Rising High 11

14 Inspiring Female Entrepreneurs Share Their Stories On Making It

We rounded up some of the top female entrepreneurs in Boulder to hear how they started their own companies. They share with us their stories of overcoming adversity and pushing through regardless of any barriers. Some leapt at openings in the market, while others grew up always knowing where their path would take them.

We couldn’t help but ask how did they carve their own niche? And while they’re at it, could they dish out advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs? See how these ultimate business role models rose to the top.

Julie Perington and Jennifer Zrubek
jlounge Natural Nail Bar & Spa

Julie and Jennifer are committed to living a clean, eco-friendly lifestyle. And through this dedication, these two like-minded, resilient women from very different backgrounds, joined forces to create a distinct spa experience unlike any they’d ever found, but had always searched for—a truly natural experience.

“We live in Boulder where everyone is conscious about what they eat and what happens to our environment, but there was no nail salon/spa that offered the majority of services with organic or chemical free products,” says Perington.

J Lounge offers clients pampering treatments in a relaxed setting without any toxic chemicals.

Her words of wisdom for other entrepreneurs starting out: “Be willing to continuously embrace change. It is the only way to grow and keep moving forward. Accept your mistakes and learn from them and over time, you will see how far you have come from when you started.”

Dr. Liz Erley
Wink Optical

Providing top-end eye care for over two decades now, Dr. Liz Erley knows what clients want when they walk through her door—commitment and understanding. She received her Doctor of Optometry degree at the Illinois College of Optometry and started off working in optical shops on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

“After I had gained some experience, I chose Colorado as the place I wanted to capture my dream of opening an optical boutique unlike any other…one that reflected my passion, creativity, sense of design and style as well as my commitment of service to others,” Erley says.

She launched Wink Optical in order to couple impeccable eye care with stylish eyeglass options, knowing full well if you don’t like your glasses, you aren’t going to wear them! She puts patients at ease by taking the time to explain every phase of the eye exam as well as her analysis.

Dr. Erley’s best tip: “Follow your bliss.”

Dr. Kristin Baird
Dermatology Center of the Rockies

A recognized expert in the field of cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Kristin Baird practiced medial, surgical and cosmetic dermatology for over a decade before she opened Dermatology Center of the Rockies. The Center’s business model was also inspired by the opportunity to offer a unique continuum of state-of-the-art medical, cosmetic and spa services for every member of the family, delivered safely by board-certified dermatologists and expert aestheticians. Kristin is also passionate about sharing her knowledge with others and allows medical students and residents to train at her practice. And she’s an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado, Department of Dermatology.

Best advice for making it: “I encourage fellow entrepreneurs to surround themselves with a support system of co-workers, business partners, friends and family members who share positive core values.”

Becky Heinemann
College Horizons

A Clemson University graduate, Becky Heinemann spent over eight years working as a corporate recruiter, matching companies with the “best-fit” candidate for the job. After college, she volunteered at Daniels Fund for three years as a college prep coach, assisting students through the college application process. Becky’s worked in high schools and assisted in designing a college curriculum to teach students about “best-fit” colleges: the application process, essays, financial aid and scholarships, college visits, choosing a major, recommendation letters, etc. She helps families relieve some of the stress related to the college search and application process. She holds a M.A. in Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, and is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA).

Her thoughts: “Trust in what you know and don’t let what you don’t yet know scare you – it’s a constant learning process.”

Briana Borten 
The Dragontree Spa

Wellness entrepreneur and self-proclaimed peace engineer, Briana Borten ignites flames in others propelling them to live extraordinarily healthy lives. Briana learned at an early age that everyone is capable of creating his or her own destiny after she survived a debilitating car accident. The aftermath of this pivotal moment introduced her to rehabilitative massage therapy and the power of positive thinking. Later, she launched Dragontree Spa in order to offer clients a more comprehensive and transcendent healing spa experience. In addition to opening new spas, Briana also created The Rituals of Living Dreambook, a tool to help people achieve their life dreams, launched Well (The Dragontree Magazine), and formulated a line of products embodying Dragontree’s core principals and aesthetic.

Borten says, “I wanted to create a business that helped foster a more peaceful inner being for people because I believe that a peaceful world is created by more peaceful individuals.”

Alicia Gibb 
Lunchbox Electronics

Alicia Gibb, founder and CEO of Lunchbox Electronics, is an advocate for open hardware. She’s also a hardware hacker and researcher, which is why she created Lunchbox Electronics, a company that creates innovative new products with imagination and the passion for open source hardware. Having worked within the open source community for the past eight years, Alicia’s also founded the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), an organization to educate and promote building and using open source hardware. And she directs the Blow Things Up Lab at CU Boulder.

“Inspiration for my current product, Build Upons, stemmed from some graduate research on embedding instructions in physical products, but ended up morphing into a toy-like product instead of its original intension,” says Gibb.

Her words of wisdom: “Most emails aren’t an emergency. Set expectations in your email signature to help your work-life balance and stand by it!”

Casey Easton 
Food Lab

Having started her career in the food industry in 1999 when she attended the School Of Natural Cookery, Casey Easton knows a thing or two about cooking. She began as a personal chef, which allowed her to leap at numerous opportunities from cooking for non-profits to cooking at Aspen Food and Wine.

Easton says, “My inspiration is my passion of food and community.”

In 2007, she started teaching and sharing her culinary expertise. Her natural food beginnings have empowered her to cross over various cuisine boundaries all while maintaining her roots in providing good, healthy, plant-based foods. She believes that food and cooking should be a fundamental part of people’s lives, especially children’s, and Food Lab is the result of this effort. The company’s mission is to help enhance the community’s level of culinary skills and food and wine knowledge in a fun, entertaining and informative way.

Her best piece of advice: “Stay true to your vision.”

Koel Thomae 
Noosa Finest Yoghurt

Co-founder of Noosa Yoghurt, Koel Thomae wasn’t actually born in U.S.; she traveled here while doing a walkabout (the Australian term for a right of passage journey occurring in  late adolescence) and decided to stay. On a trip back to Australia, she tasted the most delicious yoghurt she’d ever had—a total life game changer. Yet the company she approached wasn’t interested in growing. However she couldn’t stop thinking about it, and approached them a second time a few years later. This time, her pitch stuck and Koel launched Noosa Finest Yoghurt with products now accessible in all 50 states.

Advice for fellow entrepreneurs: “Find a great mentor or group of fellow entrepreneurs who can be a good sounding board when you need to vet an idea or just need a good listening ear over a glass of wine! Also remember to schedule time on your calendar for YOU. You need to stay happy and healthy because growing a business is like a marathon with no finish line in sight.”

Taishya Adams Cameo 
New Legacy Charter School and American Institutes for Research

Taishya Adams serves as the founding board president for New Legacy Charter School, a charter high school and early learning center for teen parents and their children in Aurora, Colorado. You can also find her at American Institutes for Research (AIR), working as a senior technical consultant. At AIR, she leads the REL Midwest School Turnaround Research Alliance and serves as Minnesota state manager for the Midwest Comprehensive Center. Taishya builds the capacity of State Education Agency (SEA) staff to use and access research to inform policy and support best practice. She loves to get outdoors to climb, ski, trail run, meditate and has a strong work/life balance—a linchpin in being able to thrive.

Taishya’s guidance: “Self-discipline. Establish strong rituals and routines that build both your professional and person container. Morning pages, yoga, meditation, hikes and cooking are as important to my life as work meetings, networks and implementation.”

Peg Romano 
The Med, Brasserie Ten Ten, Via Perla

Peg Romano recently launched a third restaurant. Via Perla (Italian cuisine) has been a three-year effort. She opened The Med and Brasserie Ten Ten over 24 years and 13 years ago, respectively, to create an inviting ambiance, and finds her inspiration by entertaining others.

“So being in the restaurant business is the ultimate: I can set the scene with tables, music, lighting and flowers to create an ambiance. It’s nice to watch people enjoying one another, laughing, talking, relaxing and celebrating. At the end of the day, I’ve made new friends, either with the guests or with the staff that I enjoy very much,” says Romano.

Best tip: “Trust the people you work with and be supportive and complementary to all that work for you and with you. If your group is happy, then work is fun, and your customers will feel welcome to your business.”

Andrea Resnick 

Andrea Resnick opened Willow, an eclectic boutique of emerging and luxury brands, fine jewelry and leather goods rooted in modern sophistication, in 2013. A native of New York, Andrea graduated from CU Boulder. She worked in photography at galleries, museums and for private collectors for many years. She inspires customers to get creative with fashion while guiding them toward a forward-thinking style that is both wearable and enjoyable. Willow was named after her grandmother’s favorite tree, who passed away early in Andrea’s life, but remained a strong influence.

“Naming the boutique Willow was a way to include her in a huge new step I was taking. For me, 
willows embody a whispering, graceful strength,” says Resnick. “It is this kind of strength that, not only I would like to have, but hope that confidence is passed to the women that shop with us at Willow.”

Andrea’s advice: “Balance is everything.”

Christie Slater 
Tinker Art Studio

A former third grade teacher at an arts-integrated magnet school, Christie founded Tinker in 2012. She’s also an arts-integration specialist who collaborates with classroom teachers in order to strategize arts-integrated thematic units of study. She holds her Masters of Education in Integrated Teaching through the Arts, as well as her Colorado State Teaching License with an endorsement in Elementary Education in addition to Art.

“As the arts continue to take a back seat in school settings, Tinker was born out of a desire to combine best practice teaching methods with my own professional experience to create a unique studio in which children have the opportunity to solve problems, make decisions, and push boundaries within a safe and supportive environment,” says Slater.

Her best advice: “Balance your passion for your business with an objective lens—write down your plan, set goals and develop an effective approach to assessing your progress.”

Heather Dwight 
Calluna Events

Heather Dwight started Calluna Events in 2004 after spending numerous years working in non-profit and corporate events across the nation.

“Back then, hiring an event planner was considered a luxury. I wanted to create a planning business that was approachable, stylish and fun, and one that provided a high level of service that took the event planning stress away from our clients,” says Dwight.

Calluna Events has been recognized as The Knot’s Best of Weddings (2008-2016) and the winner of Wedding Wire Couples’ Choice Award (2011-2016). Known for her sense of style and vibrant personality, Heather recognizes that beauty lies in all the little details.

Her thoughts: “Being an entrepreneur can be the most challenging work you’ll ever do, but it can also be the most rewarding. Always operate with integrity and be true to yourself. And, try to surround yourself with the best people in your line of business.”