Elizabeth Caven is the founder of UpCraft Club, a company she’s hoping to build into the leading online distributor of digital sewing patterns (in the same way that Audible is the leading distributor of audio books). In order to achieve this goal, she’s spending four months in a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley called 500 Startups.
Elizabeth lives in Iowa. She’s the mom of four children ages 5, 6, 7 and 9. She and her employee, Jess, temporarily moved to San Francisco for this opportunity and have been immersed in an incredibly intense business training experience. They will to emerge with $125,000 in venture capital and the expertise to make UpCraft Club a success.
Taking venture capital is something rarely spoken about in the craft community. Although Etsy was venture funded for a decade until they went public last year and Craftsy and Kollabora are also venture funded, I think most craft businesses don’t ever consider seeking venture capital. And the world of venture capital in the Silicon Valley? It’s equally unfamiliar with the sewing and crafting community. To a degree Elizabeth is right in the middle of a clash of cultures.
Periodically during her four-month stay she’s sending back journal entries describing her experiences and I’m publishing them here so that we can get a glimpse into the world of startups and venture capital from a sewing business perspective. (Catch her first entry and her second entry if you missed those.)
Today, we catch up with Elizabeth to see what she’s learning and how she and Jess are holding up. Here’s Elizabeth.
Wednesday, March 17
A Surreal Day
I’m in Washington DC with my family. My FAMILY! Since this trip coincided with Spring Break iin Iowa my husband and all 4 of my kids were able to meet me in DC to have some fun while I had to be here for the competition. I hadn’t seen them in two long months and it’s great to be together!!
After a day spent sightseeing in Washington DC…the InnovateHER competition time arrived. InnovateHER is an effort led by the Small Business Administration and began last fall with 2,000 entrepreneurs who have companies making a difference in the lives of women and families, pitching in mini-competitions held across the US.
In Iowa, there were several events held at co-working spaces and various other venues. The winners of each local competition then submitted business plans to the SBA and the group was then narrowed down to 200 semi-finalists. Finally, 10 finalists were invited to the competition in Washington DC. It’s so exciting to be part of the group of finalists! Each man and woman here has a huge vision for their company. It’s inspiring!
This morning the 10 finalists were invited to participate in a roundtable at the White House. It was led by the SBA, GSA, and White House Council on Women and Girls and included notable tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and facebook. We had a closed-door meeting about the state of entrepreneurship for women in the United States. We discussed gaps that are seen, and where things are going well. The entire morning was a ‘pinch-me’ moment for everyone involved and it was awe-inspiring to hear about the initiatives being put in place to help entrepreneurs across the country.
The competition kicked off later in the afternoon at the Gallup office. The event began with our pitches. Each finalist was given 2 minutes to present followed by 2 minutes of the judges’ questions. I’ve pitched a lot over the past year and I always prefer to be first or almost first. Thankfully, by random drawing I was chosen to go second and then listened to the other pitches and could enjoy them once my nerves calmed down. J
After the pitches, The Atlantic led several panels and discussions about women entrepreneurship. We heard the CEO of SoulCycle talk about how that company has grown and changed and a panel of female investors chatted about the venture capital landscape. Then…it was time to announce the winner of InnovateHER. They started by naming third place…then second…then first.
UpCraft Club wins the SBA InnovateHER competition.
It’s a bit of an out-of-body-experience to hear your name called as the winner of a competition like this. I walked in a daze up to the stage where the head of the SBA and the leader of this initiative for Microsoft presented me with a huge check! We WON!!! Microsoft sponsored the prize of $40,000!! There are no words to express my gratitude to the SBA for holding this competition, to Microsoft for sponsoring such a generous prize, and to the judges who had an extremely difficult task in choosing a winner.
“What will you do with the money?” This was the main question I was asked all evening throughout a cocktail reception held after the event. The money will help us continue building UpCraft Club. Specifically, we’ll be adding lots of new patterns and allowing the community to connect with each other in more meaningful ways by making our technology and site better. If you have thoughts about what you’d like to see us do…please let us know!
Friday, March 25
Google + Sewing = Awesome
A couple of weeks ago Jess got reconnected with a friend (Alli) from college. At the time, neither of them were particularly crafty, but now they both sew. And, as it turns out, Alli not only sews but also teaches sewing classes. At Google. AT GOOGLE!
The Google headquarters is a phenomenal place! We met Alli there for lunch and got a tour. It’s unreal. Massive like a college campus. Everything is free! Lunch? No charge. Want a smoothie? Take one. Google even owns their own food trucks that give out free food!
And they have a sewing studio…
Jess at Google’s sewing studio.
There’s a modern maker space in one of the buildings with woodworking machines, 3D printers, and an area entirely dedicated to sewing. Anyone like Alli can propose a class and open it up to all Google employees. Isn’t that so fun?? We want to create a custom pattern for one of their classes. What do you think we should have them sew?
Wednesday, March 30
Mom Guilt for Missing Birthdays
My birthday was right after I got back to San Francisco and it was sad not being with my family. The kids put a candle on a cake for me and sang over Skype (then fought over who would get to blow out the candle since I wasn’t there). I’m going to miss my daughter’s 8th birthday in a few weeks because it’s on 500 Startups’ Demo Day. It’s the last official day of the program and there’s no way I can miss it. So I’m been trying to prepare her that I won’t be there…and give her something fun to look forward to once school is out so we can still celebrate. But, of course, I still have heaps of ‘mom guilt’ about missing it. Birthdays are a big deal to kids and a Skype birthday cake won’t cut it!
Thursday, April 7
In a startup there are never enough people to get everything done. This is the understatement of the universe right now because there’s so much to do! We’re excited to welcome two new people to the team and they both got to visit us last week. Cora used to be the pattern buyer at Checker Distributors and is now working with designers at UpCraft Club. Celina from Petit a Petit and Family has also joined us in a part-time role as UpCraft Club’s Creative Director. Check out the first thing she did on our site…three outfits inspired by historical women: Jackie O, Frida Kahlo, and Amelia Earhart.
Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge with Celina from Petit a Petit and Family and Gabriela from Chalk and Notch.
Believe it or not, this was the first day of sightseeing I had here in San Francisco since 500 Startups began in January. I hadn’t even seen the Golden Gate Bridge yet! We’ve literally been working non-stop and it was nice to take a ‘break.’ (Even though we talked about patterns and the vision and direction of UpCraft Club the entire day…we at least got to talk about it in some cool locations.)
There’s only 1 month left to go in the accelerator program. My last update will be about Demo Day (where we pitch to a room full of investors) and Spring Quilt Market. If you’ll be attending Quilt Market please let us know. We want to see you there!
Christa Watson says
How fun to watch this journey unfold. Thanks for sharing and huge congrats to Elizabeth!
Wow! Congratulations on winning first place! I read the names on the cheques before I read the paragraph below the picture and I was like “they won!” 🙂 I am enjoying reading about your experience.
I felt the same way! I saw it on social media when it happened and thought, “Oh my goodness! They won!”
Kyle Burkhardt says
I love this journey Elizabeth is on!!! I saw her win on social media also–this is really encouraging and inspiring!
Kennis Wong says
I am not surprised UpCraft Club won the competition. You are not only a woman-led startup, you also enable other designers (mostly women) to sell on UpCraft Club. If they want to encourage women entrepreneurs, your business is the perfect one to support.
Karen LePage says
Congratulations again! I am so happy and excited to see where this is going. So is my husband – first time for everything I guess – but since it’s tech related he’s all about it. He suddenly became interested in my drawing when I got a Surface Pro 3 for illustrations, and then became interested in patternmaking once I invested in CAD. I love what you’re doing and would love to meet you at Quilt Market!
Jane LaFazio says
Huge congratulations Elizabeth! Your hard work is paying off. $40,000! the White House! Google HQ!
Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us.
Jen Frost says
What an absolutely amazing experience! I went through a very hands-on MBA program after finishing my undergraduate, but this experience…there are no words. I’m so inspired by watching you chase your dreams, understand the mom guilt you’re going through, and am truly looking forward to how far this adventure takes you. Congratulations again!
Desiree Habicht says
Congratulations! We are at all the markets and would love to meet you, you make me feel like I am playing small! I love how you are going after it in a big way!