The Business of Entrepreneurship

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Three business owners share their success stories and what it means to be a part of the community

There are a variety of services to be found in Port Washington. From web marketing to protein supplements, there is a product for everyone. Local businesses with little recognition need fresh, contemporary websites. College students looking to develop their muscle tone need a safe and healthy means of doing so. New mothers looking to lose their baby weight or people who want organic produce must have a source to go to. Every business has a place in the community and every community needs businesses that will help it thrive.

Nancy Verdi
Nancy Verdi

Self taught entrepreneur Nancy Verdi began her business two years ago when husband and sister were in dire need of assistance. By then the kids were out of the house and Verdi had time to explore. She saw an opportunity and decided to help out her family’s businesses. After doing a “complete overhaul” by updating their websites, Verdi started Hummingbird Web Design.

How can a whole career stem from one family favor? Nancy Verdi did not start out as a computer savvy entrepreneur. In college, she got a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts. She then worked in the food industry where she learned a lot about service.

“I want to reach more small business owners,” Verdi says. “My niche market is the mom and pop shops.”

Verdi has now helped several small businesses bring their websites to their full potential. She says she’s met many creative people with good ideas, but it’s a waste if no one knows about them. Verdi enjoys not only designing the sites but also showing her clients how to use them. She will even optimize the site for no extra cost so the business owners she represents are on the map. Verdi herself has only been able to advertise her company by word of mouth. Today, she has created about fifteen websites.

What goes into web design? Though Verdi describes sites as “more than pretty brochures”, she claims the process isn’t that involved. Verdi does code but she suggests additional networking and research because technology is constantly changing. Now only a few classes away from becoming a certified web developer, Verdi looks to expand her services to other regions of Long Island. She hopes to continue helping people spread the word on their small businesses.

“I love working with people,” Verdi says. “Now I genuinely feel like I’m doing something significant.”

From a young age, Russell Saks has been active in pursuing new opportunities. In high school, he began an electronics company and another with eBay. In his sophomore year of college at Indiana University, Saks came up with another idea. He noticed that his fraternity brothers were paying way too much for their protein supplements. After lots of research, Saks found a third of college students took supplements. He decided he wanted to “combine top selling products with discount prices.” As a result, Saks and business partners Tarun Singh and Michael Lewdell came up with Campus Protein.
The only obstacle was money. Three college students were not enough to fund this massive project. Fortunately, several successful alumni presented a contest to promote entrepreneurship at the university. Of course Saks’ idea won and Campus Protein grew to what it is today.

Saks is now CEO of the company. Singh acts as chief marketer and Lewdell as chief sales officer. They run brand relations, the website, and advertising. Last year alone, Campus Protein grew its profits 140 percent. Students can order their product and receive it within two to three days via expedite shipping. Currently, Campus Protein has 500 sales reps, covers 1,500 universities, and provides its own brand of sports nutrition supplement called Fuel. The sales representatives go through one to two weeks of training and help avid gym-goers find appropriate supplements. Saks states this is the “human interaction” aspect of the company.

“Everything is very college geared,” says Saks. “We try to bring the retail experience to a website setting.”

The next step for the company is to provide information, not just protein. Saks says he’d like to “build more content” for the website. This way Campus Protein can educate people on how to work out and live healthy lives.

Janet Mermel
Janet Mermel

Graduate from the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, Janet Mermel is involved in multiple health-friendly businesses. In 2012, she created Skinny Mama, which is a site that helps women get back on track after becoming new mothers. As a mother herself, Mermel empathized with her clients.

“It was an unfulfilled niche in the community,” Mermel says.

Soon the idea grew to woman form all walks of life, not just those recently pregnant. Now after having her third child, Mermel has taken a break from Skinny Mama and entered into another field of the health industry. She currently works with Farmigo, a community supported agriculture company that allows its customers to order freshly grown food.

Mermel is a certified health coach and thus has been involved in this company for two years. She acts as one of the organizers, or “champions”, that helps distribute the organic food. She also has experience in finance, marketing, and public education.

Farmigo is composed of local Long Island farmers. It specializes in fruits and vegetables but encompasses over two hundred food options. It also stands as a public benefit company, which means it makes sure the farmers receive what they’ve earned.

Mermel goes the extra mile when it comes to this company. She will accommodate any customer and even holds the food overnight if necessary.

“It’s the people’s grocer,” says Mermel. “It believes in the mission of a community based around healthy food, as do I.”

Mermel hopes to continue her work with Farmigo and apply the tools she’s learned to help others.

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