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Why I’m Giving Away $100,000 and Creating a Mentor Network for New Entrepreneurs

The Entrepreneurial Dream Project

I was never one of those kids who knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. I went through the motions of classes and homework, doing enough to get by and feeling hopeful that I’d someday figure it out. In my early career (long before I created Supermaker), I found myself working my way up the ranks in the field of human resources. I’d landed a decent job and was on the path to financial security, but I was overwhelmed by nagging feelings of discontent. I understood that to really find my calling, I’d need to quit my job and devote some time to exploring.

I uprooted my life to Portland, where I maintained a commitment to getting my hands dirty, trying different hobbies and side hustles, and enrolling in classes to learn new skills. Portland is a city of makers, artists, and creators, and I was excited to find my place. A couple years into my exploring phase, I discovered a love for the challenge of formulating natural and effective personal care products, and I quickly recognized the business potential in offering a deodorant unlike anything on the market. In 2010, Schmidt’s Naturals was born in my tiny kitchen. 

The industry was ripe for innovation, and I was overwhelmed with positive customer feedback right out of the gate. The enthusiasm from the community continued to push me forward, and I grew committed to expanding and taking my business as far as it could go. My mission became clear: to make natural and healthy products available to the masses. For the first time ever, I felt inspired and fulfilled by my work, and entrepreneurship became my new way of life.

Schmidt’s Naturals experienced tremendous and rapid growth, including distribution in retailers like Target and Walmart and international expansion into 30+ countries. I found myself building out a full-scale manufacturing facility and managing a team of over 100 employees. Seven years after its founding, Schmidt’s caught the attention of Unilever, resulting in an acquisition deal that was unfathomable to me when starting out. 

Having gone through this incredible experience, and recognizing the limited paths to entrepreneurial success faced by so many women and people of color, I began to craft support systems designed to enable the entrepreneurs coming up behind me. With the ambition to level the playing field for underestimated entrepreneurs, my husband Chris Cantino and I started the investment fund Color and the media company Supermaker. I also authored a book about my experience, Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms, where I tell the story of finding my way in my career, and the lessons learned while growing Schmidt’s from my kitchen to acquisition.

When COVID-19 hit, I focused my attention and resources on ways my teams could be of immediate and most relevant support. I know firsthand the incredible amount of hard work, resiliency, and support needed to get a business off the ground, especially in an economic downturn. I also understand the power of pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams to change your life and make the world a better place. I want others to not feel inhibited in their aspirations. And so, I set to work creating a project to support emerging business owners: the Entrepreneurial Dream Project.

The Entrepreneurial Dream Project is a $100,000 non-dilutive grant fund and mentorship program benefiting new businesses that are building during COVID-19. Two recipients will share in the non-dilutive monetary award, and ten winners will receive coaching from a dream team of 40+ business leaders from Mark Cuban to Rebecca Minkoff, with representation from companies including Unilever, Adidas, Harry’s, and more. The mentorship component is critical—not only in providing actionable advice from seasoned founders and executives, but also in creating an authentic community that is so needed during disheartening times.

Let’s keep the entrepreneurial dream alive. We invite you to learn more, apply, and help spread the word. Applications are open now through June 15, 2020. 

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