Millennial Entrepreneur - Courtny Evanson, CEO at Innovative Mother
This week in the Millennial Entrepreneur series, I was fortunate to catch up with one of the busiest entrepreneurs in Fargo-Moorhead, Courtny Evanson. Ms. Evanson, not yet 25 years old, is the inventor of the Nevaeh and CEO at Innovative Mother. Courtny has taken the phrase "Necessity is the mother of all invention" to whole new level. Here's what she had to say about being an entrepreneur and inventor:
(Q1:) You seem to have a lot of drive and passion. Tell us more about the source.
My passionate drive began when I became pregnant and took on the responsibility of caring for another life. When my son first came into this world I never knew how much I could love another human being. My passion is fueled daily with hugs and sweet kisses from my son. He has become the inspiration I need to keep moving forward and his smile is my motivation to work even harder. As a single mom it is important that I become a positive role model in my child’s life and development. I want to be the proof my son needs to encourage him to set his sights high and dream big no matter what the world may tell him.
(Q2:) Did you ever think you would be a CEO before you turned 25?
I never thought in my entire life that I would ever be a CEO. Business never interested me whatsoever, I dreamed of a fast paced adrenaline rushing career in the medical field. I thought business was boring and consisted of sitting at a desk 40 hours a week. Being a CEO has been anything but that. My blood gets pumping every time before I step on a stage, in front of an audience, or a business meeting. I feel like starting a business is like playing a game of chess, full of strategy and what pieces are you willing to give up to reach the king to win the game.
(Q3:) What scares you the most about being a CEO? How do you handle that fear?
So far public speaking has been the biggest thing I have struggled with. I have overcome this by never turning down a presentation or speaking opportunity. Every time before I speak I’m like I can run out of here right now I don’t have to do this, but then I force myself to get up there and speak and tell myself I won’t die from this.
I have also struggled with not having a background in business. After I won Women’s start-up weekend it was a little overwhelming because I felt like now after winning the Fargo-Moorhead area had some very big expectations of me. I was very out of my comfort zone maneuvering the business world that was mainly dominated by men. I have had some defiantly awkward and funny conversations with men about my product and how it works. Usually breastfeeding is out of their domain unless they have little ones at home.
(Q4:) Where did the idea come from for the Nevaeh?
The idea for the Nevaeh blossomed soon after my son was born and he was unable to breastfeed and formula was not an option since he was allergic to every brand on the market. He suffered from 14 allergic reactions within the first year of his life from all the different brands of formula that Aden was introduced to. My only option was to use a breast pump to provide nourishment for my son. I used the pump 8-12 times a day for on average 30 minutes per use. Every day I was spending 6 hours sitting stuck within 3 feet of an electrical outlet unable to move, lie down and rest my sleep deprived body, or take care of my child. I also worked as a Certified Nurses Assistant and Medication Aid at an Assisted Living Facility and I was unable to pump when I needed to because the residents I took care of and passed meds to came first. I suffered horrible infections and mastitis. I went on like that for eight months until I was finally able to quit. I’m glad that I was able to provide the best nourishment for my child, but it was not an easy one.
(Q5:) You have a son. How do you balance work and life?
I don’t believe life will ever have a balance. I typically go with the flow with what is going on in my life. When I have business events or presentations my son’s father, his family, my family, and friends have all aided in helping me juggle the busy life of being a single mom and entrepreneur. My son loves it because he gets to spend equal time with both of his families and I have time to focus on work when I need to and he has all of my attention when we are together.
(Q6:) What are your plans for the future? College or no? Why or why not?
I am considering going to college for a business degree so I can make better choices for my business and understand more about the vast business world. I was thinking maybe going to MSUM for their entrepreneurship certificate that gives you tools to run a business, but not a degree. I don’t think I need a degree because there are plenty of examples of entrepreneurs that don’t have degrees. I have gone to workshops, business boot camps, and round table discussions to learn business from business people.
(Q7:) Who has been the most influential person in your life? How have they contributed to your success as an entrepreneur?
One of the most influential people in my life I would have to say would be my track coach from West Fargo High School, Darrin Boehm. He saw my potential in me before I saw it in myself. Also Betty Helmer, the director at the Perry Center who gave me hope when I had none and helped me begin my journey on the right path.
(Q8:) Being an entrepreneur is not an easy endeavor. What is your best advice for someone wanting to become an entrepreneur?
My advice for someone pursuing becoming an entrepreneur is, do it for the right reasons. I began as an entrepreneur because of I thought of a product out of necessity not because I wanted to become famous, rich, or never have to work. If money is your motivation that drive will begin to fade when people realize how much a business costs to start. I started on this journey to make a difference in this world and so other mothers do not have to suffer through sleepless nights to provide their child with the best nourishment. I want to be an inspiration to other single young mothers like myself and that when you have a child your life isn’t over, it’s just beginning. If it wasn’t for my son coming into this world I wouldn’t be who I am and I wouldn’t be on this grand adventure of starting a business.
Learn to fail with grace. Through the past year while starting my business I have competed in 3 competitions, 16 presentations, and numerous business events and workshops. Of the three competitions I lost two, one very horribly. It was a competition for a grant program, Innovate ND; I had not completed any of the business boot camps beforehand like the other competitors and had jumped right into the competition. I had to do a 60 second pitch and a 10 minute speech. The 60 second pitch went pretty smoothly, but then the 10 minute speech I completely butchered. I felt calm and collected and went in front of 4 judges and 1 bystander. I started my speech and then I went to click the clicker in my hand and it didn’t work. I guess I was supposed to stand behind a podium next to the screen in front of a laptop to change the slides. Which completely through me off and I forgot my whole speech, my 10 minute speech turned into 2 minutes. Also one of my ideas to do with breast milk is illegal in the US. (for some reason Dr. Stamp knew that fact).
I also competed in Start-up weekend in Bismarck and pitched a new idea other than the Nevaeh. I did not even make it past the idea round where the audience votes on which ideas go on to present in front of the judges. I think that my idea was not a popular one because the audience was a room full of college students not parents or women. An engineering company that I was working with out of Madison Wisconsin loved the idea that pitched at that event more than the Nevaeh. So I know it’s not a bad idea and one I would like to pursue once the Nevaeh hits the market. If you truly believe in your business venture you can make it a possibility. Don’t listen to what everyone tells you, I talked to people about my idea and was told no one would ever buy one. There is a lot of risk, cost, and work involved so weigh out the choices before starting a business and it’s not going to happen overnight. I was very unrealistic in the beginning and I thought I’d have InnovativeMother up and running selling thousands of Nevaeh tables around the globe.
“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Don’t sweat it if you don’t have a 5 year step-by-step plan throughout the process you will find the answers.
Thank you for participating in the Millennial Entrepreneur series, Courtny! If you would like to learn more about Innovative Mother and the Nevaeh breastfeeding table, please contact Ms. Evanson through her LinkedIn account: Courtny Evanson