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Class Notes May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2

Entrepreneur's Corner
Christianne Schelling, ’89
Beverly Sutherland, ’90
Steve Leveen, Revelle ’76


Soft Claws
Hundreds of cats, spared from painful declawing or exile, owe one of their nine lives to veterinarian, Christianne Schelling, ’89. Since 1998, Schelling has been selling vinyl caps for pets’ nails through her web company. The caps are non-toxic, pliable, and work to blunt sharp claws to protect furniture from scratches.

In the past three years, her company has seen an annual
growth of about 40 percent, and now also sells nail caps for dogs. “I knew that declawing was not an appropriate option for pet owners, it’s like amputating a finger,” Schelling says. “And it’s mostly done for the owner’s convenience.”

After trying the nail caps on her own cat, Schelling began
selling the products little by little through her own veterinary
practice. But as the business grew, Schelling decided to devote her time to selling and advocating for Soft Claws.

“I really saw the potential for growth for this company,” Schelling says. “I think it’s mostly because I saw how well the product works, I just knew it would be successful.”

The caps are packaged in kits containing four to six months supply and are available in a variety of colors and designs.

AfroBabies Collection
Beverly Sutherland, ’90, was looking for Afrocentric products to decorate her son’s nursery. She didn’t find much so, in 2004, she created her own company, The AfroBabies Collection, which designs, manufactures and sells Afrocentric products for children of all ages.

The company’s “Young Dreamers Series” offers bed sets and bathroom accessories sporting images from the Negro League Baseball Museum. Sutherland says that the Negro League, which succeeded at the highest level of competition from the 1920s to the 1950s, was an important part of history and something that children should know about.

The company recently launched their “Flying High” collection, which features images of girls as astronauts, aviators and ballerinas.

“There’s a tremendous demand from people who want to
see images of young black girls in not-so-traditional roles,”
Sutherland says.

The products are currently carried by a few retailers but also sold online where the company launched its first product line in August 2005. Sutherland says there are already 40,000 visitors to the web site each month and projects that revenues will reach $500,000 in the next year.

“The demand has been tremendous,” Sutherland says. “And most of our customers are on the East Coast, in the South or Midwest.”

While the company is still small with only three staff members managing day-to-day operations, there are already plans to expand. Sutherland says the goal is to have a major nationwide retailer carry their products.

Bookworm Heaven
Steve Leveen, Revelle ’76, likes to think of himself as part Revelle Renaissance man and part unlikely entrepreneur. Starting as a biology student on the road to medical school, he took a detour to get his doctorate in sociology, followed by a stint in journalism. In 1987, he founded Levenger, a purveyor of cool, high-end accoutrements for bookworms and literary hipsters, ranging from banana weave newspaper baskets and fatboy pens to smart leather bookbags and the perfect reading lamp.

According to Leveen, it was a quest for the perfect reading lamp that led him to the creation of Levenger. “I had really just gotten my feet wet in the entrepreneurial arena with jobs for a software development company and a PC users magazine. My wife Lori and I were frustrated in our attempts to find the perfect reading lamp,” he says. “So we decided, as they say, to try to build a better mousetrap.”

The result was Levenger (an amalgam of Leveen and his wife’s last name, Granger), which started out as a purveyor of state-of-the-art halogen book reading lights and grew to become a highly successful Internet and retail company, touting tools for serious readers, writers and thinkers.
Today, Levenger is a multimillion dollar company with 225 employees and stores in Delray Beach, Fla., Boston and Chicago. The Levenger catalog is distributed to 24 million households annually. And Leveen has become a hot commodity on the entrepreneur lecture circuit, giving a talk to business audiences he calls “The Unlikely Entrepreneur,” which has led to Levenger becoming the subject of a recent Harvard Business School Case Study.

His best advice for budding entrepreneurs, unlikely or not:
“While you need to do some planning and thinking about how your product is going to fare in the marketplace, there comes a time when you just have to plunge ahead,” says Leveen. “As you get established, you will need to have long range plans in place but early on you just need to get out there and start selling your goods.”

— Articles written by Marnette Federis, ’06, and Dolores Davies.

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"While you need to do some planning and thinking about how your product is going to fare in the marketplace, there comes a time when you just have to plunge ahead..."
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