Alumni News

Michigan Ross Alums Reflect on the Meaning of Women’s History Month, the Value of The Ross Network, and How to Support Women-Owned Businesses

By Tina Spencer

Women entrepreneurs, business owners, and Ross School of Business alums share what Women’s History Month means for them, their businesses, and their personal entrepreneur journey. 

Kaitlyn Brown, MBA ’14        

Founder & CEO, Savorista

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

It is so important to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of women, but we should always be doing that. We need to view celebrations along the journey, and not feel like we have arrived at the destination. Let us look back and celebrate how far we have come, then use that energy as fuel to go further. 

What type of company is Savorista? 

Savorista is a caffeine-conscious coffee company. We specialize in crafting astonishingly delicious decaf and half-caf coffee so that all coffee lovers can savor their favorite beverage any time of day, without the impact of too much caffeine. I started Savorista because I realized that the massive amount of caffeine I was drinking was amplifying my tension and anxiety during a stressful period at my consulting job, when my father was diagnosed with cancer. I switched to decaf to reduce caffeine's impact on my stress and sleep, but found it difficult to find a decaf I was actually excited to drink and one that wasn't decaffeinated with harsh chemicals.  When I left that job, my boyfriend Daniel and I, whom I met while I was at Michigan, set out on a global decaf quest, traveling through South America and East Africa to taste hundreds of coffees and meet with producers of decaf who only used natural ingredients. We even got engaged in Ethiopia while exploring coffee! When we found our first astonishingly delicious decaf, we knew we could build Savorista. 

How has your experience and network at Ross helped you?

I cannot imagine that I would have started Savorista if I had not gone to the Ross School of Business. I use knowledge and skills I learned at Michigan Ross every single day, and my network has been extremely supportive. I have appreciated and benefited from the advice and support of many former classmates along this journey!

How can consumers or the Ross community support you?

Try our coffee and tell a friend about us. Also, tell your favorite coffee shop and grocery store that they should carry Savorista! We are actively building our ecosystem of CPG-related relationships with angel investors, other brands, buyers, potential partners, media, advisors, etc. I would love to hear from you and if you know anyone, introductions are always welcome! 

More information 

 

Kimberly Dillon, MBA ’10        

Founder, Frigg

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

For me it is a time of celebration, but also a time to reflect on how I and my businesses support and uplift women. I am personally supporting small female-owned businesses with my dollars and sharing these brands with my friends and family. I also actively comment and share the work of amazing women and their accomplishments on social media. I support and cheer on all the women in my LinkedIn network. It is a tiny gesture, but imagine if we all came together to do that! In my business, I make sure to check and ask about the composition of other organizations’ executive team and their boards. It helps plant the seed that inclusion matters to me as a buyer and the composition of employees and owners is a valid, important selection criterion.

What type of company is Frigg?

I started the Frigg haircare brand after experiencing lots of issues with my scalp, which was triggered by stress. I was the first Black chief marketing officer of a cannabis company, so I already knew a lot about cannabis for pain relief, but I did not know how it would work in a meaningful way for beauty. I started chatting to formulators and researchers and discovered lots of early research on the potential healing properties of cannabinoids like CBD, and CBD's cousin CBG, on psoriasis, acne, and hair loss. After a year of formulations, we launched Frigg with a hair potion and a face potion targeting those with chronic skin conditions or stress-related issues. We work with female and Bhttp://zli.umich.edu/wolverine-venture-fundlack hemp farmers to help produce our products and we just launched at the Detox Market in January 2021.

How has your experience and network at Ross helped you?

Everything comes back to connection and community such as family, friends, and mentors. I really miss meeting new people and the way I have leaned into that is by tapping into the Ross School of Business network. I have befriended some alumni, for no real reason beyond the fact that their work looks interesting and we both lived in Los Angeles. It has been cool to network in a different kind of way, not really looking for anything like work or an introduction. I just wanted to meet new people and I have been delighted by the results.

How can consumers or the Ross community support you?

We are a new brand, six months old, looking for new distribution opportunities and partners, such as health and beauty retailers, CBD stores, and wellness destinations including upscale salons or day spas. We are also working on many novel new products that include beauty edibles. Currently, we are preparing to open our first fundraising round, so that any angel investors interested in hemp/cannabis are welcomed to reach out. 

More information

 

Holli Harris, MBA ’96        

Founder/Owner, HadleyStilwell

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

It is a time to amplify the accomplishments of women in all fields worldwide, past and present. Amplification is still very much needed. It is also a time of connection and celebration among all females, and the annual boost of empowerment keeps women pushing forward.

What type of company is HadleyStilwell?

HadleyStilwell (named after my daughter) was "born" after the daunting experience of my traveling across the country with an infant and breast pump for a three-day board meeting. Many women stop breastfeeding when they go back to work because of time constraints and lack of privacy. I realized that if I can minimize one of the challenges of breastfeeding mothers – lack of nursing/pumping-friendly clothes that fit in the workplace designed for quick and discreet functionality – and it helps the process of breastfeeding that much longer, I have accomplished my goal. Holistically, breastfeeding is about connecting with your baby, with yourself as a mother, and connecting to others around you, including the planet. HadleyStilwell designs are clothes you want to wear. 

How has your experience and network at Ross helped you?

The Ross School of Business gave me the tools I needed to confidently jump into starting a business that I'm able to run on the side. I was able to craft the big-picture business plan as well as work out the details of pricing and financial analysis, marketing, and operations. I acquired the skills to build a chart of accounts, which led to actionable financial reporting and ultimately to receiving a grant from the Eileen Fisher apparel company. My Michigan Ross classmates are a permanent source of advice, networking, and word-of-mouth advertising. My school experience of working on teams with people from diverse backgrounds in unfamiliar industries has prepared me to ask the right questions and seek out the right talent in an industry I previously knew nothing about. One former classmate even modeled for me with her new baby!

How can consumers or the Ross community support you?

At the Ross School of Business, we learned that word-of-mouth advertising is the best form of marketing. My repeat customers think of HadleyStilwell as a go-to gift for new mothers as well as for themselves, particularly those who are combining breastfeeding with a challenging career. I welcome the opportunity to become the go-to online shop for the Michigan Ross community to support new mothers balancing motherhood with their careers. 

More information

 

Cat Lee, MBA ’08 

Co-Founder and COO, Pace

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women's History Month is a moment to recognize and appreciate all the women who have come before me, and the women who are currently in my life that inspire me day-to-day. It is also an opportunity to think about the impact I want to make for women in the next generation.

What type of company is Pace?

Pace was started by a group of mental health professionals and early employees of companies like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google. We believe mental and emotional fitness is about everyone.

How has your experience and network at Ross helped you?

The Ross School of Business gave me the knowledge, network, and opportunity to transition my career from software engineering at Lockheed Martin toward entrepreneurship. As a student, I joined the Wolverine Venture Fund and participated in several Zell Lurie Institute entrepreneurship activities. One day I crashed a pizza party on campus, which led to an interview to join Facebook in early 2008. A Michigan Ross friend gave me the "kick-in-the-pants" encouragement I needed to join Facebook. Seeing the team at Facebook grow from 400 to 4,000 people in four years was an incredible experience and hooked me onto the startup journey. I then joined Pinterest as it was beginning to take off and made the leap into venture capital at Maveron before being inspired to start Pace in June 2020. My Michigan Ross network has benefited me across numerous career adventures.

How can consumers or the Ross community support you?

Give Pace a try! We recently launched our public beta in January 2021. I am always grateful for feedback from new members and hope that Pace can improve your life and well-being.

More information

 

Lynda Myszkowski, BBA ’93    

Owner / Photographer, Lynda Myszkowski Photography

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month is a time to stop and celebrate the past achievements of women who have helped shape the opportunities that are available to me today, but also to recognize that there is work still to be done in achieving equality. Photography is still a male-dominated industry, not so much in terms of the number of photographers, because of the number of opportunities. It means a lot to me to be recognized for my work and it is also important to me to support fellow women photographers.

What type of company is Lynda Myszkowski Photography?

I am a photographer based in Chicago. I do cityscape, landscape, architecture, product, event, and corporate photography. I also have experience with portraits. I sell prints of my photos through my website with a primary focus on urban and natural landscapes. I shoot a lot of wide vistas and cityscapes, but I also shoot close-ups to show detail in architecture and nature. I have photos available of Chicago, the University of Michigan campus, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, as well as some non-city specific landscape and nature photos. I enjoy exploring and photographing in all kinds of weather. I never leave home without my camera, so sometimes I will photograph beautiful, interesting, or unique things I see around me. I also do commissioned projects. In addition, I am available for hire to do product, event, and corporate photography. I have done some portrait work, but that is not my primary focus. My work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, on NBC Chicago, and across several notable Instagram accounts including the University of Michigan, Chicago, Choose Chicago, 360 Chicago, and Your Take (USA Today).

How has your experience and network at Ross helped you?

I use knowledge, concepts, and skills learned in business school to operate my own business and also use them in the way I approach my photography. My entire career has been a journey to find the best application of my keen attention to detail, my strong analytical skills, an appreciation for beauty, and an underlying creative streak. Auditing financials for the Fortune 100 led me to managing marketing budgets for one of the earliest dotcom companies, where I later led all creative and strategy development for their online marketing campaigns. As a lifelong shutterbug, becoming a professional photographer was a logical extension of my skills and experiences. Taking that perfect shot is as much science as art – for instance, analyzing my surroundings for the ideal vantage point, researching sun placement, and framing the subject with exacting precision to achieve the best composition. I am building my brand, promoting my business and photos, and managing the financial aspects. I am ultimately using similar skills that I used to manage marketing campaigns and budgets. Having a business background from Michigan Ross gives me a different perspective than other photographers when photographing for businesses and organizations. My background and skills give me a unique edge in how I work and the art I create.

How can consumers or the Ross community support you?

If you are looking for some new artwork for your home or office, you can purchase prints of my photos through my website. Contact me if you want a custom photo or have need for a photographer for your business within the Chicago area or in Michigan. Aside from me, I would encourage you to support local female artists, and local female owned businesses in general, in keeping with the spirit of Women’s History Month.

More information

 

Renee Rhoten-Morris, MBA ’00

President and CEO, Rhoten Morris Consumer Group: Uncle Funky’s Daughter and Uncle Funky’s 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women's History Month is an opportunity to honor women who continue to make tremendous strides in the advancement of our world. Women are doing amazing things every day, from developing COVID-19 vaccines to ensuring our homes run smoothly. Women's History Month is also a reminder that there is still much work to be done to address issues of gender bias, pay inequity, and a lack of adequate representation in the C-suite and on public boards. As a mother of four children — including three young girls — it is an important time to pause and show our young girls their power!

What type of company is Rhoten Morris Consumer Group?

Rhoten Morris Consumer Group provides beauty and apparel solutions for women, men, and children globally with two brands: Uncle Funky's Daughter (beauty) and Uncle Funky's (apparel). Our mission is to support women, men, and children in their quest to confidently showcase their beauty naturally. We provide a system of high-quality, affordable beauty solutions globally that address the needs of the diverse world, while helping to protect the Earth’s valuable resources. We strive to uplift community through our charitable initiatives and inspire our team members to bring their best selves each day.

How has your experience and network at Ross helped you?

My Ross experience is unparalleled to any other. From my summers in South Africa and Ghana working for companies via the African Business Development Corp. program, to the strategic thinking that supported my entry into management consulting (along with the case practices with my friends in the BBSA). It was Michigan Ross that equipped me with the foundation and the tools to lead my company today. I will never forget that my former Michigan Ross colleagues (Ed Hightower, Kim Kemp Burrows, Paul Linton, etc.) are among my panel of advisors, and I leverage to pick their brains and toss around ideas. Michigan Ross has given me so much, and I hope to always be a resource to those that come behind me, so that they also pay it forward. That is the Michigan Ross way!

How can consumers or the Ross community support you?

We invite the Ross community to join the Funky Junky family. We have hair care and apparel products fit for every consumer. 

More information: Uncle Funky’s Daughter  

More information: Uncle Funky’s
 

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