Learn to launch


When Moira Turner and her longtime business partner were considering taking their existing company in a new direction, they needed a focus group to help them decide whether it was a good idea.

When Colleen Wolfe and her partners were preparing to launch a line of high-quality baby products, they needed advice on how to transition from executives with already established businesses to entrepreneurs.

And when Sheba Coffey began exploring the idea of creating an innovative television show, she needed to bounce her ideas off of others to get her concept off the ground.

All of these local women found the help they needed through a local chapter of Ladies Who Launch, a national networking and training organization with a local chapter founded last fall by Edina businesswoman Margrette Newhouse.

Like most of the women Ladies Who Launch has helped, Newhouse discovered her niche through a combination of inspiration and serendipity.

Newhouse worked for 16 years in commercial banking. “What I enjoyed most was learning about how people started their business,” she said.

Newhouse left banking to teach at St. John’s University. Quickly, she found she missed working with business owners and “real” issues. She was grading papers in a coffeehouse when she began to notice people networking there. And while watching her sons play baseball and hockey, she found herself talking with other mothers about their business ideas and offering suggestions.

“They always seemed to get stuck in the launch,” Newhouse said, “either not having the confidence in themselves, the time to dedicate to the idea, or other resource connections to make it happen.” She remembers telling her husband, “There must be something with women-owned businesses that I should be focused on.”

A few weeks later she saw a short article in Working Woman magazine about one of the founders of Ladies Who Launch. All of the existing chapters were on the East and West coasts. Within weeks, Newhouse was flying to a training session in Cleveland, Ohio. Shortly afterward she launched Ladies Who Launch in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.

Since then, Newhouse has facilitated four “incubator” sessions. Incubators consist of up to 10 women who get together weekly for four sessions, often in a coffeehouse. They complete basic homework and discuss their ideas while getting momentum and feedback from the group.

After completing the incubator session, at a cost of $300, women are eligible to network within the regional group. For an additional $300, women can join the national group and access special resources and tools for public relations on the Ladies Who Launch website.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the incubator, according to several participants, is the “talking out loud” therapy aspect. In articulating their vision, fears and ambitions, women often discover how to focus their business and personal goals-including which ideas ultimately are not worth their energy.

Turner and her partner decided not to add on to their existing business because of the discussion they had with women in the incubator. “The value of the incubator was huge for us,” Turner said.

Learning what you don’t want is as important as learning what you do, Newhouse said. “Sometimes the movement in the incubators isn’t what the women imagined, but movement that might have saved substantial investments of time, energy and money.”

During the recent grand opening of the Tirza Baby warehouse in Bloomington, Wolfe talked at length about how invaluable the advice she and her partners received has been in pricing, packaging, determining distribution strategy, and choosing which products to develop.

“Entrepreneurs are much less competitive than those in the traditional business world, where my partners and I came from,” Wolfe said. “We packed up suitcases with our products and got instantaneous feedback from Ladies Who Launch members in New York City.”

“Within the framework of the incubator process,” she added, “I was amazed at how sitting with a group of highly intelligent, passionate, goal-oriented women could actually set into motion results and accomplishments that have led to much of what Tirza Baby is today.”

As a longtime promotion and marketing expert, Coffey is skilled at connecting people with problems to people with solutions-which is the point of her pending television show, “You’re the Star.” What she needed, and got from Ladies Who Launch, was people who would “hold me accountable in making continual progress, as well as force me to finally focus on my idea, take action, and get me closer to launching.”

“A group of creative-minded women strategically working to solve a common goal is simply amazing,” she added.