Reno women share stories, advice on how to build a successful startup

A variety of cupcakes produced for Mindful Cupcakes.

A variety of cupcakes produced for Mindful Cupcakes.

It was about 10 years ago when Christina Ciaccio — who found herself struggling with a gluten intolerance and battling an eating disorder — decided it was time to motivate herself to find healthier eating options.

“What I found was certain foods spiked my sugar levels and caused my hormones to go crazy,” said Ciaccio, who admitted to formerly suffering from bulimia. “When I changed the way I ate, everything calmed down and normalized. I followed a strict diet and continued my research into foods and sparked all kinds of passion to be healthy.”

Her experiments also stoked her entrepreneurial passions, certain that if anything, she could help other people who may be suffering from similar medical issues.

She tried different food ideas before eventually developing varieties of gluten-free cupcakes. She then returned to her native Southern California to begin making batches of her creations, offering them anywhere she could, such as house parties, yacht clubs and special events around the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Ciaccio received such a good response from the cupcakes that she began mulling a potential business venture, and she eventually moved to Reno with her two young daughters.

“I came to Reno with about $200 to my name and I stayed with a friend for about two months,” Ciaccio said during an interview with the Northern Nevada Business Weekly in December.

She did what should could to stay afloat, including working as a waitress, while getting her business, Mindful Cupcakes, off the ground.

Seeking assistance, Ciaccio contacted the Nevada Small Development Center (NSBDC) at the University of Nevada, Reno. Rod Jorgensen, director of counseling for the center, worked with Ciaccio, helping her develop a business plan and secure a microbusiness loan.

“Christina knows that if her business is going to succeed, it’s because of her own hard work and determination,” Jorgenson told the NNBW.

‘You create your own opportunities’

Jorgenson said Ciaccio is just one of many female entrepreneurs who are coming to the NSBDC seeking advice on starting a business.

“These women often have migrated from other places that have opportunities for women,” Jorgenson said. “They see (Northern Nevada) starting to have those same opportunities and want to start a business here.”

Ciaccio has taken an aggressive approach with Mindful Cupcakes, and she has big plans for the future.

She’s currently renting a space at the Kerak Shrine commercial kitchen on Energy Way in Reno, where she cooks about 250-300 cupcakes a week. She hopes to gain enough capital soon to move into her own space and buy some of her own equipment.

In the meantime, she has pounded the pavement, getting the Mindful Cupcakes brand to the forefront, introducing herself to those in the business community and knocking on retailers’ doors.

So far, she’s signed deals with 20 regional retailers, including Whole Foods, and her products will soon be sold at Scolari’s Food & Drug Co.

“I’m a big believer that you create your own opportunities,” Ciaccio said. “I don’t wait for people to come to me. I went into Whole Foods and scheduled a meeting with them and brought them 10 cupcakes. They ended up eating them all in about 15 minutes.”

She met with Deane Albright, a Reno CPA and founding partner of the accounting firm Albright & Associates, Ltd., who has volunteered his time to serve in an advisory role for Mindful Cupcakes.

Ciaccio is in the process of bringing on a pair of UNR students on a part-time basis to help with day-to-day operations, and she’s also planning to start a crowdfunding campaign to take her business to a national or even global scale.

Failure can be a good thing

Stephanie Kruse, president and chief strategist of KPS3, and Ronele Dotson, president of RAD Strategies Inc., are two other Reno-area women who have experience leading startup businesses into successful ventures.

“Opening my own agency, it was both an exciting and emotional decision,” Kruse told the NNBW. “However, it ... sure wasn’t easy, especially going into (the public relations industry) — that was a very competitive marketplace.”

Kruse started her company in 1991, nurturing it from a one-person shop to one of the largest marketing firms in the Northern Nevada region. She indicated her business struggled early, in part because the nation was experiencing an economic recession.

She said it’s important to stay ahead of the curve on industry trends — not only in establishing a business, but ensuring its longevity. For example, Kruse recalls having conversations in 2008 with staff members at KPS3 who insisted the public relations industry was heading toward to a digital focus.

From that moment forward, Kruse said KPS3 embraced technology and the social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that have followed.

“You have to have a lot of attributes to be a successful entrepreneur,” Kruse said. “But one of the most important attributes to have to stay relevant is (for people) to be willing to reinvent themselves.”

While technology and social networking can be a huge help in building a presence, Kruse said personal interaction also is key.

“While communicating on platforms such as LinkedIn is great ... personal relationships are still a part of the equation,” Kruse said. “I would recommend women entrepreneurs get in front of potential buyers and influencers.

“We have so many great business-to-business networking events in Reno.”

Dotson, who started RAD Strategies 15 years ago, echoed much of those same principles in an email to the NNBW: “Success is when you make that decision — you’ve stepped away from the 9 to 5 to be your own boss and begin your journey. To me, you’ve already won. Maintaining that focus, commitment and determination, through the highs and lows, is what builds your character and business. It may sound cliché, but there’s a lot of truth to it.”

Starting a business, particularly for women, is daunting, she said, but if they have self-confidence to stay the course, it can be the beginning of a success story.

“Don’t sell yourself short or feel you need to conform to fit a stereotype of business owners,” Dotson said. “If you have a fear of failure, good. You will fail and fail big at time. It’s only from those failures you will grow, change and ultimately succeed.”


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