VCET recognizes women entrepreneurs

by Abagael Giles

MIDDLEBURY — On Sept. 27, more than 50 college students, local residents and women entrepreneurs gathered at Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium for the first-ever Vermont Female Founders StartHere Challenge, hosted by the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies.

Seven finalists pitched their startup business plans to a panel of three successful businesswomen with ties to Vermont: Mary Cullinane of Community Barn Ventures, Hinda Miller of Sultanas Group and Jogbra, and Lucie Ide of Rimidi.

With $25,000 in prize money on the line, each contestant made the case that her business plan was supported by market opportunities and a strong team, half of whom must be based in Vermont. Contestants were also judged on the strength of their intended use of the funds.

The seven finalists included: Katie McCurdy of Burlington-based Pictal Health; Rachel Miller of Granville-based Cora Ball; Julie Lineberger of Wilmington-based Wheel Pad; Adriana LeTorney of Stowe-based Visura; and Courtney Reckord of Courtney Reckord Jewelry in South Burlington.

Eva Shaw of Overeasy was selected as the runner up for the competition. The Middlebury student and co-founder of Overeasy, a locally-based clothing manufacturing company, told judges she would use the prize money to establish production of her product at the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s Shelburne factory. Overeasy’s weather resistant and wind-blocking over-the-ski-helmet fauz-fur HoodEs are currently manufactured by residents of Addison County.

“Our local home seamstresses are incredible, but we sold out in our Fall pre-sale,” Shaw told judges. “We expect a big push for the holidays and are well on our way to our goal of $55,000 in sales this year.” She said they expect an initial cost of $12,000 to establish a process for manufacturing their product at Vermont Teddy Bear Company and that the grant funding would help them avoid passing that off to their consumers.

Judges selected Ashley Reynolds, founder of Elmore Mountain Therapeutics, a Morrisville-based whole plant hemp CBD extract company that sources all of its products and CBD from Vermont, as the first-place winner. Reynolds’ company helps existing Vermont entrepreneurs in food, beverage and beauty products create, brand and market CBD-infused things like lip balm, chocolate, juice, coffee, lotions and dog treats.

The company supplies and tests CBD extract, and Reynolds says her company currently bottles and hand-sterilizes all of their CBD products themselves. They currently partner with more than 40 Vermont women-owned businesses and plan to use the $20,000 in prize money to purchase commercial sterilizing and automated packaging equipment, and to upgrade their Morrisville facility to accommodate the shift.

Reynolds discovered CBD while dealing with post-partum anxiety after a pregnancy. “I want to spread the word about how beneficial CBD can be for women, who make the majority of decisions about healthcare in American households,” said Reynolds. “Our goal is to get that message across and create products that are as dynamic as we women are, juggling work, kids, housework. I know we can be successful.”

In her pitch, Reynolds pointed to growth in the CBD sector of the cannabis industry. “The market for CBD is growing faster than for recreational cannabis,” said Reynolds. However, she plans to keep her company local and work with Vermont businesses to create artisanal CBD products. Elmore Mountain Therapeutics produces a CBD balm in-house, as well as a whole-plant CBD extract tincture, which it sells to local coffee shops in the form of 25mg CBD shots. “We’ve had some businesses report selling more than 400 CBD coffee drinks in a day,” says Reynolds.

Reynolds congratulated her fellow contestants and thanked VCET and the judges for selecting her business as the winner. Then she recommended that other women join the cannabis industry. “Just 36 percent of the cannabis industry is owned by women. I encourage you all to get involved,” Reynolds told the audience.

Funding for the prizes was provided by the event’s sponsors: Middlebury College, The Vermont Community Foundation, Sultanas Group, The Vermont Women’s Fund, Hotel Vermont, VCET, Vermont Technology Council and a private donor.

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