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Entrepreneurs in action

Central alumni are making their mark in careers of their own creation

Contact: Heather Smith


By Terri Finch Hamilton, '83
Reprinted from
Centralight, Summer 2016​​​​​​​

Entrepreneurship is hot, and Central Michigan University alumni are part of the most successful and encouraging business startup climate in two decades.

The number of new entrepreneurs rose 10 percent nationwide last year, and Michigan ranks in the top 10 states for growth in new business owners.

What are Central's entrepreneurs selling? You name it. Their products are innovative, useful and just plain fun.

​They include:

  • ​A unique sports bra that landed a deal on the hit ABC TV show "Shark Tank," which helps inventors finance, market and sell their products.
  • Edgy greeting cards that regularly land on fun lists from Buzzfeed, a popular internet media company that generates six billion views a month.
  • Training footballs with beeping sensors that help receivers fumble less.
  • Intricate medical illustrations used to – among other things – help courtroom juries understand complicated medical cases.

Central is known for its stellar entrepreneur programs that spur startups, and the CMU Research Corp. – a business accelerator and incubator on campus – adds even more to the mix, offering gutsy and motivated businessmen and women multiple layers of support.

Four energized CMU entrepreneurs talk about how their time at Central prepared them, inspired them and continues to fire them up.

Julie Richardson, ’06, designs greeting cards for the way we all feel – and how we actually talk.

Some proof: Her cards popped up on a Buzzfeed list of “Gifts for People Who Like to Swear.”

She laughs.

“It’s a bit of the way I talk,” says Richardson from her art studio in Orange County, California. “That has a lot to do with their success. I’m not the only one who talks that way.”

Mainstream greeting cards “kind of sugar-coat things,” she says. “I take inspiration from real conversations I’ve had and real situations I’ve been in.”

For wedding season: “Shit just got real.

Will you be my bridesmaid?”v

Apology needed? “Sorry. I effed up.”

Birthday: “I’m so frickin’ happy you were born.”

“They’re relatable,” she says. “I hear that from a lot of people.”

She heard it from popular retailer Urban Outfitters, which startled her with an email. The company discovered her cards online and was interested in carrying a few designs.

“I thought, ‘Is this spam?’ I sent the email to my husband and said, ‘Do you think this is legit?’ ”

It was.

“That was huge, to walk into Urban Outfitters and see cards I designed,” Richardson says.

The Clinton Township native earned a degree in photojournalism at CMU, where she was Julie Astrauckas, before working full time as a studio photographer.

Designing snarky greeting cards started as a hobby, but when Richardson heard about the big-time e-commerce website, Etsy, she put a few things up for sale and everything changed.

“I thought maybe I could make a few bucks,” she says. “Then, it sort of blew up.”

Working two jobs was overwhelming, so she took a deep breath and quit her photography job in 2012, launching Julie Ann Art full time.

“It was definitely scary,” Richardson says.

“I remember so clearly driving away from my full-time job for the last time. Part of me said, ‘What am I doing?’ But it was also exciting. Freeing. And it was time.”

She attends conferences and webinars for business owners and belongs to a community of card sellers who share tips.

Julie Ann Art products, printed in California, are sold in stores around the world, as well as at julieannart.com. She’s an “Etsy top seller” in paper goods, generating more than 60,000 orders from her Etsy shop alone.

“It’s been a challenge,” Richardson says of entrepreneurship. “Things pop up along the way that I don’t know how to handle.

I call them ‘growing pains.’”

But some skills she gained at CMU are at the heart of her success, she says.

“I had a blast at CMU,” Richardson says. “It kind of got me out of my comfort zone, which I have to do now on a daily basis. There, I was on my own, I didn’t know anyone, and I had to face it. Just like I have to face new things now, every day.

“The best part is the response I get from customers,” she says. “Any time I get an order from Mount Pleasant I think, ‘Oh! Maybe they’re from CMU!’”

Fumbling: It’s a football team’s nightmare.

When Tom Creguer, ’95, was a senior at Harbor Beach High School in the Thumb, his football team lost a chance at the playoffs because of a fumble.

Years later, as the football coach at Shepherd High School, his team was poised for a playoff run. But fumbles turned a promising season into a disastrous 1-8 record.

“I had to look these kids in the eye,” Creguer recalls. “I thought, ‘I need to create a solution.’

“The thing is, it’s completely controllable,” Creguer says of fumbles, “if you hold the ball high and tight. High and tight.”

Care to guess what Creguer named the training football he invented to help prevent fumbles?

When Creguer debuted his High and Tight training football in January at the American Football Coaches Association convention, they were excited.

Now, coaches and players all over the country are using it.

High school football coaches in Mount Pleasant and Saginaw. College coaches at Northwood University, Michigan State University, the University of Tennessee and Colorado State. Pro football coaches, including the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals.

The ball has sensors that beep when a player holds the ball correctly — high and tight. It took Creguer more than two years to engineer and produce the ball, drawing not only on his high school experience, but his time on the CMU football team, and his high school and college coaching career.

He’s one of those guys who just doesn’t quit.

By his senior year at CMU, Creguer was playing football as an active duty Marine reservist, often getting beat up in a game and then driving 90 minutes for drill training.

He built up patience and persistence that served him well, tinkering all hours of the night in a friend’s garage, stuffing air gauges into ball bladders and experimenting with computer chips.

There were at least seven prototypes along the way.

One of his best moves, Creguer says, was connecting with the Central Michigan University Research Corp., a Mount Pleasant nonprofit business accelerator and incubator.

“They gave me the vision of where I needed to go,” Creguer says. “I knew how to help the players. They knew everything else.”

Creguer continues to meet with coaches all over the country, as well as with distributors interested in selling the ball.

“I enjoyed every second at CMU,” Creguer says. “CMU professors always challenge you to be the best you can possibly be. Mine all had these nuggets of wisdom that, if you lived by them, you’d live life with joy and success.

“And what more can you ask for than that?”

It all started with the “Frankenstein bra.”

It wasn’t pretty.

Sara Moylan, ’02, taped and glued parts of different sports bras together in a desperate attempt for the right fit. .

“I never intended to start a business,” says Moylan, whom you may have seen in January on the ABC TV show “Shark Tank.”

“I was just trying to solve my own problem.”

An athlete, Moylan wanted to continue running while pregnant. But no sports bra controlled the uncomfortable bouncing.

“I’d pull the straps up behind my head and secure them with a rubber band,” she recalls. “Then I had these ugly bumps under my clothes. I was walking away from workouts because of the discomfort and that led to depression.”

Her hot-glued “Frankenstein bra” actually worked – until she put it in the washer. So she hired a professional seamstress to stitch one together for her. Suddenly, all her friends wanted one.

“A light bulb went off,” Moylan says. .

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, maybe I’m onto something.’”

She was.

She traveled to Los Angeles to find an expert to create the bra and to find the right manufacturer to supply the fabric. She launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money.

Then, in August 2015, she and husband Bob, who handles the business finances, landed a coveted spot on “Shark Tank.”

Before their 10-minute segment was over, phones started ringing at her office back home in Jenison, near Grand Rapids.

“We sold out of inventory before I stopped talking,” Moylan says.

“Shark Tank” investor Daymond John swooped in with much-needed manufacturing help, and Moylan is thrilled to learn from the clothing pro and mentor who’s best known as the founder and CEO of FUBU hip-hop apparel.

Now Shefit has sales teams in five states with nearly 30 retail partners in the U.S., United Kingdom and New Zealand. The Shefit Ultimate Sports Bra also is available online at shefit.com.

What’s the big appeal?

Adjustability, Moylan says. Shefit adjusts 10 inches around the bust band and 15 inches with the straps.

“It truly gives you a custom fit,” Moylan says. “Your bra, your way.”

It’s no surprise Moylan has the promotional lingo down. As Sara Dusendang, she majored in integrated public relations at CMU and minored in journalism.

“All of those skills come into play when you’re starting a business,” she says. “It’s been a huge help.”

That wasn’t the end of CMU support. Central was the first of Shefit’s 22 collegiate accounts. CMU athletes involved in basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer and dance wear Shefit bras, Moylan says.

“It’s the most important piece of equipment female athletes have,” she says. “They put that on before their shoes.”

Moylan loves the message her business sends to her four daughters, ages 3, 7, 8 and 12.

“It teaches them, as women, to take charge of their health,” she says. “And the importance of following your dreams.

Lisa D’Angelo, ’12, has a thriving business illustrating bones, hearts, muscles, lungs and the occasional uterus.

“Either people are totally grossed out, or they want to know all about it,” D’Angelo says with a laugh.

Her medical illustration business, D’Angelo Visuals, combines her skill as an artist and her fascination with human biology.

“A lot of people have never even heard of this career,” she says.

It was a struggle to find the right college program to get her started. Until she checked out CMU.

D’Angelo discovered she could combine art classes and science classes and get a Bachelor of Science in art – a perfect, but unusual solution hard to find at most schools, she says.

In addition to the classes typical for an art degree, she took anatomy, microbiology and zoology, and they counted toward her certificate.

“I was so happy with that flexibility,” says D’Angelo, who runs her business from her home in West Bloomfield. “Any time I approached a CMU professor about my game plan, they said, ‘We’ll get you there.’ Central was very good to me.”

After CMU, she earned a Master of Science in Biomedical Visualization from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her training there involved dissecting cadavers and sketching during surgeries.

“If you’re squeamish at all, it’s not for you,” she says.

Now, her clients are all over the map.

They’re medical malpractice attorneys who need detailed illustrations to convince juries and med schools that need educational charts for doctors in training.

“It all varies, and I love that,” D’Angelo says. “But I really love drawing bones and hearts.”

While CMU offered the perfect course of study for her, it also prepared her for being an entrepreneur – in a sort of sneaky way, she says.

“Being away at school, your work ethic grows, because there’s no one there to tell you to get going,” D’Angelo says. “You have to be responsible. When you own your own business, you’re in charge of you. If you’re not productive, there’s no one else to blame.

“You also need to learn not to be afraid to ask for help,” she says. “That started with my time at Central.”


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