I was recently reflecting on a trip I did to New York in early 2007 with Sarah White and Andrea Harris (my Fairware co-founders). We were going into our second year of business and were on route to celebrate winning a business grant from EILEEN FISHER.
I remember the interview process clear as a bell. We were sitting in Sarah’s garage (our then ‘head office’) answering questions from the grant committee. We were at a makeshift table, huddled around the phone, grateful that they couldn’t see the cord running through the backyard to the main house. We answered the questions about our business, our purpose and our plans for the future and tried to forget we were still operating out of a garage.
The interview was for the EILEEN FISHER Women Owned Business Grants. And it must have went well, we were chosen with a group of 3 other women owned businesses to receive a grant. We were thrilled and floored all at once.
At the time, the $10,000 grant was a godsend. We’d started the company with a total of $15,000, so the grant was nearly the equivalent of our total start up funds. We needed a website update and the grant was perfectly timed. When we found out we won, we realized that as important as the influx of capital, was the validation the award gave our idea. Outside of family, friends and early clients, we didn’t have a lot of external validation that we had a good plan and a great start up business. It was a stamp of approval and gave us a needed boost of confidence.
The trip to New York solidified it all. To get exposure to the leadership and inspiration that is EILEEN FISHER, the brand and the person, was incredible.Whether it was learning more about their distributed leadership model of just having lunch at Eileen’s house with the other recipients, it was memorable and left an impression. There was something reassuring in learning she had started with $350 in a loft in Tribeca.
After the money was absorbed and the high fives were distant memories, we realized the true value of the grant. We thought we had gained a ‘funder’ when in fact, we had gained a fan club and friends.
When I look at the past ten years, not a year has passed without a ripple from the grant touching us. It may be simple gestures like asking us if we want to share a table at an event we’re both attending, to sending Cheryl Campbell, the managing director of the EILEEN FISHER Community Foundation and Amy Hall, Director of Social Consciousness to Vancouver to share their wisdom at our local Social Venture Institute.
There was the time Sarah was invited to speak at a gathering in their newly opened Vancouver store or the year they recommended me to be profiled in the Take Part In Her Company campaign. Or all the times I get to connect with Shona Quinn, their Chief Sustainability Officer, to compare notes and get insights on the challenges we face in our supply chain.
A few years back, I got a call from Matt Stinchcomb at ETSY to discuss an initiative he was working on. I asked him how he got my name and he said Amy Hall at EILEEN FISHER suggested he call me. From that, I’m now a member of ETSY’s Manufacturing Advisory Board along with another grant recipient, Susan Matteucci from Southwest Creations.
We’re no longer in the garage and count as clients leading brands like Patagonia, TESLA and Ben & Jerry’s. Our friends at EILEEN FISHER ask us to speak to other entrepreneurs to share our lessons. It all seems so full circle.
At the NIKE Launch event in Portland a few years back I met Candice Reffe, the Creative Officer at EILEEN FISHER. We we had never met but she mentioned she saw Sarah and I at the SVN Hall of Fame Gala in New York. She said “I remember seeing you approach the EILEEN FISHER table, and wondered who you were and why so many people were hugging you.” There were hugs because what started as a grant has ended in long lasting relationship of mutual respect and admiration.
The 2016 Grant application is now open. What are you waiting for.
Apply Now: The 2016 EILEEN FISHER Women-Owned Business Grant application, is EILEEN FISHER’s ongoing way of supporting women entrepreneurs who are using business to create environmental and social change with funding to take their businesses to the next level. They’ll select up to 10 businesses to receive a resource-filled trip to NYC, access to a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and a minimum grant of $10,000. Interested businesses can learn more and apply at www.eileenfisher.com/businessgrant. Applications are due June 2, 2016 at 5PM Eastern.