Elephant Lady and AVA the Elephant:  AVA the Elephant helps children take medicine with less stress and tears, and in the process make it easier on mom, dad, grandparents and caregivers.

Mother of invention: I spent years working with a little boy named Gibby, who I love dearly.  Because he had special needs (Downs Syndrome), it made it very difficult to give him his sometimes-frequent medicines.  Having spent years working with kids of all walks of life, I knew that this was a very common problem.  When Gibby had yet another ear infection, his mom and I had to restrain him to give him his medicine.  I just couldn’t stand to see him so miserable.  Why couldn’t we turn this into a good experience?  I knew exactly why: he associated bad feelings with that medicine dropper, as do most kids.  It hit me that the device that delivered the medicine had to be something sweet and trustworthy.  That very night I went home and constructed an elephant head and hid my dropper inside.  I couldn’t find a sound box anywhere so I took the “guts” out of gift card and recorded a sweet voice on it. “One, two, three..,open wide…Good job!”  When I took it to work the next day, Gibby not only loved playing with it, he willingly took his medicine from AVA in about three seconds.  I knew at that moment I had a great idea.

Target Ava!: My target market is actually very widespread.  AVA of course belongs in any home with a baby on the way or any young children and babies.  However, I was the perfect example of a caregiver that needed to give medicine with ease, so AVA is perfect for grandparents and caregivers as well.

Struggles?: The biggest struggle I faced happened a few months after finding an investor for my company.  I was on cloud nine, great things were happening, and then I was diagnosed with the big C at the age of 28.  Cancer takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and pain.  I had to decide if I could make it through cancer and launch a product at the same time.  It wasn’t an option to let my company go while doing surgery and treatments—it wouldn’t survive.  I had to rely on my faith in God and push through all of the obstacles cancer threw in front of me.

Surprise!: The biggest surprise is the amount of time you have to commit to your business.  There are a few very important things in my life: God and my family.  I found out that I would have to give up time with my family in the evenings and on weekends if I wanted to make my company a success.   After being diagnosed with cancer I knew what really mattered in life. Yet I had to spend the time I wanted to spend with them on my company.

The first: I went to meet with CVS at their headquarters.  I pitched the product and they fell in love. The rest is history. My biggest success thus far is being able to give AVA out at hospitals.  That was at the top of my list for my “full circle” dream come true.  I knew of many children who come into the hospital for weeks at a time to have treatments and are then sent home with a bag full of medicines.  They were my biggest concern—having to face “the dropper” multiple times daily.

Wish I would have known…: That I would work 24 hours a day on my company.  You can’t just take off because you are the boss. That’s such a misconception.  If you are starting a company, be prepared for at least a few years of working extremely hard with long hours before you will be able to really sit back and enjoy it.  Be very firm with people when it comes to business.  I’m a kind-hearted person and I had to learn to “mean business” when I made decisions.

3am and I’m thinking about…: Money, of course. Did I make the right choices along the way?  Wanting to make sure I don’t miss any other big opportunities because of my mistakes.

Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job? Well, I can’t throw in the towel and get a job because I still have a job!  That should have been my answer for what I wish I had known. You can’t always support yourself financially at first.  I actually did the opposite in the beginning, I thought about getting a second job to make ends meet.

Year ahead: I plan to be in at least 10 large retailers.  I will continue to push to meet with buyers and make sure my product stands out.

Money, money, money: I needed $50,000 and I sent my product to producers on a show called Shark Tank on ABC.  They loved the product and allowed me to pitch to investors. However, before I was given that opportunity, I used my creativity and designed an amazing costume for my husband for Halloween. That costume took me months to make, but it won $5,000 in a costume contest.  That money went to a patent search that showed me that my product was truly unique.  Obviously not everyone can go on TV for an investment and maybe you aren’t very creative, but you have to get creative in ways to find money.  It’s not going to fall in your lap.

Prototypes, manufacturing and more: I recommend trying many different options yourself before asking a factory to create a prototype so you have a clear idea of what you want. Don’t waste time and money by doing those steps through a factory/designer.  Manufacturers can be your best friend or your worst nightmare.  I stuck with the wrong manufacturer for way too long—until the day that I received a barking elephant.  If that was not proof that they weren’t listening, I don’t know what is.  Spend hours figuring out the pros and cons of your design on your own.  If not you will waste a lot of money on prototypes that you’re not happy with and that need changes.

The absolute best part of owning my business is knowing I can support my family and do the things I love in life!

If I had to start over again, I would have stood up to people sooner to get what I wanted/needed.

I never imagined finding a great manufacturer would be so difficult.

If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout if I can face cancer, raise my daughter while working fulltime, start a successful business and launch a product, so can you.