The Doctor Is In … and Helping Women Celebrate Their Feminine Power

2 min read...

Off the shoulder fashions for women are hot. And it’s no wonder because the look is both fun, flattering and—surprisingly—empowering! So said Dr. Symone Lewis, the inventor of Barelastics, a reverse suspender under garment that keeps an off the shoulder look where it belongs: off the shoulder (OTS).

Lewis said, “Wearing off the shoulder fashions exudes an air of competence and confidence. Baring your shoulders communicates a deep yearning to be seen and heard and it’s a powerful way to make a statement and a first impression.” Supporting that sentiment, according to, the majority of designers in 2019 embraced the idea of “you do you,” meaning women are encouraged to embrace a fashion style that suits individuality with the unifying concept being the expression of female empowerment.

Founding a Company to Solve a Problem

In 2017, Lewis founded Shoulder Bare, Ltd., as the manufacturer of the Barelastics product, which has a patent pending. Lewis speaks of women’s empowerment from the credibility of being a working licensed psychologist with an earned doctorate in clinical psychology.

Beauty is power. I believe baring your shoulders is one way forward for women in demonstrating that power.

Lewis said, “Beauty is power. I believe baring your shoulders is one way forward for women in demonstrating that power. But if you’re tugging at your sleeves or fidgeting with your garment, it communicates the exact opposite. I saw a problem with wearing OTS fashions and remedied that problem with my invention. There is an air of sophistication when women bare their shoulders, whether in an office environment, at a gala, going through everyday life or at the beach, but only if they feel confident in their choice of garment. Barelastics make that happen for women who choose OTS fashions.”

Nonverbal Communications Make Impressions

Some have reported fifty percent of all communication is nonverbal. Also, many believe first impressions often are lasting impressions. OTS fashion has been a thing since the mid-1800s and has never really disappeared, with either both or even one shoulder bare, often stealing the show and attracting eyeballs on occasions from red carpet events to weddings to business meetings.

Lewis loves it. “In my opinion, women should celebrate the feminine. In our current culture womens’ voices are often not valued and their opinions are often under-represented and underfunded. Expressing yourself is an inalienable right. The pursuit to be all you can be is a deep-seated need and if you’re not heard you’re not represented,” she said.

How Innovation DuPage Has Helped

Lewis has been marketing her product online since 2018 at She has identified contract manufacturers and worked out quality-control issues on the product for small, medium, large and mega orders, but still considers the marketing and selling of the product second to her day job as a working psychologist.

“I want to scale and designate Shoulder Bare Ltd. my first job. Innovation DuPage is helping me with so many things to make that happen. I have so many ideas for additional products to be marketed under the Shoulder Bare Ltd. banner, but I just need that one big break and I believe Innovation DuPage is going to be that spark to make it happen,” said Lewis.

Moving Confidently Forward

Follow the empowerment journey of Shoulder Bare Ltd. and its Barelastics product with Dr. Lewis on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Connect with Lewis on LinkedIn. We can “barely” contain our excitement as we watch women around the world discover Shoulder Bare Ltd, Barelastics and Dr. Lewis as she demonstrates the art of baring shoulders and soul with utmost confidence.


Let Innovation DuPage help you take your idea from concept to success with an open-to-the-public event, our Incubator program or the Owner-to-CEO Accelerator. To learn more, call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps.

Know You. Know Why. Know What. Know How. Know Clarity Ventures.

3 min read …The 20th century was dominated by process efficiency. The first part of the 21st century has focused on technology innovation. Future success will be achieved by energizing people. Organizations that put people first by working with leaders and teams to solve people-related conflicts and maximize every team’s energy will radically improve team performance and more meaningfully achieve their overall mission. So said the founders of Clarity Ventures, Jonathan Schultz and Rommie Zats. The two will be at Innovation DuPage on Wednesday, September 25, for an ID Mentor Workshop to help ID Members understand and manage the most crucial of issues affecting the likelihood of achievement: relationships with others

Here are some examples of the people-related conflicts Clarity Ventures has already helped teams solve:

  • Rapidly onboarding and integrating new team members so they can drive impact immediately
  • Resolving team conflict amongst team members / co-founders / investors
  • Teaching leaders to empower their teams and get out of the details
  • Supporting leaders and teams struggling with burnout and rejection
  • Helping leaders build empathy for their teams to better align and storytell on their mission

Know Your Biggest Conflict

Participate in the interactive Clarity Ventures Energy Workshop to find solutions for the biggest conflict that is keeping you and your startup from achieving next level performance.

Clarity Ventures will help you understand what brings you energy and when you’re at your best

With their proven framework, Clarity Ventures will help you understand what brings you energy and when you’re at your best as well as the biggest conflicts holding back you and your company. Then they’ll design a solution that you will put into action the very next day.

You will work through the two-hour session with your co-founder/team or partner up with other founders. Following the workshop, Clarity Ventures will be available from 1:00-6:00 p.m. for 30–minute coaching sessions to follow up on the work you completed during the workshop and/or assist you with any remaining people-related conflicts you’re working through. Please email to book an appointment.

What Past Participants Said

A startup organization themselves, Clarity Ventures has already put their powerful workshop sessions to use helping a number of teams to energize and break down conflicts. Some of their feedback include:

  • “For the first time in several months, I now know why I’ve felt depleted, I have the vocabulary to talk about, and clear actions to bring me energy.”
  • “For my entire career, I’ve hated these team “kumbaya” sessions. I can honestly say that today’s entire session has given me energy.”
  • “That was a great session! Thank you guys. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me and my co-founder.”

More on Clarity Ventures

Schultz and Zats formed Clarity Ventures as people transformation consultants who bring out the best in leaders and their teams so they can make their mark on the world. They find out what energizes teams and remove what’s getting in the way through leadership development programs, team and individual workshops and executive coaching.

They have previously worked for some of the best companies in the world, including McKinsey and Google, where they observed extremely high-performing teams. They learned that teams are only able to maximize performance when they broke assumptions, supported each other and were enabled to be their best selves. Shutlz and Zats leveraged this experience along with extensive research to create a framework for both groups and individuals to enable maximum energy and performance.

Jonathan Schultz holds a Bachelor’s in Finance and Marketing from Augustana College and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. He has a background in strategy consulting with expertise in enterprise-wide transformations working for top companies such as McKinsey & Co. He gets energy from building and creating, working in chaos and ambiguity, and being a part of an open and supportive team.

Rommie Zats holds a Bachelor’s in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is currently pursuing his Executive MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. He has worked for a number of top organizations, including Google, where he has held strategy and operations roles leading and transforming global teams. He gets energy from challenging the status quo, tackling complex problems and surrounding himself with dreamers.

Let Innovation DuPage help you take your idea from concept to success with an open-to-the-public event, our Incubator program or the Owner-to-CEO Accelerator. To learn more, call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps.

How Banking on an Internship Turns Into a Career

2 min read…Interns add a little spice to the environment at Innovation DuPage. One intern that we will be saying farewell to this week is Charles Cwik. Charles came to the attention of Innovation DuPage due to a strong recommendation from an advisor at ID Partner Benedictine University, his alma mater. Charles has blossomed into a quick-thinking, collaborative team player who can be relied upon to get projects done in a timely fashion. He is moving on to a full-time job as a credit analyst with Bank of the West [the U.S. subsidiary of the French international mega bank, BNP Paribas], after his Innovation DuPage internship concludes this week.

Charles’ background includes not only a bachelor’s degree from Lisle, Illinois-based Benedictine University in business analytics but also three years as a sound technician working with up-and-coming rock n roll musicians and a side hustle as a barista. His technical and sound skills will come in handy with anyone looking to produce a podcast or adjust the sound system at a conference, not to mention flying through excel spreadsheets. His sense of customer service has been honed to an art form from his time whipping up lattes and espressos.

After an instructor identified him as a leader among his classmates, the recommendation to hire Charles as an intern came to ID Operations Director Jim Bell. During his 3-month internship, Charles worked on areas such as identifying grant and potential partnering opportunities for ID, developing lists of useful information like this Chicagoland pitch contest list (a big hit with ID Members looking to build awareness and receive feedback on their startups), helping with financial management and accounting duties and much more.

Then, through a connection of Bell’s at the Bank of the West, an interview was arranged and Charles seemed a perfect match for an entry level position in their commercial lending approval and management team in Chicago. Innovation DuPage is proud to have played a part in what we hope will be a fruitful career for Charles as he leaves his operations intern position behind for the real world. That’s the cornerstone of Innovation DuPage: connections, helping each other, lifting people and companies up! Charles’ story is one small example of how Innovation DuPage is making a difference in the DuPage area region.

Good luck Charles and stay in touch! Wish Charles luck on his LinkedIn page, Instagram feed and on Facebook.

Get to Know ID Mentor, Chip Borkowski

Chip Borkowski is a proven growth counsel with for-profit corporations and 501(c)3 not-for-profits as well. His skills as an in-demand visionary and strategic leader that translates business strategies into maximum profit are well known. Currently, as the chief growth officer for several current entrepreneurial initiatives, Chip  leads the efforts for practical innovation via his proven enterprise models that work for SMBs as well as Fortune 50 organizations.

He leads the Innovations Teams which develop new business opportunities, markets and service models; drive brand value; and partner with the best of the best to enhance his unique offerings including for-profits like BeWell-USA® and Empowered Patient® as well as not-for-profits like BeFriends®. 

Borkowski’s responsibilities also include strategic alliances; sponsorship sales; and marketing and communications. 

As CGO, Borkowski created and directs a multifunctional innovation process for developing and monetizing new products and services, improving existing products and services, and optimizing customer experiences. He focuses on identifying new ideas and best practices that exceed customer expectations and accelerate sustainable, profitable business growth–-aka SCALE. Chip keenly understands that customers’ needs must be front and center to achieve long-term revenue growth and company success–even on B2B GoToMkt programs. He always views business through the B2B2C lens. 

Borkowski has a wealth of experience iadvising some of the nation’s top media, real estate, and financial companies as well as healthcare organizations and their related ecosystems / strategic alliances for customer acquisition through ambassadorship–whether with B2B or B2C strategies and tactics. He has spent over 30 years disrupting technological and consumer behavior and spearheading initiatives to engage consumers with authoritative content across media platforms. By leading from the front, Chip ensures all parties involved with his initiatives embrace a laser-like focus on the end goals.

For example:
•BeWell-USA® and Empowered Patient® – help connect those in need of chronic condition treatment with everyday and life-threatening health problem treatment and prevention facilities.
•BeFriends® – Aid the 20 percent of Americans who have a disability as a “Good and Faithful Servant”. 

Chip is both internally and externally focused on company culture, stakeholder accountability to market dynamics, customer needs and preferences, as well as consumer behavior. He ensures his initiatives and clients’ projects stay one step ahead and engage with all stakeholders and customers.

He can be seen often in Innovation DuPage’s headquarters in Glen Ellyn. Don’t miss Chip’s upcoming ID Mentor workshop Proven Models for Success on Wednesday, September 4 at 10:00 a.m. For ID Members only.

How Dr. Sanju Abraham Is All About Giving Back

3 min. read…If you’ve had the pleasure of participating in one of Dr. Abraham’s workshops, you’d probably think this warm, humble, unassuming man is someone you’d love to spend an afternoon with because the conversation just flows. And with the conversation, comes information … and a lot of it: like water from a firehose. It’s powerful stuff. But it’s guidance from a friend. A friend whose “airs” are all about what he can give you. Abraham kicked back one afternoon in a pink, slightly rumpled Vineyard Vines polo at ID to talk about his background, his philosophies and what he hopes to gain at ID as a mentor, investor and teacher.

With several advanced degrees, including an MBA and PhD in computer science (with a specialty in artificial intelligence) from DePaul University, Abraham has the bona fides to sit in board rooms, pulling down six figures, just for what he knows. He does a little of that, but mostly he’s looking to find, nurture and help the next entrepreneur get to the level of boardroom with him.

A Deep Background in Business and Digital Marketing

As a serial founder (currently he’s involved with six companies in some capacity, including his latest launch Deepint Marketing) with global experience, Abraham has the ability to advise and mentor, as well as teach, pretty much any company in any industry. As long as they are interested in growing their business, rapidly scaling and using digital marketing in the most efficient and economical way possible. And who isn’t?

Thinking of Salesforce for your CRM? It’s great, but expensive, he said. You might want to try Insightly instead. Being pitched by Marketo? Save the $800/month and let Mailchimp be your go to, for now. His favorite saying, “Try the free versions first until you outgrow them and then switch to what you can afford. There’s more than one way to market online!”

So you want to advertise on Facebook? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Abraham is the Developers Circle (DevC) Lead for Facebook in a 10-state region, he said. He is preparing to host a Facebook-sponsored hackathon this fall in Chicago. (Watch the ID Events page for more details and how to get in on the action). He’s also hosting a Facebook Meet Up Launch at Innovation DuPage on September 14. Click here to register. And, he’s hosting semi-weekly sessions on digital marketing at Innovation DuPage that anyone can attend. You just need to register through the Meetup app (find the links at the Innovation DuPage events page).

Abraham also has a strong belief in the power of education. Having spent a lot of time in college, he fully recognizes the challenge that new graduates face when it comes time to find their job. He is a part of the leadership team at Quze, another Innovation DuPage member, to bridge the skills gap that new graduates, or those looking to make a career transition, face.

Humble Beginnings

Abraham came to the U.S. at the age of five with his parents and siblings. Stressing education as paramount, his parents settled in the Chicago suburbs to give the kids a better shot at success than they might have had in their native India. The strategy worked as both siblings completed medical school, one sibling is now a practicing neurologist with an MD and the other is a medical administrator. But Abraham wanted to go into business, not medicine like his siblings. He put himself through school, working hard and taking full advantage of the U.S. educational system: First at College of DuPage, then Elmhurst College (both schools are ID Partners) and finally earning his graduate degrees at DePaul.

The purpose of wealth and working hard has very little to do with enriching yourself, but rather it should be used to give to others

-Dr. Sanju Abraham

He said he grew up poor, but losing a dear friend in high school taught him a life lesson about giving back that has stuck with him. He said his life’s philosophy is to build up others around him. “The purpose of wealth and working hard has very little to do with enriching yourself, but rather it should be used to give to others. This is in line with the teachings of all the major religions. You give and you feel better, you feel happier. Giving could be time, knowledge, money and for the sake of doing it,” he said.

During our chat, Abraham admitted he’s had many failures over the years. “I’ve failed a lot! But I learned from each and every one,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned the hard way is to find the right partners when going into business. If you can partner with the person who is going to push you, motivate you and challenge you, then you’ve got a good partner. But you must talk to the right people. Not your parents, not your spouse and not your friends.”

A Passion and a Purpose

“I want to help people find their passion. If I can help a cupcake shop owner make more cupcakes because they are passionate about cupcake baking, then that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I’m in the business of helping people realize their dreams.”

Abraham offers to schedule an appointment with anyone who wants to meet with him for no charge. As a business consultant and coach, he is that guy who pushes, prods, and challenges. But he does it in just the right way. “I’m not any smarter than anyone else,” he said, “But I’ve had experiences I can share so others don’t have to make the same mistakes I’ve made.”

He’s had success too. Plenty of them. His biggest success is “having the luxury of time to help others succeed.” Having income streams from several companies with which he’s involved pays the bills. But the biggest success is what keeps him up at night: Absolutely nothing. “I sleep like a baby,” he said.

Working with mentors like Dr. Abraham at Innovation DuPage, ID Members and people from the general public who want to sign up for his classes at ID, are hopefully going to also live their dreams and give back to their communities, families and others as he has done. And with tips and intel from Abraham, hopefully those companies incubating and accelerating in Glen Ellyn are going to scale rapidly, enjoy success and make the world a better place. That would be Dr. Abraham’s dream come true.

14,000 Reasons Why You Should Enter a Pitch Contest (or at Least Consider It)

3 min read…Getting a startup off the ground is not easy. Finding time amid other obligations (like your day job and your family), raising capital and developing your ideas is an enormous undertaking. Success takes hard work and in some cases a bit of luck (aka timing, hard work, perseverance, creativity) but you can help by making smart decisions. That’s why Innovation DuPage is here. To help you get started and nurture your journey. One of the smartest decisions you can make to increase your “luck” and the awareness of your startup is to enter a pitch competition.

A pitch competition entry is a fantastic way to focus the mind. It gives you a deadline, so you can stop procrastinating. It helps you build momentum for your ideas even if you haven’t filed all your paperwork yet. Winning is great, but even if you don’t win, a pitch competition is an exercise that provides lots of benefits.

The Chicagoland/DuPage area is chock full of pitch competitions. The ID events page offers several ID-sponsored pitch competitions you might consider like the upcoming COD/ID-sponsored Your Big IDea pitch competition for COD students, alums and area high school students.

Want even more opportunities to pitch? For a full list of pitch competitions in the Chicagoland area click here. Each competition has different qualifications and requirements, so you’ll need to do some research.

To be alerted when the details of the ID-sponsored pitch competitions become available, sign up on the form by each listing on the ID Events page. Each of these competitions will help you with feedback, promotion and maybe even cash (if you win!). $14,000 in prize money is up for grabs from the ID sponsored pitch competitions listed. In case you need a little more motivation than $14,000, here are….

5 More Reasons Why You Should Enter a Pitch Competition

  1. Entering a Pitch Competition Helps You Focus

    The actual process of entering the competition forces you to put your business on paper, organize your ideas and brainstorm the possibilities. It gets the creative ideas flowing. In some cases, application reviewers will provide you with unsolicited (and priceless) feedback.

    It’s not easy to enter a pitch competition and often that’s by design. You may need to answer thought- provoking questions as part of the application process. This helps you think critically about every aspect of your business, nail down your vision, assess the competitive landscape, define your value proposition and set short and long term goals. Re-reviewing your overall strategy may be one of the most valuable aspects of entering.

  2. Pitch Competitions Attract Others Interested in Entrepreneurs and New Ideas

    Pitch competitions often provide support and instruction from the organizers and judges. Some competitions require setup meetings with knowledgeable business advisors as part of the application process. Others match accepted entrants with exclusive business coaches and investors.

    You’ll probably meet incredible mentors during the competition events or awards ceremony. Pitch competitions are attended by people hoping to learn, gain contacts and get in on the next big idea. Remember, other successful entrepreneurs all started with an idea and built it from scratch. They’ve all made plenty of mistakes, acquired knowledge and skills along the way and have endless information and perspectives to share. Network with these folks, ask questions about their businesses and take note. Each interaction may just save you from having to learn lessons the hard way.

  3. Pitch Competitions Remind You to Practice, Practice, Practice

    If you don’t have your elevator pitch down perfectly (or don’t know what it is), now is the time to figure it out. While attending a pitch competition, you will have dozens of opportunities to tell people about your business.

    That 30-second spiel can make the difference between a potential investor giving you his personal email and phone number or looking around for someone else to talk to. We know that hurts, which is why you need to be top of your game.

    Your elevator pitch should be brief, unique, and memorable. Test-drive it with friends and colleagues. Watch people’s reactions as you share it. Are they intrigued? Do they want to know more, or do they change the subject? Don’t be afraid to test a few versions of it to figure out what works best. Remember how you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice.

  4. Everything’s All About Marketing and PR

    Pitch competitions are a great way to tell others about your business, gain exposure, and find new customers. Use pitch competitions to tout your idea and story, because, let’s be honest, no one else is going to do it.

    Here are some more marketing ideas you can leverage when you enter and participate in pitch competitions:

    • Email your past and present contacts and invite them to come and watch
    • Put together a press release and ask reporters at media outlets to cover the contest
    • Offer yourself as an interviewee to bloggers and/or offer to be a guest blogger
    • Write up a story for your own website about the competition and how you’re prepping for it
    • If the competition includes community voting, invite fam/friends/fans to participate

    Sharing your involvement in a pitch competition, whether you win or not, demonstrates your commitment to your company, how you are creatively growing your business and that you’re looking for ways to grow. 

    Everyone in the pitch competition has a story to share. If you happen to win, it’s a feather in your cap and something you can ride to future success, blog posts, etc. Even if you don’t win, you still have an interesting story to share and a lot of lessons-learned to talk about.

  5. Cash Is Often Involved

    Winning feels great and often involves some cash. Cash prize amounts range depending on the competition, but often non-cash prizes can include valuable resources such as free business services (a membership to Innovation DuPage, perhaps?) access to VC’s and mentors, mentions on social media and maybe even a newspaper article. Combined, the pitch competitions sponsored by ID and listed on the ID events page are giving away more than $14,000 in cash in addition to prizes.

Are you planning to enter a pitch competition? What do you hope to get out of it?

Entering a pitch competition and participating in the events and activities around it will kick your ideas into high gear so you can expand your vision and see how it flies. Listening to passionate business leaders and exposing yourself to new perspectives will inevitably spark your creative spirit. Usually, pitch competitions have final celebration parties. Have business cards/flyers on hand and prepare to network, network, network. You never know who you’ll be mingling with at the pre and post event gatherings. You’ll walk away with a notepad packed with tons of to-do’s… and even some lesson-learning don’ts. Get started and make yourself some luck!

Ladies Who Launch: Embracing Entrepreneurship with Confidence

Innovation DuPage was proud to sponsor Ladies Who Launch, a one-day conference for women in the pre-launch through startup (and just beyond) stages of entrepreneurship, hosted by SCORE of Fox Valley.

Walk away with a plan going forward

There were three engaging main sessions, and a topic-specific breakout session. Featured as a keynoter was North Central College’s own Karen Bartuch, a proud ID Partner and mentor. Check out her research team’s Ted Talk on “Funny Business: Humor in the Workplace.”

The other keynote was Rebecca Fyffe, who was named the 2018 National Small Business Person of the Year and who’s company Landmark Pest Control takes a gentler more natural approach to pest control.

Participants had the opportunity to learn how to launch, grow and build a business with:

  • Useful tools and strategies that focused on women’s unique business challenges
  • More empowerment to engage in entrepreneurship with renewed confidence
  • Connections with other women as founders, funders or team members
  • Business resources that focus on helping women-owned businesses
  • Tips to become profitable, successful, and establish effective teams
  • Ideas to refine a strategic approach to business and marketing

Take aways: It takes preparation to be empowered to engage and unite, put yourself first to succeed in business and life, and keep it real by coming together to conquer adversity and challenges through humor.

Participants worked to look inside themselves to walk away with a plan going forward. It was exciting to be challenged as the next generation of strong and fearless women entrepreneurs.


How one entrepreneur made toys for the #MeToo era.

Reading time: 3:30

A perfect world to Jodi Norgaard would be one where the world viewed equally the contributions of men and women for equal gender balance. As a mom of two boys and one girl, Norgaard became concerned about how the world would treat her daughter as compared to her sons. This epiphany happened while shopping for an age-appropriate toy for a girl’s birthday gift in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. One thing led to another in a string of events—with some successes and many challenges—and now Norgaard is a public speaker on a mission to make change and help others as a mentor with Innovation DuPage.

Over the past several years, Norgaard has talked to women’s groups, corporations, universities and even the Obama White House. She talks about how her experiences in the toy aisle and her research on how toys shape long-term cultural perceptions and values changed her, as well as what she learned from the challenges of creating and launching a line of dolls: “Go! Go! Sports Girls.”

A Mission Taking Shape

It all began when Norgaard and her 9-year-old daughter, fresh from soccer practice, were shopping for a birthday gift at a local toy store. The only dolls offered were dressed in provocative, skimpy shorts and halter tops with long flowing hair, dangling earrings and high heels. Even the so-called “STEM” toys, such as building blocks and chemistry sets, sent a message: build a car or watch an exploding volcano for boys, build a house or make nail polish for girls.

These micro-aggressions are like little tiny paper cuts,” Norgaard said. “Phrases like, ‘you throw like a girl’ hurled as an insult just go to show how ingrained the image of ‘girls as less’ is in our society.

Outraged that the toy market for girls was focused so inappropriately on a girl’s appearance, instead of her interest in action and adventure, Norgaard decided to do something about it. She got the idea to create a female-positive role model doll that reflects the reality of who little girls really are: active, energetic and interested in more than makeup and fashion.

Much hard work and many months later, armed with tons of research to prove the product would be welcomed profitably in the toy aisle, Norgaard launched Go! Go! Sports Girls. The soft, plush dolls had a body that reflected the actual measurements of her own (by then) 10-year-old daughter. (As opposed to the unrealistic measurements of, say, a certain best-selling toy with a name that rhymes with “Darbie.”)

Each doll in Norgaard’s line was provided a name and a backstory that included a love of a sport, such as gymnastics, swimming, soccer, tennis, or cheerleading, along with some accessories tied to that sport. Norgaard introduced Go! Go! Sports Girls to the toy market through national toy shows attended by toy store buyers, ready and excited to see change happen.

Launching a Winning New Product in a Hesitant Market

Go! Go! Sports Girls won awards. It was applauded as innovative, a breakthrough, the next big thing. It was featured in national magazines and talk shows on television. During a test run at the U.S. Open, 500 pieces sold out. All the research pointed toward a product winner. Market research showed people would buy it. Experts claimed the toy would offer long-term benefits for girls’ self-esteem and boys’ attitudes toward girls.

Yet, against all logic, Norgaard heard, “Nice, but no, thanks. It’s not mainstream, it won’t sell.” Even after Walmart agreed to carry the toys along with a book accompanying each doll (making publishing yet another industry, in addition to manufacturing and the toy industry itself, Norgaard had to learn from scratch), traditional toy store buyers still were reluctant to give her product a chance.

Why? Because it wasn’t about fashion or a girl’s appearance—which, incidentally, was the whole point.

The Pivot

Ultimately, treatment of her product by retail buyers convinced Norgaard that attitudes needed to change. She said, “Mainstream ideas don’t create change, so I dug in my heels.” She sold her promising company to a toy manufacturer with more marketing muscle and resources and pivoted to become a public speaker on a mission to create change.

Two years after relaunching herself as a public speaker, she is as busy as she wants to be, speaking approximately weekly during the “convention” season of spring and fall across the country. She is represented by two speakers’ bureaus and is paid for her speaking engagements. Her travel costs are covered as well.

Norgaard said, “The goal is to truly inspire people by telling my story: the hardships, the challenges. I talk about figuring out how to manufacture a toy for the U.S. toy market and the roadblocks in the way; about my idea that girls deserved more; and how I had a pulse of what parents really wanted for their girls, an idea way ahead of its time.”

“Today, with #MeToo and #TimesUp and the concept of unconscious bias coming to light, things are different. But there are still what I call micro-aggressions that say boys are strong and girls are weak. We need to be aware of these, and I highlight that in my talks,” she added.

Norgaard was twice invited by the Obama White House to speak at conferences on the issue of gender parity in children’s toys, toy promotions and their media. She said her message is to make people aware that, to reach the pinnacle of success as a culture (or a business), changes in the way girls are treated in our society are imperative. One stunning fact: 94 percent of women occupying the C-Suite said they played team sports as a child. Yet before Norgaard launched Go! Go! Sports Girls, there were zero toys that linked girls with sports.

But before changes can be made, problems must be identified.

“These micro-aggressions are like little tiny paper cuts,” Norgaard said. “Saying things like, ‘you throw like a girl’ hurled as an insult just go to show how ingrained the image of ‘girls as less’ is in our society.”

Making Change Happen

Norgaard said her message is resonating with all audiences. “Everyone that I talk to—especially men who are raising daughters—are shocked when they hear me. They agree that treating women and girls as equals is right. If you are going to create change, it has to start at a young age. We have to create change with boys and girls.”

In addition to her ongoing speaking schedule, Norgaard will be mentoring other up-and-coming entrepreneurs at Innovation DuPage. She will be sharing her experiences and advising participants in the program to help them achieve success faster than they might have on their own. Be sure to catch Norgaard’s ID Mentor Workshop for members on September 18.

“Collaboration and working with others is key,” Norgaard said. “I asked and asked and asked anyone and everyone questions along the way. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to work with Innovation DuPage and can’t wait to see the results for our region.”

Written by Travis Linderman, managing director, and Ginger Wheeler, director of PR for Innovation DuPage. The article first appeared in Glen Ellyn Living’s February 2019 edition as “Mom on a Mission: Helping Girls Achieve Their Full Potential.”

Michael Medema Mentor Workshop: Flip-flops and Fast Facts

For a man who has started seven companies (with four successful exits) and is currently running three companies simultaneously, Michael Medema seemed pretty chill. Medema sat down in t-shirt and flip flops to chat with ID members about his experiences scaling startups. His resume includes company sale prices valued at a cumulative $54 million.

His current company, Keono, a digital marketing company which he started in 2011, claims revenue of $18.5 million and has been listed on INC. 50 four years in a row as a “Best Workplace in the U.S.”, among other accolades he said. Medema is a serial entrepreneur with chops. As an ID mentor, he’s willing and able to help others, so ID members were listening closely.

Stay Debt Free
In a staccato delivery style, all business and fast facts, Medema advised ID members to avoid debt if at all possible. He said organic growth is the best growth and the way to achieve organic growth is through personal selling. He said it’s okay to start small, and not to spend a lot of money on marketing at first. For super small companies, if there’s a little money—like $500-$1000 per month to spend–founders are better off hiring sales reps, even 1099 sales reps, to follow up on leads and close deals.

Hook a big client, do something great for them and then leverage that success on to the next. He said to be realistic with financials and remember “Cash and data are king. Debt is crippling.”

Focus on One Thing
No one can be all things to all people. As an example, Medema said his particular strength is on building great companies and teams—fast—and then getting out. “I’m not the CEO to take a company to the next level. My sweet spot is from scratch up to $25 million.” He said to focus on doing one thing great and figuring out how to scale fast.

focus on doing one thing great and figure out how to scale fast.

Get a Great Team
While you’re lasering in on the thing you do best, he advised company leaders to hire slow/fire fast to cultivate a capable team, a powerful network and a high-functioning company culture. Founders have to do everything alone at first. But when it’s time to hire, he said to try to pay on results as much as possible (see paragraph three). Use consultants and 1099 them. Find and hire interns to help. They’re willing and able to work to gain experience. (Hint: the ID partner colleges and universities are full of them!)

Be Ready to Change
“If you’re not changing, you’re dying. I change quickly. I’m always looking over my shoulder,” Medema asserted. The people in the team change, the customers change, the product changes and the markets certainly change. Founders need to be prepared for that. Founders also must “Constantly share their vision, direction and plans with clients, vendors, team members, investors and so on. Keep the vision strong and continue to ask questions and challenge the norm,” he said.

Use the Network
Medema was impressed with the level of talent and vision in the room. He recommended that business founders and owners at Innovation DuPage take the headphones off and work together. ID members could share knowledge and resources and even combine resources to hire needed talent, if possible.

He said, “Most of the companies all have similar issues so leverage the group and discuss key issues together (i.e. prospecting, hiring, etc.). Although the companies are unique and in different stages, sharing ideas would be greatly beneficial. I’ve learned a ton from business partners, friends and other business owners, so network more so you too can learn the ropes.”

This rope is one every ID member will want to swing on! ID Member Symone Lewis, founder and CEO of Barelastics, said “This was amazing and worth every minute.” Stay tuned for the next mentor workshop on Tuesday, July 16, from 10:00 a.m. to noon with Dave Goetz.



ID Grand Opening in Video and Photos

The Grand Opening event video documents an incredible day where an estimated 300+ people participated in activities complete with a ribbon cutting featuring local dignitaries and an open house where the entire community was invited to meet and interact with some of ID’s members.

Members Gray Matters Games, GOtivation and Gindo’s offered samples, demos and
taste samples. Not to be outdone by companies starting with G, collaborators Warphole and Quze engaged with hundreds of participants. All of ID’s members are startup and small businesses looking to
get to that next step with collaboration, networking and business education opportunities
provided by ID.

Check out the Flickr photo album for fun photos documenting the day.

Read the articles that commemorated Innovation DuPage’s grand opening:

If you are interested in learning more about Innovation DuPage, call 630-942-3340 or stop in for a tour.