Missouri’s women founders come from all walks of life, industries

Women entrepreneurs throughout the state of Missouri hail from a variety of professional backgrounds and levels of startup experience. While some of these women have several years of running their own businesses under their belt, others have recently joined the startup ranks.

In addition, female entrepreneurs from Missouri have kicked off companies in industries ranging from construction to agriculture to retail, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2012 and 2014.

Read more: During Global Entrepreneurship Week, Missouri Business Alert is looking at the contributions of the state’s women founders, who find challenges and resources in Missouri.

Here are the stories of three women from across the state who have built their businesses from scratch.

Beth Snyder, 1canoe2

Beth Snyder turned her hobby of printmaking into a career when she started 1canoe2, a letterpress and illustration studio. Her passion for creating prints began when her husband, then-fiancé, bought her a letterpress for about $700 on eBay, for Christmas in 2007. She had wanted to print her wedding invitations using a letterpress.

Beth Snyder
Beth Snyder | Photo courtesy of Snyder

“I got obsessed with printmaking, and I started making prints into art and recipe cards,” she said.

Snyder started selling her creations directly to customers through Etsy in 2008, and she and her then-business partner, Carrie Shryock, bought a full-size letterpress in 2009.

“Carrie and I both had full-time jobs, and my husband and I would ship our products for two hours each night for three years,” Snyder said. “It was the ultimate creative project, and it did not seem like extra work because it was a hobby to me.”

1canoe2 eventually expanded its business to sell goods to retailers. Anthropologie, a national clothing store chain, placed an order for 2,000 recipe cards from 1canoe2 in summer 2010.

“My business started out as 100 percent retail, but it has evolved to be 75 percent wholesale, 20 percent retail and 5 percent licensing, which is when we sell the rights to our artwork to another company,” she said.

Now, 1,400 stores — ranging from larger retailers like Anthropologie to mom-and-pop shops such as Poppy in downtown Columbia — sell 1canoe2’s products.

In 2011, Snyder and Shryock added another business partner, Shryock’s sister-in-law, Karen Shryock, to assist with the company’s administrative operations.

In May 2012, Snyder decided to quit her day job as a graphic designer for what was then “Columbia Home” magazine to focus on running 1canoe2 full time. At the time, she had been running the business out of the basement of her home in Fulton.

“1canoe2 ate my house,” she said. “I had full-time employees coming in, and semi-trucks arriving to pick up and distribute our products every day.”

In 2013, Snyder and Shryock moved their company into a red barn outside of Columbia near Millersburg. Snyder bought out her business partners’ ownership of the company in late 2015, and she decided her startup needed more space for its operations.

Snyder purchased an abandoned 114-year-old building on Court Street in the Brick District of downtown Fulton in March for $73,000, and she has renovated it to serve as the hub for her company’s printing and distribution. The 500-square-foot front portion of the building features 1canoe2 Paperie, the business’ first brick-and-mortar store, which opened Nov. 11.

“Our shop will be a showpiece, and we hope it will generate sales tax revenue for our town,” Snyder said. “We also want to have a place where we can show off our stuff so that we can market to other retail shops and can have a place for our fans to visit.”

While Snyder has enjoyed the freedom that has come along with running her own business, she attests that she has funneled much hard work into learning about entrepreneurship.

“I’m a super-curious person; I meet people and think, ‘I wonder what questions I could ask them,’” she said. “I read a ton of business books and listen to podcasts, and when I get to a point where I don’t know what I’m doing, I take a class or a workshop.”

Laura Steward, VideoFizz

Laura Steward first thought of her idea for VideoFizz, a mobile app to generate video greetings, when she was serving as the commercial leader for General Electric’s genomics sequencing business in Houston and for its oncology clinical trials business in Orange County, Calif. Even though she lived in the Kansas City area, she commuted weekly to these two locations.

“I was gone at least two nights a week from my family, and using technology like Skype and FaceTime to connect with them was pretty important,” Steward said. “With Skype and FaceTime, it was so much more personal than a call or a note.”

Laura Steward
Laura Steward | Photo courtesy of Steward

Steward wanted to use technology to give people meaningful and visual representations that they could watch repeatedly.

“I saw how impactful it was when people received a video or Skype, and I wanted to be able to create that for other people,” she said.

Steward began toying around with the idea of VideoFizz near the end of the fourth quarter 2014. In March 2015, she chose to quit her full-time position at GE to focus more on her new company and to participate in Pipeline, an entrepreneurial fellowship program in Kansas City.

“It was terrifying to walk away from two really great companies and a high-level position at GE,” Steward said. “As an entrepreneur, I entered into a tech field I had no experience in, and I had assumed that much of my experience at GE would transfer to VideoFizz, but there was a lot to learn.”

Steward has learned much from engaging in the startup process. She initially had hired an outside company to build the app for her, but when she ran her first beta test of the program in the App Store in December 2015, it experienced several glitches. She was forced to scrap the initial app design, and she carried out a large retooling of the app and released another version in April 2016.

After encountering problems with overwhelming VideoFizz’s servers during the company’s Mothers’ Day campaign in May 2016, she hired Eric Goeken to be the company’s technology director. Since hiring him, VideoFizz has made multiple advances with the platform and completed a successful national campaign with the American Breast Cancer Foundation in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

So far, the 1-year-old business has attracted $1.6 million in outside investment, including grants totaling $350,000 from the Missouri Technology Corporation and a $50,000 grant from the LaunchKC competition. Steward said she plans to hire five more employees after VideoFizz’s next round of financing in the spring. She plans to open a round for $1.2 million for these hires and to begin to scale her business in the spring.

“We’ve been operating very lean for one year,” Steward said. “As much as I love managing large teams, I can’t just go hire a group of friends to hang out with; every employee has to make strategic sense for the business.”

Steward said she enjoys the flexibility that running her own business gives her, the high level of energy it demands from her, and the ability to react quickly and be nimble as a business.

“I’m also really passionate about what we are doing,” Steward said. “We hear from customers directly, and many of the people who receive VideoFizzes say it is one of the best gifts they have been given, which makes it really easy to get up in the morning.”

Suzanne Magee, Bandura Systems

Suzanne Magee started TechGuard, her first cyber-security software business, from scratch in the basement of her home in Ballwin, a suburb of St. Louis, in February 2000. She spotted opportunity in 2000 in direct response to Directive 63, which President Clinton issued in 1998 to urge a private-public partnership to protect against cyber attacks.

“The directive was almost like a call to cyber arms,” Magee said. “A lot of integral sources of access were being held on infrastructure systems run by private sectors, like banking, utilities, transportation and agriculture.”

Suzanne Magee, Bandura Systems | Courtesy of Magee
Suzanne Magee | Courtesy of Magee

Magee reached out to Andrea Johnson, a former computer engineer for Boeing, about whether she would like to help her kick off a business to produce cyber-security software. Johnson, who had taken an early retirement opportunity at Boeing, joined Magee in forming TechGuard. TechGuard filed its first patents for artificial intelligence in firewall technology in 2000.

As Magee and Johnson further developed their cyber-security services and software, it became apparent that they would need to set up an office in the Washington, D.C., area because they would be working closely with the federal government.

“We had learned how public policy works from the National Association of Women Business Owners,” Magee said. “We had visited Missouri state representatives’ and senators’ offices in Jefferson City through the association, and we used this experience when we later went into congressional representatives’ and senators’ offices in Washington to let them know what we were doing in Ballwin.”

When TechGuard started bidding on contracts with the federal government, Magee decided to open an office in an incubator in Baltimore while also maintaining its headquarters in Missouri. The Maryland office allowed Magee and Johnson to be in proximity to their customers.

Even though TechGuard focused on developing cyber-security software for the federal government, private entities, such as banks and hospitals, reached out to the company about whether they could buy its software. Magee initially tried to distribute the technology to the private sector through TechGuard, but she realized that to fulfill the needs of her private clients, she needed to form a separate business.

“For technology companies that work primarily in the private sector, you need a different culture for creating software than you do with defense software contractors,” Magee said. “On the commercial side of things, you are awarding innovation and are encouraging it in your organization, and it is less formal in the environment and labs you have.”

Magee eventually spun off the commercial segment of her business from TechGuard in January 2013 and named it Bandura Systems. She stepped down as CEO of TechGuard and, although she still serves as the company’s chairman, she assumed the CEO role within Bandura Systems. David Maestas, TechGuard’s chief technology officer and a computer science graduate and post-graduate of Missouri University of Science and Technology, moved to Bandura Systems to serve as the startup’s chief technology officer and co-founder as well.

After considering other areas, including New York, Boston and the Silicon Valley, Magee decided to establish Bandura System’s headquarters in St. Louis because of a fund-matching program offered by the Missouri Technology Corporation. Bandura Systems had begun collecting financing through the sale of convertible notes, and MTC promised to partially match the funds that the company was raising. The convertible notes generated $1.2 million for the startup.

In October 2014, Bandura Systems opened its headquarters in the new Cortex innovation district in St. Louis. This district—as well as the 630 Fintech and Prosper Women Entrepreneurs accelerators—also made St. Louis an attractive place for the company to grow.

Even though Magee remains laser-focused on the cyber-security industry, a couple of potential future projects have been bouncing around in her head.

“I’ve been looking at virtual reality and the various applications of that for cyber-security for the past eight years, and using knowledge of cyber-security and data backup, I would like to have the opportunity to explore the embedding of neural net (a computer program modeled after the human nervous system) into Alzheimer’s or brain injury patients,” she said. “I’m a serial entrepreneur.”

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