By Jessica Peyton Roberts ‘08
A growing number of Notre Dame alumnae have become entrepreneurs, creating and running their own businesses. My conversations with four of these women provide a glimpse into what interests and motivates these risk-takers.
I’m also an entrepreneur – one who traveled a major detour before deciding what I really wanted to be when I grew up.
A couple of years ago I was on track to receiving my PhD in Russian History, a career path that made some people trill enthusiastically, “How interesting! Are you planning on joining the CIA?” Others, perhaps more honestly, faltered “How…how did you end up doing that?” The short answer is that I took Russian on a whim at Notre Dame, earned an M.A. in related studies at Harvard, and then decided to forge on with a PhD. I wanted my obscure degrees, acute graduate student poverty, and many, many hours spent researching the historical significance of Kazakhstan railroads to count for something. For years I kept my head down, working towards becoming a professor of Russian History.
I wish I had known Laura Nagy Rupp ‘86 when I was a student. Laura owns Laura Rupp Consulting, providing “a resource for other people to discover how they can bring their gifts and light to the world.” Laura helps students find areas of study and prospective career paths that most optimally align with their inherent talents and interests. As a parent of teenagers, she has firsthand experience with guiding young adults who are transitioning into university or professional settings.
After the too-long process of discovering that I did not want the life of a scholar, I left the program. I sat for maybe a week, trying to discern how I wanted to reorient the path of my future career trajectory.
Lisa Czlonka ‘02 assures me that most business owners go through a similar period of weighing one’s priorities and objectives. Lisa, founder of Wailani’s Body Scrubs, knew she wanted a business that could be easily transported, allow her to be home with her three young children, and provide an opportunity to raise awareness about happiness and health through her original line of self-care products. And she underscores that “solopreneurs” are still reliant on networks, adding, “Your connections with people will help you go farther than you could on your own.”
Kelly McCarthy Cash ‘80 of Very Truly Yours, provider of fine custom stationary and other personalized products, agrees that her favorite part about being a business owner is the flexibility it afforded her to be a present parent to her three sons (who have since each graduated from Notre Dame!). Kelly also acknowledges how her time at Notre Dame helped her remain confident when establishing her business: “My ND professors taught me I could do anything I set my mind on.”
Like Lisa Czlonka, I knew I needed to find and leverage network connections when launching Aim High Writing, where I now serve as an Applications Coach for high-performing college and graduate students. I assist students with everything from the school search, finding viable funding options, and most importantly, preparing competitive applications essays. Ultimately, however, I teach students how to enter college prepared to write at the university-level; you might be surprised at the number of freshmen who arrive unable to write an academic paper.
My time at Notre Dame has influenced my approach, injecting a social justice element into my work. My objective is to ensure that high-performing students, regardless of socioeconomic background, have access to college prep services that set them up to succeed in a university environment. I approach writing as a tool for education reform; my motto is “Write your way to success.”
Notre Dame and its legacy of social consciousness also informed Green Bridge Growers, a venture begun by Janice Pilarski ’79 that employs highly-capable young adults with autism at an urban aquaponics farm. This venture received the Klau Family Greatest Social Impact Award at ND’s 2013 McCloskey Business Plan Competition. In addition to providing jobs for an under-served population, the farm also produces an abundance of fresh, local produce for the local community.
The commonalities among these various entrepreneurial ventures are threefold. First, we derived an invaluable education and sense of ethical business practices during our time at Notre Dame. Second, we are business owners, yes, but we are also committed to being present spouses and parents for our families, with our professional goals informed and motivated by our personal lives. And finally, we all agree that nothing happens without the support of the community.
We’ve added a list of ND alumna entrepreneurs to the NDWC website (see the What’s New box). We’ll add more as we learn about them and profile each entrepreneur on our national Facebook page. If you know of anyone we should add to this list, please email their information to NDWCnewsletter@gmail.com. Thanks!