by Urmila Ramakrishnan
It was the first of a series of forums Nolan hosted as part of National Small Business Week and hosted in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development, the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the U.S. Small Business Administration and local Chambers of Commerce.
Alicia Overby, of Cambridge-based Baby Elephant Ears Inc., was one of the featured women at the forum.
Her business has received national attention and recently was named Small Business Exporter of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Minnesota district office, the upper Midwest region and the nation.
Her company started as an idea to solve a problem: relieve her baby Finn’s neck pain. She went from an idea to a full-scale business in two years. She gave insight on how to start a business from scratch.
“You don’t have a patent to make money,” Overby said. “In the early stages, we went through all the due diligence, filed the patents, everything was trademarked. But we do not have a final issued patent at this point and the chances are slim. Our strategy is to overcome that in some ways.”
One of those ways was trademarking and copyrighting her name and products. Though a few imitators have emerged since she started, it hasn’t hampered her success. She added she didn’t want 100 percent market share.
Overby was joined by former Minnesota Sen. Becky Lourey. The former politician also has extensive business experience.
“When you have a name like Baby Elephant Ears, trademark it and protect your trademark,” Lourey said to participants. “If she didn’t have that, then someone can come and take her name. You have to protect yourself.”
Marie Rivers, of Svens Clogs in Chisago City, said protecting the company name is extremely important for Internet sales, too.
“You have to tie those names down,” Rivers said. If a business doesn’t do that, other competitors could take those domain names to ruin business, she added.
Lori Tapani, of Stacy-based Wyoming Machine; Nancy Hoffman, with the Chisago County Economic Development Authority; and Sarah Anderson, of Cambridge-based Schlagel Inc., were also speakers at the forum.
Tessa Hill, who was one of the audience members at the forum, said she came to get ideas about starting a women’s collective group and gain advice for her own veterinary venture. “I started a business years ago and my attorney told me what I really needed was a wife,” Hill jokingly said.
Though Chisago City was only the first stop on a long road of women in business forums, Nolan was happy with the turnout. The Chisago City forum was in addition to three other forums held in May and June in Brainerd, Duluth and Hibbing.
“I am trying to do what I can,” Nolan said. “Our slogan is when women succeed, America succeeds.”