One year after graduation, founder shares her entrepreneurship experiences
Written by: Alicia Webb
A lot has happened to Nicole Cuervo since graduating a year ago. Going from a prototype to an actual product gave her the opportunity to put her Kellogg experience into action; turning theory into practice. Springrose, a startup developing adaptive intimates for women with limited mobility, feels more established than it did this time last year, she loves seeing her dream come to fruition.
The company now has a legitimate website, a manufacturing partner and a team. Although the team fluctuates from nine to twelve, Nicole feels lucky to be working on the business full-time. She enjoys having the freedom to delve fully into the work. While other members of the team are part-time, Nicole is grateful to have the necessary experts in place to keep moving forward.
In the past year she been a part of two accelerators: the AARP Innovation Lab and the Remarkable Accelerator which is led by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation — and each of these experiences has taught her a great deal. For Nicole, disability tech and agetech are such interesting spaces, she is thrilled to be contributing to their advancement.
"Kellogg definitely prepared me for this journey. There are some class notes that I continue to refer to, I think to myself, ‘now that it’s not theory and it’s in practice...how do I do it?’ Some of the classes that resonate most are Omnichannel Marketing and Digital Marketing Implementation Strategy," Nicole says. "What’s even more helpful than those classes is the continued support I receive from my professors. When I reach out to professors, they still provide feedback, and in case they don’t have an answer they are happy to connect me to the right person. Building these types of relationships has really made a difference."
Nicole admits there have been many ups and downs in her journey. Fundraising was challenging because apparel is a bit out of vogue as an investment. There were a lot of financial shocks last year that created a ripple effect coupled with her being Latina. In 2021, one of the greatest years of VC funding on record, Latinas only received 0.64% of the funding. When she tells people she makes bras, most of them pause (sometimes blush) and ask questions. Despite these roadblocks, she has successfully fundraised and pulled through.
Right now, Nicole also has several products in the pipeline, and in the immediate future, she is hoping to build a free content library for women’s health at the intersection of disability.
People tell her the market she is in is niche, and it is, but it’s also massive. She is currently serving over 50 conditions, and she continues to find new conditions that can be served. Disabilities are often taken for granted yet 16% of the global population is disabled according to the WHO. Most people will at some point be disabled, whether they identify with that label or not. They will have joint pain, chronic pain, or limited mobility. The opportunity to make a difference and continue serving this community brings Nicole great excitement.
Building good habits as early as possible
Nicole believes entrepreneurship can be emotionally draining if you allow it. Sometimes it is hard to turn it off. She admits she often goes to bed dreaming about the business and wakes up thinking about the business. Almost everything she does now is steeped in the business. Dedicating time to herself, and her mental health and building great habits is critical for her health and wellness — not only to help her do well, but also it helps the business thrive. For example, she tries to meditate as often as possible.
Rest is another important pillar, and she has learned to give herself space and rest when needed. Sometimes that might mean stopping work at 3:00 pm and starting fresh the next day. For Nicole, it is easy to burn out when you try to do everything. She doesn't buy into the narrative that founders should be working 100 hours a week and eating ramen — she says that is toxic. It leads to burnout; you and your business suffer. She is flexible with the people she works with because she knows the work will get done. If her team needs time away, she allows it. In her eyes, the grind culture is simply not sustainable.
Nicole has found that having a solid team around her is invaluable. When she launched her business, she admits she wasn’t completely sure how to build a team. But now she realizes, you have to be strategic when you scout your teams and build a culture that people want to be a part of. The culture and team you build reflects on you as a leader.
Advice to future entrepreneurs
Building and leading a business isn’t for everyone, but Nicole loves every minute of it — the highs and lows. She has found being her own boss freeing and enjoys having her independence. For those who want to follow this path, she offers few pieces of advice:
- Always validate that what you are building is needed. Just because you have a problem doesn’t mean other people have a problem. It is great to build a business when you are not the core user, you can be less biased about what you are building.
- Build a network and build it early. Get champions to believe in you. Reach out to as many people as possible when you are first starting out — when you are a student people are more likely to reply to you. Ask for grace, people will believe in you early on.
- Under promise, over deliver. There are always delays, and there is always something unexpected. You don’t want to disappoint people; especially those who believed in you early on.
- There are some things you can wing and some things you can’t. Nicole always thought she could wing product development by relying on her manufacturer. When she brought in expertise, things got better.
- Execution is key. Even if someone has the same idea as you, the person who has the best strategy and execution will succeed. Execution is what matters at the end of the day. Funding helps.
- Get feedback. Ask for advice. This is the only way you will know if you are getting it right.