When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Mill Valley resident Brit Morin, the founder of lifestyle and education platform Brit + Co, found that her business immediately felt the impact. She wasn’t alone. “When Covid-19 hit, I noticed that 5 million women were displaced from the workforce pretty much instantaneously,” Morin says.
This “She-cession” inspired her to launch Selfmade, a 10-week online business accelerator program for female entrepreneurs. With an impressive and growing roster of instructors, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Tyra Banks and a many successful female entrepreneurs and CEOs, Selfmade’s team teaches women essential business-building skills, from idea development and marketing to distribution and raising funds. Here are three women who have used Selfmade to jumpstart their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Theresa Fortune: Filmmaker and Community Activist
Oakland-based Theresa Fortune caught the entrepreneur bug at a young age. “I started my first business when I was 17 years old because I wasn’t able to pay my car note,” she says, “I started selling candy at church.”
Years later, realizing that she wanted to serve others, Fortune started a drama therapy production company called Communion with the Community, a kids mentorship program, and a summer camp to help single mothers. But when Covid-19 hit, Fortune pivoted.
“I decided to focus on packaging my own story, which I’ve been documenting for a little over six years,” she says. “I have been very intentional around capturing my experience having undiagnosed postpartum depression shortly after having my beautiful daughter, which later turned into a deep, debilitating depression, [and then] was amplified during my divorce back in 2014.” She started working on a documentary film, From the Ashes, following a single Black Oakland woman’s journey from depression to a spiritual rebirth, generating discussion on mental health and suicide.
This empowering journey didn’t come without setbacks. “I don’t have any ‘formal’ training behind me in theatre, film or public speaking, nor have I ever gone to college,” she says. She utilized what was at her fingertips, exploring Google and website templates and learning from trial and error as she went. “What is amazing is that I have been able to do all of the above while also being a welfare recipient,” she adds.
Like many others in the United States, the pandemic slashed Fortune’s income dramatically, which also served as scholarship money for her kids’ camp and mentorship program. At that point, her mental health began to decline again. “I needed to see and hear like-minded women who were willing to push and learn!” she says.
“My favorite part of Selfmade was having the opportunity to ask questions to women who had made it and were willing to share their blueprint to success,” Fortune says. “I love engaging with people, so this platform was perfect for me.” As a visual learner, Fortune appreciated how Selfmade emphasized vision and mindset.
By connecting with other women, including personal coaching with the founder of Melissa & Doug, Melissa Bernstein, Fortune built and practiced presenting her pitch deck. “By the time class wrapped up, my original development plan had expanded tremendously… Selfmade has impacted my trajectory in such a powerful way.”
Emily Teng: Nonprofit Founder
Emily Teng started her nonprofit as a 20-year-old living in Singapore. Now known as Blessings in a Bag, it’s an award-winning community organization that is recognized worldwide. The organization is “dedicated to a vision where every child has a right to opportunities, loving support and space to build their dreams,” says Teng, who now lives in San Francisco.
Developing her business idea required a lot of experimentation and learning from failure. “Whether you start a nonprofit or launch a business, whatever that new thing is that you’re sharing with the world, it takes time,” she says. “We can sometimes get caught up with the versions of ‘overnight success’ that we see online, failing to see that some of these successes were built over years of failure, curiosity and pivots, just to take one step and prototype.”
While Teng loves that she has met people dedicated to making the world a better place, she admits that she noticed a burnout among herself and those around her. “[I’m looking to] create safe — and brave — spaces for community leaders to rest, reimagine and realign their lives and their work with what matters,” she says.
She’s planning on launching a virtual community that will support global community leaders’ inner wellbeing and outer practices. Having experienced burnout herself, Teng understands how important rest and wellbeing are. “I collapsed at a friend’s gym one time and was prescribed plenty of bed rest and told to slow things way down,” she says. “Whatever it is we’re excited to dedicate our time and energy to, we need just as much time to ensure we have our own circle of care and activities that nourish us from the inside out so that we can be our best selves each day.”
In addition to feeling that burnout, Teng also experienced external struggle. “If you’re a recovering people pleaser like me, it can feel a little isolating or frustrating that you’re doing something that’s not quite what everyone else is up to,” she says. “I encourage other changemakers to grow in their courage to be disliked — because you cannot possibly please everyone!”
Taking part in Selfmade allowed Teng to find the community that she had been missing. “I really appreciated having the opportunity to connect with and be inspired by the other women who are bringing their dreams to the world,” she says. “Having just relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area (I moved from Singapore in 2019), I have missed being in a community with people who are dreaming up ideas and finding ways to make them happen.”
Teng feels motivated and encouraged after spending time with Selfmade’s students and coaches. “I am more than ready to share my gifts and wisdom with the world!”
Pia Soy: Fashion Business Owner
Pia Soy decided that the fashion market for apple-shaped bodies needed a redesign when she realized how hard it was to find clothes for herself that were flattering and stylish. “We have to search through an entire store for silhouettes that work with our shape, and oftentimes they aren’t our style,” she says. “Because we don’t have the time and energy to keep looking, we settle for uninspiring or ill-fitting pieces.”
The idea that finding on-trend clothing could be easy inspired Soy to create the Pia clothing line, as well as the positive shopping experience that comes with it. “When you come to our site, you can expect to find clothes that are thoughtfully designed to celebrate your curves,” she says. “We want you to focus on the fun part of shopping which is picking the prints, colors and style details you like.”
After seeing editorials whose only style advice for apple-shaped bodies was to cover up, Soy decided she wanted fashion that highlighted her body instead. “It doesn’t feel like fashion; it feels like hacks,” she says. “And there was obviously a need because so many people were asking for advice.”
However, Soy didn’t get the idea for her clothing line directly. She began making masks at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but had to get scrappy because the material was scarce. “I had to innovate,” she says. “There was a demand, and for me, it felt so exciting.”
Right after she began making masks, Soy discovered Selfmade. “Before Selfmade, I didn’t know anyone who could mentor me or talk about running a business,” she says. She wanted to dive into the idea but held out for a class that offered a live instructor instead of a pre-recorded video.
“I’ve always followed Brit + Co, so when I found out about Selfmade, I was so excited,” she says. “I felt a little guilty about spending that money on myself, so I made a negotiation: If I could just sell enough masks to cover half of the course, then I would do it.” She reached her goal, and immediately signed up.
Soy’s idea grew throughout Selfmade, changing and evolving as her inspiration took shape. “At first, I decided to do an e-commerce store for moms. From going to work or taking the kids to the playground, I thought of my own wardrobe and what works for me,” she says. “That process made me realize that I really struggle with finding clothes for my own body type.”
“I have to remind myself all the time to just take one step and it will lead to other things,” she says. “It’s given me results.” For example, she talked to local dressmakers and costume designers on the phone to learn about dress cuts, seams, and sketching and realized that the success lies in the consistency of showing up every day.
As far as the message she’s taken away from Selfmade? “Starting a business doesn’t just have to be something you’ve dreamt about since you were little; you can be anything,” she says. “You’re not stuck in a box.”
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Chloe is from the Outer Banks of North Carolina (yes, like the Netflix show!), and has a love for all things Marvel, Taylor Swift and vanilla lattes. When she isn’t writing for Brit + Co or updating her blog Pastels and Pop Culture, she can probably be found texting her sister about the latest celebrity news.