Happy International Women’s Day! On this day last year, CEO of meowbox, Olivia Canlas and CEO of Vitae Apparel, Selene Dior launched the Women in Business Startup Competition. As female entrepreneurs, they created this contest to promote a supportive entrepreneurial culture for women and help empower those who are in the early stages of launching an e-commerce business. The winning businesses would receive a combined $10,000 in financial aid, comprehensive mentorship from Olivia and Selene, plus access to Olivia and Selene’s business resources and networks.
The competition consisted of two rounds: the online application process, followed by an elimination round, where the top six candidates pitched their businesses on Instagram live. Of these six very impressive pitches, Olivia and Selene selected the three winning businesses.
Maya Page, CEO and founder of Pie Happens (image via Pie Happens)
The 1st Prize winner was Pie Happens, a brand that helps with the not-so-pleasant post-coitus drip (as well as bladder leaks, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, lighter period days, and more). Founder Maya Page created these discreet, absorbent panties to celebrate bodies and help de-stigmatize normal bodily functions. Using sustainable packaging, eliminating the need for single-use panty liners and planting one tree for every order, the brand is committed to making products that are good for you and for the planet.
E.L.O. Deck founders Ferwa Chevel Khalfan (Social Strategist), Sakina Issa (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist) and Maggie Hindia (Creative Director). Image via E.L.O. Deck
The 2nd Prize Winner was E.L.O. Deck. Having all come from cultures that regard mental health management as taboo, founders Sakina Issa, Maggie Hindia and Ferwa Chevel Khalfan wondered how they could help set up future generations for success in this area. This led to E.L.O. Deck: a deck of affirmation flashcards for children that support their mental wellbeing, foster confidence and resilience, and create an opportunity for physical and emotional connection between parent and child.
Jessica Wylde, CEO and founder of My Perfect Pair (image via My Perfect Pair)
3rd Prize went to My Perfect Pair, the world’s first luxury breast tape! Founder Jessica Wylde created this breast tape with inclusivity mind, offering options for all chest sizes and occasions. The budge-proof tape provides optimal, long-lasting support, without having to worry about bra straps, lumps or clasps peeking out. It’s customizable to any cut or neckline, so you can rock that backless dress or plunging neckline with total confidence.
Now that it has been about a year since Olivia and Selene launched the contest across meowbox and Vitae Apparel’s social channels, we caught up with the three winning candidates to hear how the past year has been for their businesses, post-competition.
What’s a part of your business’s story that you love to tell?
Maya Page, Pie Happens: I love all of it, but mostly, I love the empowering aspect of it—that we, as women, should never feel ashamed of our bodies or what they can do. Pie Happens wants to celebrate every body and every person, from the beautiful things that our bodies are capable of doing, to accepting and celebrating perfectly normal bodily functions.
Sakina Issa, Maggie Hindia and Ferwa Chevel Khalfan, E.L.O. Deck: That all three of our founders’ experiences with mental health and the lack of tools we each had growing up is a shared one, regardless of growing up in three different cities. Additionally the beauty of our project turning into a full-time business was so organic as we further found the deep need for it in the world we live in, and most importantly that our kids live in.
Jessica Wylde, My Perfect Pair: My story on how MPP came to life—I don’t think anyone would have guessed that I would have the confidence, or knowledge to be able to create and source my own patent-pending product and brand, and actually bring it to life—especially within such a short period of time. I was really struggling before MPP, but this product and brand really helped me find myself in my life journey. Being able to help other women find confidence in their own skin along the way as well is just really incredible to me.
What was the most valuable aspect of the Women in Business Startup Competition for you/your business?
Maya, Pie Happens: The mentorship, guidance, and feedback was so invaluable. I feel that as entrepreneurs, we all suffer from imposter syndrome and never believing if our ideas are good enough to run with to market—and the feedback and guidance that Olivia and Selene gave me was so helpful in validating my vision. They were with me every step of the way, always ready to help in any way that I needed.
Sakina, Maggie and Ferwa, E.L.O. Deck: The mentoring we received from Olivia and Selene, primarily, because we were able to implement and amplify our experiences when sharing our mission with others, in ways we wouldn’t have thought to without their input. Secondly, the pitch process made us really tighten up our ‘elevator’ pitch and gave us practice talking to ‘strangers’ about our product! Of course, the financial grant was super helpful too!
Jessica, My Perfect Pair: Mentorship has been the most valuable aspect of this competition. Getting to chat with Olivia and Selene one-on-one and hear their ideas and opinions has been SO helpful. Along this journey, I have come across so many new “firsts,” and I often get overwhelmed with these. Having Olivia and Selene just a text away has been so amazing. Both Olivia and Selene inspire me so much, and their time and advice have meant the world to me. It is pretty amazing that two busy women in business are taking the time to help other women grow.
What has been the greatest challenge for you so far, as a woman-owned business? How/has the competition helped you navigate this challenge?
Maya, Pie Happens: I think the greatest challenge so far has been dealing with shipping setbacks, factory vetting and maneuvering wrong samples/wrong packages being sent. On top of that, because this is a new product and there’s nothing else like it on the market, I’ve had to do a lot of customer education and marketing. Another challenge has been normalizing normal bodily functions and educating people that it should not be seen as shameful, but rather something that is perfectly normal and simply biological.
Sakina, Maggie and Ferwa, E.L.O. Deck: Even though there is three of us, we, as women, wear many hats: spouse, mom, business owner, daughter, and the list goes on! Finding time to practice the self-care we teach the world to practice, in between being pulled in many directions is definitely a challenge. We have used this as a way to really be efficient and organized with our schedules. We always prioritize what needs to be done that week, and stick to up to three main deliverables so that we are not overwhelmed, and yet, feel accomplished when getting the tasks done!
Jessica, My Perfect Pair: Marketing has been a challenge, based on the nature of my product. Most of my ads are blocked or banned because they feature a women’s bust area. However, at the same time, the consumers want to see the product in action on a larger busted model, so they can see that it actually works. Although these challenges have been difficult, Olivia and Selene have connected me with a company that is now helping me navigate them, and they have provided me with new ideas to showcase the product without having full-on application videos.
Any advice for women applying to the future Women in Business Startup Competition?
Maya, Pie Happens: Yes! Just be yourself and have fun with it. Know as much as you possibly can about your business and anticipate questions, but also let your personality shine through. Also, be considerate of the state of the world at the moment and keep in mind that if your product is coming in from overseas, that you might experience a lot of shipping delays and setbacks.
Sakina, Maggie and Ferwa, E.L.O. Deck: Be yourself and speak to your mission and story. Also definitely practice or write out what you want to say before, as many business owners are passionate and tend to repeat or over-explain (guilty as charged). Its important to be concise so the message is well-absorbed.
Jessica, My Perfect Pair: Be confident in yourself and your business, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to do this.
What’s next for your business? What’s the first change you’d love to make in the next 6 months?
Maya, Pie Happens: I am excited about bringing more products to the line, expanding the sizing and colors, adding new styles, and hoping to get added to some stockists, as well. Because of all of the shipping delays I experienced, I’m a bit behind on where I would have liked to be a year later, but the business is quickly catching on and becoming more viral.
Sakina, Maggie and Ferwa, E.L.O. Deck: We have been working on updating our product line based on feedback we got in the first year of being in business. It’s always important to collect data from customer, and potential customers, to ensure your messaging is being received as intended. We learned about this a lot this first year, and we are trying to get closer to our customer so we can better serve them!
Jessica, My Perfect Pair: Expansion! Big things are coming; new product lines are in the works. I am hoping to make my brand even more inclusive by adding more products that align with my values in helping women find confidence in their own skin while still feeling beautiful. Expanding my team as my brand grows will also be an important step in this process.