Open for Business Program Case Study: Neck-O Pillow, Supportive Guidance to Launch a Supportive Product
Written By: Madison Wellman, Coalition Manager/Business Opportunity Specialist
BACKGROUND: Ms. Ellen Sheehan is a dental hygienist from Wilmington, Massachusetts. While working in the dental office she noticed a need for a new product; an ergonomic pillow to support the necks of her patients on and off the dental chair. After much hard work, Ms. Sheehan developed a prototype pillow in her spare time that she felt was ready for full production. She approached Workers Credit Union for financing to launch her new enterprise, Neck-O Pillow. Workers Credit Union could see the value in Ms. Sheehan’s business, but in order to secure the loan she needed an appropriate business plan and projections, neither of which Ms. Sheehan was prepared to produce on her own.
THE CHALLENGE: Entrepreneurial success requires, among other things, a broad skillset including accounting, marketing, planning, and managerial skills. The easiest way to develop these skills is through experience and formal business education. However, these avenues are not equally accessible to all aspiring entrepreneurs. This disparity has produced a shared sense of underdeveloped entrepreneurial capacity in communities across the country, both urban and rural. Lack of educational opportunities, poor connectivity infrastructure, and a general absence of human capital capable of providing mentorship and expertise in our communities all contribute to the high business failure rate in our nation’s villages, small towns, and even larger cities. RCAP is striving to surmount these obstacles by delivering the absent human capital to communities across the country in a cost-effective manner. In meeting this challenge, RCAP is building permanent entrepreneurial capacity among every-day Americans.
THE APPROACH & SOLUTION: To rise to the challenge detailed above, RCAP launched the Open for Business Program. The program delivers business expertise to rural communities through webinars, online workshops, and one-on-one business consultations made available to entrepreneurs at no cost. All services are delivered remotely to reduce cost and maximize geographic reach.
Ellen Sheehan utilized this program to receive free guidance from RCAP’s experienced consultants. The RCAP consulting team worked with Ms. Sheehan to develop her business plan and financial projections to model her path to success. At the time of this writing, Ms. Sheehan received 159.5 hours of free one-on-one consulting assistance.
THE IMPACT: The most tangible impact of the assistance received by Ms. Sheehan is the business plan and projections that she was able to produce with the guidance of our senior consultants. These documents enabled Ms. Sheehan to return to Workers Credit Union and successfully apply for SBA small business financing. With her secured capital, Ms. Sheehan was able to contract with a Massachusetts-based contract manufacturer to begin production of her pillows. The senior consulting team was also able to advise Ms. Sheehan on her digital marketing strategy and guide her in the complicated process of becoming a successful seller on Amazon. Today, she is steadily making sales and receiving substantial traffic on her website.
Despite these material benefits to Ms. Sheehan and her business, the greatest impact may be more intangible. The projections Ms. Sheehan produced with the assistance of our team did convince the lender that Ms. Sheehan’s business had great potential for growth but more importantly, it convinced Ms. Sheehan that her business idea was feasible and has the potential to grow into a successful enterprise.
In a follow-up interview conducted for the purposes of this case study, Ms. Sheehan shared that over one year since she first engaged with RCAP she still looks back at the original projections she made with our team for inspiration. “Seeing that growth potential on paper still keeps me going,” Ms. Sheehan reported. Ms. Sheehan went on to share that the knowledge our consultants brought to her was invaluable and that their flexible availability and positive demeanor reassured her that she, and Neck-O Pillow, could succeed. If not for RCAP’s Open for Business Program, it is likely that Ms. Sheehan never would have launched Neck-O Pillow. In her own words, “getting your contact info was the best thing that could have happened to me…I don’t think I could have done this without you guys.”