What's more 'Merican than starting your own business and starting a business that is connected to the world of choking people unconscious and defending yourself?
Nothing, that's what.
I already blogged about it HERE, but here's some add'l press that popped up:
"'To take something from nothing to success, you really have to feel it,” said Adrienne Adams, 33. “It’s very personal to me. I’m fully invested in this.”
Adams was working in an unfulfilling job as a project manager for a construction company in Northern Virginia when her mother’s healthy lifestyle kick encouraged her to try with a class at her gym: Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Her friend introduced her to it and she was hooked, training six to seven times a week.
Because she could sew, many of her classmates brought torn gis — martial arts uniforms — to her to mend. She encountered various brands, weaves and types of quality of uniforms. At the same time, she learned about hemp as a cotton replacement for sustainable design in her construction industry career....“Then I kind of had this a-ha moment: the green gi,” Adams said. “I can do something better than what’s on the market right now.”
That was in 2009. Three weeks later, she was laid off because of the economic downturn. She submitted the name of her product, the “Green Gi” for a trademark and worked to design a website and logo. While she trained as a blue belt for an International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation-sanctioned tournament, she experimented with different patterns and made two prototype uniforms made of hemp.
She finished in time to debut a Green Gi while she competed at the world championships that year and soon she was inundated with emails from people asking about the uniform.
“I underestimated the amount of exposure I was going to get,” said Adams, now a purple belt. “I wanted to see if people liked my idea and they did.”
Difficulty finding an American textile manufacturer stalled the project and she moved to Norfolk in 2010. While working as an office manager for a sheet metal manufacturer, she began her search again. Adams was dead-set on having the gi made in America. She did small runs with a small regional company but that deal fell through.
“I was crushed,” Adams said, adding she thought maybe she should abandon the project.
That thought left her mind when she heard entrepreneurs could pitch their ideas to investors and the business community in a “Start! Peninsula” event at Christopher Newport University in December. She found out just days before but was able to pitch.
The judges selected her as a finalist and her Facebook page attracted 500 likes that weekend. The backing of the community inspired her to continue, but she realized through workshops at the event that she didn’t understand all the aspects of launching a business.
Because she was a finalist, she was eligible to enter an accelerator program for three months at the Peninsula Technology Incubator in Hampton where she took business development classes while working full-time.
Incubator director Tom Flake and other business owners helped her move forward with the idea. Instead of focusing on overwhelming issues like the supply chain — it is illegal to grow hemp in the United States — she began asking questions about what uniform price would make sense in the market. When she went back to manufacturers, she found three companies willing to work with her on the gi.
Adams is confident that she will have the quality product she originally envisioned. Her goal since starting the incubator program in January was to be ready to take orders for the Green Gi when she pitched the idea at the entrepreneurial event “Start Norfolk 3” on March 22-24.
During the Start Norfolk weekend, she said she took an order every 45 minutes and received 10 requests from companies wanting to distribute the gi.
Ben Eaton, owner of the Jiu-Jitsu Institute in York County, said he has heard of another hemp uniform on the market but nothing American-made. He said he would like to try out the Green Gi as hemp is known to be more durable. While tournaments would have to allow the use of the gi, he said the uniform could be used for daily training.
Adams’ new challenge is to take enough pre-orders to justify importing hemp from China. She said she would notify customers of getting refunds if she couldn’t get the gi into production within six months. She has self-financed her venture so far and is working to put together a campaign on Kickstarter.com, which raises money for products through crowd funding.
Marla Schuchman, who mentored Adams at “Start Norfolk” and advises her now, said she liked the product because it could evolve into other hemp fitness clothing.
Schuchman, a marketing consultant in Arlington, said investors would be attracted to the larger vision as well as Adams’ passion and story. Schuchman said the challenge is getting outside capital and operating in a market where it’s difficult to get hemp.
“It’s time for me to hustle,” Adams said.
For more information on the Green Gi, visit http://thegreengi.com.