000 prize pack.

Why you NEED to be there

First, just to meet the organizers and the people they have brought together. Aside from the fact that the Vision Board has developed into a close knit group, every sponsor they approached loved the idea and have found a way to support them. Second, the format of the conference will allow participants to come out with as Christa Rensel, a Vision Team member, stated, “A healthy rolodex of some of the most amazing people in Orlando.” Third, being an entrepreneur is risky business. Participants can try it out in a safe environment while learning processes on how to build something from a tangible idea. As Shea has been known to say, “you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to use entrepreneurial principles.” And if nothing else, $30K of prizes are at stake here. That’s better than any costume contest.

What if you can’t be there?

The whole week is being recorded, live-streamed, and live-tweeted. Also, anyone can submit a pressing problem that they believe should be addressed by November 10th. Get ahead of the game by following @Big_Exchange on Twitter and liking Big Exchange on Facebook.

If, somehow, you aren’t convinced check out the video below or peruse their website.

A Life Changing Experience that Gave This Founder His Most Important Skills

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Mack Profile

Ask Mack Kolarich about his most significant memory of his time as a backcountry ranger in Washington state and you’ll hear the torment in his voice as he debates between two of them. The first, a hazy smoke filled sunset walk in the woods and the eerie howl of the not so distant wolves, the terrifying beauty of it being something he’ll never forget.  The second, was a trek to Horseshoe Basin where a couple thousand waterfalls, snowpacks and glaciers provided the most incredible connecting to nature experience.

Cascades Park Photo credit: Mack Kolarich

Cascades Park
Photo credit: Mack Kolarich

Embarking on 8-10 day long treks to maintain a national treasure, is something Mack’s dad always wanted to do. In true millennial fashion,  Mack took the hint to avoid living life with regret and spent a college summer putting out fires (literally) and underwent worldview shift that resulted in a stronger sense of self reliance. That self reliance has served the Political Economy major from Carleton College as he is now building his third startup company, Scenesquid a D.C. based company that handles posting event information on the behalf of its clients.

The founding organizer of DC Start Up Weekend, is by far one of the greatest advocates for young people striking out on their own and starting their own business. As we have seen how “the man” has become increasingly less reliable and less caring of their employees, starting your own business has become somewhat more reliable. In a world that is becoming more competitive as exceptional talent from other countries come online, having the control of your own destiny is becoming increasingly necessary.

scenesquid landing page

Although a stress inducing idea, Mack is optimistic about the outlook for millennials. “The number one edge millennials have is growing up in the digital world. It’s important for our generation to grab onto tech skills, know basic coding. We need to have that baseline of tech savvy as that is where our world is heading. As they say in hockey, don’t skate to the puck but skate to where the puck is going.” With those skills and flexibility, no matter where the economy goes those skills build much needed resilience.

However, millennials face several serious challenges. Student loan debt increases the perceived risk for an already risky endeavor and motivates many to find more stable jobs until they can pursue other projects. Competition is only going to become harder as India and China produce more graduates than ever before. Short attention spans and armchair activism generates a level of complacency that could impede creativity.

But, for all of these drawbacks millennials possess several qualities that are creating a demand for a drastically different lifestyle from our parents. The insatiable curiosity and willingness to try new things will naturally push our generation to constantly innovate and allow for new companies, products, etc. gain traction much faster than in the past. As Mack said, “that is our most valuable edge.”

Would you agree with what Mack has to say about Millennials? Post your comments below.

Defining Social Innovation and How to Get Paid to Do It

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a dear friend of mine, Brian Bergman, the Assistant Director for the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Miami University. As an alumnus of Miami University, Brian explored his interests in international politics through course work as well as an immersion experience in Geneva, Switzerland. After discovering that he was more interested in issues regarding poverty, Brian began the move away from “big table” politics and toward international development issues. Obtaining his Master’s in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh allowed him to do just that. Approaching graduation, one of Brian’s professors from Miami, who had been a mentor to him since his senior year, had him join his team.

Brian Bergman

For the past two years Brian has contributed to Miami’s training, curriculum development, and three academic studies on social entrepreneurship. Brian’s experience so far has allowed him to develop several great nuggets of wisdom for anyone wanting to pursue a meaningful life.

On Brian’s Career Path

I always went after personal growth opportunities. Going to Geneva was an opportunity for me to take my first international flight, going to Kenya was an opportunity for me to live in a mud hut. Those experiences allowed me to grow as a person and learn more about my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also been lucky enough to have people who encouraged me to always have a couple of things lined up just in case the plan fell like dominoes.

On What You Need to be Successful in Social Innovation

First, a functional business background, not like “the man” type of business, but having a strong understanding of how a business works because everything needs have money to operate, even non-profits. Lean Startup Canvas is the bedrock of our curriculum. Second, not being afraid of numbers. Understanding how to use the right test for the right things is critical for conducting research. Third, knowing how technology works is crucial, you’ve got understand how the whole system works because technology is literally in everything that we do. Fourth, know what you are good at and keep developing those skills. When you go to work somewhere, there’s going to be a guy who loves doing the things that you may not be as good at so focus on just being you.

Top Tips for Any Social Entrepreneur

First, ask yourself what you are most passionate about. Then find out, what is the market? Who are the non-profits? What is the government doing? Are there gaps?  If there’s a gap, that’s where you opportunity lies.

Second, burnout is real. Everyone wants to be around positive people so you have to find ways to disconnect from the work. For example, I like to play ice hockey. When you are playing ice hockey you can’t think of anything else or you’ll get seriously injured.

Third, and possibly most important, is learn how to network. For every 100 contacts you have, you will have 2 to 3 really close contacts that can help guide you as you are developing your idea. For me, those close contacts have had the greatest impact and I wouldn’t be here without them.

Pursuing a career in social innovation is particularly challenging as it is a relatively newer field. In addition to following Brian’s advice, check out The Stanford Social Innovation Review to keep up to date with current trends. Are you working in Social Innovation? Share your wisdom below in the comments.

Top 5 Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Next Big Adventure

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When I finally decided to pack my bags and move to Haiti, I didn’t just hop on a plane and wing it. I tried to be strategic enough to avoid hang ups while still keeping some available space for spontaneity. If you are considering on making the big move, especially a foreign country here are some helpful tips to save yourself some major headaches. 

ForiegnMoney

Photo Credit: epSos .de

1. Have enough money saved to pay your obligations. I have some pretty hefty student loan debt and while I often opt for the fun life adventure instead of becoming debt free in 3 years, I always, always, ALWAYS pay my loans. When I took the leap of faith, I made sure I had at least enough money to cover my loan payments for the next three months. You don’t want to be visiting your family on a break to then have the uncomfortable conversation as to why collections has been calling them.

AsiaFarmerPhone

Photo Credit: Ken Banks

2. Contact as many people you know there as possible, even if it is one person. Arriving in a foreign country with a month’s worth of stuff with no one to meet you or a plan, can leave you extremely vulnerable (more on how I learned that another time). Even if you don’t stay with this person, having a friendly face that you can communicate with upon your arrival will ease the already present anxiety. If you are looking for a job, this becomes extremely important as your contact can help you navigate the hiring system and maybe even help you network.

Passports

Photo Credit: J Aaron Farr

3. If you are going abroad, make sure your passport does not expire for at least 3 months. Most countries won’t let you through the airport if your passport is set to expire in three months so save yourself the flight change fees and up date your passport. Also make a copy of that first page. In the countries I’ve visited, a form of identification is needed to buy cellphones, change money, etc. Reduce the risk of losing your passport by carrying a printout, and it will save you time in case you need to replace your passport.

Photo Credit: JannRiik

Photo Credit: JannRiik

4. Give yourself permission to enjoy some of your favorite things. Moving to another country, city, or state will mean that you won’t have the same access to your favorite things. When you have one of those days where you the cashier gets frustrated with your thick American accent, or the power goes out while you were writing the longest email of your life on a desktop, an overpriced tub of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food may be the thing you need to keep you sane. You already get the gold star for taking the leap, so be kind to yourself and pay extra attention to self care. For me, reading books (thank you, Kindle), watching movies (thank you, Netflix), or “Hanging out” with a friend or two (thank you, Google) were my life savers.

Journals

Photo credit: Wen Long

5. Keep a journal, not only to help you remember the cool things you did 10 years from now, but to off load whatever you don’t feel like sharing out loud. It doesn’t even have to be full sentences, it can even be ticket stubs or business cards. There are a lot of changes that you’ll be experiencing so keeping track of them will help you track the progress you’ve made.

Keeping things open ended and keeping a positive attitude will help you bounce back from those days that just don’t go your way. Now get back to packing, your adventure awaits.

Leaving everything you know to embark on an adventure or just came back from one? Share your top tips for how you made it through. 

20something profile: Marissa

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Thank you David for reaching out to me and letting me share my experience!

20somethings Blog

IMG_0268This post was written by Marissa, who is working on building a product distribution business in rural Haiti:

At 18 years old, if you asked me about my life plan, I’d straighten my back, I’d grow the already present smile, and I’d inform you, “I’m going to save the world as an international lawyer working at the international criminal court…or something like that.”

After a somewhat dramatic epiphany that law school was not for me, I set to finding a new way to honor the root of my desires: solving problems on an international scale.  It wasn’t pretty, and each step hasn’t flowed perfectly to the next, but my career thus far is a patchwork of some very cool experiences.

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