Most businesses start with an idea, itch, or intuition that drives self-starters to take on a side hustle, push it to the next level, and take the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship when the time is right.
Many people have resolutions to start on this journey in 2021, so we turned to four entrepreneurs with a particular driving force: all are involved in the diabetes space. Nearly 500 million people live with diabetes worldwide, and its impact reaches many friends, relatives, and loved ones. About 10% of people with diabetes have type 1, an autoimmune condition that prevents the body from producing insulin, a necessary hormone that helps turn sugar into energy at the cellular level.
It takes grit and determination to overcome the daily challenges of living with diabetes or caring for someone who does, which translates into tenacity for these international entrepreneurs. From designing luxury products to making multimedia art, these four women are working to do good in the community and are looking forward to filling 2021 with their creativity and innovation.
Be Honest With Yourself
“I have always been a dreamer,” says Krystal Boyea, founder and CEO of The Living Collection, Inc., a Barbados-based lifestyle brand specializing in fashionable and functional medical jewelry, such as medical alert bracelets.
Spending two decades living with type 1 diabetes informed Krystal’s first career in health consulting. She received opportunities to travel and present at international events, but eventually she realized she needed to act on what she really wanted: to help people live their best life possible.
“I kept hiding behind every temporary job or speaking engagement, using them as an excuse that I was ‘too busy’ to go for it!” Krystal says.
Krystal’s family helped her look inward to articulate her priorities: “One day, everything changed when I realized that if I kept living for everyone else, all I was doing was merely surviving.” It’s natural to ignore that nagging feeling that you’ve got a different calling; speaking with the people who know you best can help you realize how well you actually know yourself.
Allow Your Ideas to Have Space to Marinate
New Zealand-based designer Bridget Scanlan found it difficult to manage her type 1 diabetes alongside a young adult lifestyle after she was diagnosed at age 20. In addition to a phone, wallet, and keys, people with diabetes need to have things like glucose meters, insulin and juice on hand. Over time, she used her talents to create a fashion-forward solution for carrying all her essentials — the KYT Crossbody bag sold out after launching in May 2018.
Bridget says she didn’t experience a particular lightbulb moment or inciting incident before setting up KYT, the way you often hear entrepreneurs describe their beginnings. She simply evaluated existing design offerings and evolved her business idea as she figured out how handbags could be better designed to suit people with diabetes.
“I would describe the idea for KYT as a slow burn,” she says. “I trained as a garment maker, and although I love clothes, I realized that designing bags for diabetes has always been the goal for me.” The takeaway? Don’t feel like the traditional narrative has to apply to you — there are as many different paths as there are entrepreneurs.
Give Yourself a Chance
New York-based artist Dana Swann puts confidence and activism at the heart of her business, Goodies by Glucose. This outlook helped her move past the shame and stigma she was feeling and transform her type 1 diagnosis into selling everything from stickers to totebags with diabetes-positive artwork.
“There’s a niche for everyone,” Dana says. She discovered an audience for her artwork and apparel online and is pleased that her designs appeal to people with and without diabetes who are “using the art as a conversation starter.”
What may be seen by some as weakness or difference can become a strength with a shift in attitude. So far in her journey, Dana feels “more fulfilled using my talent for advocacy — to get paid for it is a bonus.”
Build Resilience Through Your Community
Whether it’s through a social media base or a local business development organization, finding or establishing a network gives small business owners crucial strength to move forward with an idea.
“The most surprising thing since I started has been the support,” says Aušra Gaudiešienė, who founded DIASIDE.COM after her son, Germantas, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a toddler.
“Our family project was the first specialized online store providing various diabetes accessories and supplies for the diabetes community in Lithuania,” she adds. “The community feedback was great, and this gave us huge inspiration.”
Aušra sees opportunities to expand her network by forming online partnerships and engaging on Facebook and Instagram.
Dana had a similar experience with her Goodies by Glucose online shop and website, where she decided to reflect the change she wanted to see in her community.
“Many people with diabetes are struggling to connect with others who do not have diabetes,” Dana says. “If no one looks like you or has a similar identity or background as you, that can impact how welcomed you feel. Representation alleviates the pain from thinking, no one is like me and I am alone in this.”
Discover How to Share Your Story
The personal element of any business can be what makes it incredibly successful, but that doesn’t make it easier to share pain and personal challenges. Fortunately, entrepreneurs can choose from a variety of media to suit a mission or story. Aušra’s blog posts about her life and family business have been published in English and Lithuanian on global platforms like Beta Change.
“Sometimes it is really hard for me and I get tired of sharing our family’s experience about raising a child with diabetes,” Aušra says. “But then I remember how important it is to share brightness and strength with others.”
Design Your Own Sounding Board of Peers
Collaborating with other small businesses helped confirm that Krystal’s idea for The Living Collection resonated with customers.
“I never could have imagined that my first year would be plagued with managing my business through a pandemic, but at first I doubted my concept would be accepted by Caribbean people,” Krystal says. Her sounding board encouraged her that it was worth pursuing despite her reservations.
Bridget of KYT agrees. She says that by communicating with her inner circle, she “was able to sense-check ideas along the way and make design decisions.”
“Start by sharing your plans with anyone who will listen, because they’ll become your word of mouth army later,” she advises other entrepreneurs.
Hype Yourself Up
Why is it easier to encourage others than it is to be kind to ourselves? Sometimes it helps to sit down and do a short writing exercise: pretend that you’re writing a letter to a friend who came to you for advice.
To give you some inspiration, we asked all four entrepreneurs a final piece of wisdom they’d share to lift up other women who want to start their own businesses:
- Krystal: “LIVE your life! In truly living and being unapologetically who we are, we discover our purpose.”
- Bridget: “Most importantly, be kind to yourself – starting a business feels immensely personal, so check in with yourself to keep a healthy balance.”
- Dana: “Your work is already good enough. Keep sharpening your skills, learn new techniques, and be open to being inspired by others while still being unique and genuine.”
- Aušra: “You must believe in what you do. Go forward, step by step, without any doubts or regrets!”