Founder Profile

Sonia Strobel

Skipper Otto

For recognizing that, as community-supported agriculture can bring financial stability to farmers, community-supported fisheries can help fishing families

Company Information
Year Founded
2008
Industry
Food & Beverages
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

When Sonia Strobel, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn, married into a fishing family, she saw first-hand how precarious their livelihoods could be. “Fishermen are paid pretty poorly for an incredible amount of risk and hard work,” she says. Some years her father-in-law would make money; others, he wouldn’t. Strobel’s husband grew up fishing with his father, and wanted to continue, but got out of it because it was too hard to make a living.

Part of the problem is the fishermen themselves get very little of the money consumers pay for fish, thanks in part to long supply chains and a complex system of licenses in quotas. Additionally the prices they are paid fluctuate wildly from week to week. This year has been particularly bad, Strobel says, because Covid has forced so many restaurants – typically big buyers of seafood – to close.

Strobel knew that community-supported agriculture, or CSAs, had made a dent in similar problems that beset farmers. Meanwhile, she knew that Canada—where she now lived--exported 90 percent of its fishing catch, but 80 percent of the seafood sold in groceries and restaurants is imported. Why not start a CSA for fishing families? In 2008 she did just that, starting Skipper Otto – named for her father-in-law – while on maternity leave. That first year 40 members joined, and the next year she had 400 members.

In 2014 Skipper Otto became Strobel’s full-time job, and has since grown to 5,000 members and ten full-time employees. Her growth comes not from venture capital – she’s had some debt financing and a line of credit, but otherwise has bootstrapped the whole thing – but from collaboration. “You don’t have to do everything yourself, and you shouldn’t,” she says. “Instead, get a real diversity of skills among a small team of people.” —Kimberly Weisul

Stefania Mallett

ezCater

Because ordering food for a meeting should be easy

Company Information
Year Founded
2007
Location
Boston, Massachusetts
Industry
Software
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

Stefania Mallett thinks like an engineer--a legacy of her computer science graduate degree from MIT--so it's no surprise that when founding ezCater in 2007, she created "a system for everything." Customers visit the website and order a tasty spread from one of 80,000 restaurants and caterers, and ezCater coordinates fulfillment for any event in which a group of people want to nosh while they work.

Mallett credits her success to creating clever systems to entice the right talent to join her, and then nourishing their hearts and minds. "My purpose is to create jobs that people want to have," says Mallett. Job candidates complete mock exercises to get a feel for the work they'll be doing. One example: translating a printed menu into an appealing digital layout. "After an hour," Mallett says, "either they say, 'I hate this!' or 'This is kind of fun.' "

Her management mantras are "Respect the heck out of your employees" and "Give them so much authority they gasp"--two things that inspire her team to bring their full passion and creativity to work. That's doubly important as she pivots in the era of Covid. "I deeply believe," she says, "that if you can just give people the biggest opportunity, the most freedom to be their best selves, you will get that." –Burt Helm

Stephanie Benedetto

Queen of Raw

For keeping millions of yards of fabric out of landfills

Company Information
Year Founded
2018
Location
New York, New York
Industry
IT Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020

Tata Harper

Tata Harper

Because you get something different when an industrial engineer tackles the high-end natural beauty industry

Company Information
Year Founded
2010
Location
Shoreham, Vermont
Industry
Consumer Products & Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020

Terri-Nichelle Bradley

Brown Toy Box

Because toys are inspiration

Company Information
Year Founded
2016
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
Industry
Consumer Products & Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

Terri-Nichelle Bradley started the Brown Toy Box to give Black children the ability to see their worlds differently. Brown Toy Box produces children's products and experiences that are designed to encourage and prepare Black children to pursue STEAM interests and careers. The company's curated STEAM-themed activities and programs help Black children widen their ideas of what's possible for their futures and inspire them to believe they can succeed in pursuing these careers as adults.

While Covid-19 has seen many businesses close, Bradley has noticed a massive shift in her company. She not only seen the direct-to-consumer part of the business thrive, but she has also seen an uptick in the B2B side, which works with schools and youth-serving organizations that are primarily Title I schools in high poverty, 85 percent Black communities. "What I knew for certain when school was interrupted so abruptly was that a lot of those kids were never going to get online. Even if they were given a laptop and hotspot, they still weren't going to get online because whose second grader is getting on a class Zoom at 10 o'clock if the mama is still at work as an essential employee?"