Cookies, cupcakes, donuts and brownies are not typically considered healthy foods, but Health Coach Karen Russell has found a way to bake for one’s sweet tooth without the processed sugar and gluten.
Owner of Sedona-based Karen’s Gluten Free Living, Russell says her introduction to baking started as a child with an Easy Bake Oven. She recalls making Rice Krispies treats, cookies and brownies. “I was the oldest of seven siblings and I was always hungry, so I made snacks.”
Russell’s pilgrimage into health started in college where she studied nutrition. “I started to eat healthier, but when I was in my 40s, I was diagnosed with chronic insomnia and fibromyalgia. I decided to change my diet to gluten- and dairy-free and threw out all my regular flour, dairy, butter, cheese and sugar and replaced them with gluten-free flour, coconut sugar and other healthier food options,” she said.
As her health improved significantly, she decided to become a health coach, guiding others to a better way to live healthy. During this journey, she published a book called, “Gluten Free Living.”
However, her dissatisfaction with the gluten-free products on the market inspired Russell to begin making her own. “The gluten-free food available didn’t taste fantastic and they were dry and crumbly and full of sugar and processed ingredients. So, I began to formulate recipes that were healthy and tasty.”
Her first product was her Chocolate Chip D-Lites. “I would take my cookies to a party or picnic and people loved them so much I would have to hide a few so there would be some left over for me.”
In 2014, Russell started selling her Chocolate Chip D-Lites at the Sedona Farmer’s Market. She began to add more products such as her Red Rock Energy Bites, Pecan Delights and her Gluten Free Paleo and Sour Dough Breads. “Two years later, I quit health coaching and decided to devote all my time to this business. I registered as an LLC, and sought investors to finance my kitchen packaging/marketing for the products.”
“We love to support local sellers,” said Flagstaff Natural Grocers Store Manager James Rowe. “Previous to working here, I worked at the Sedona store and Karen’s gluten-free products were a big seller. They are selling well in Flagstaff, too. Pecan Delights are my favorite.”
Karen’s Gluten Free Living kitchen is a Certified Gluten Free Kitchen, which means there is no cross-contamination. “I pay a fee and get audited every year; plus, I have to keep paperwork. It’s an involved process, but worth it because people with serious gluten-free health issues such as celiac disease can be assured they have a genuine gluten-free product.”
During the 2019 Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization (VVREO) Moonshot Pitch Event, Russell’s products were a hit. “Her passion for her field and quality of product really shone through,” said Moonshot Vice President of Operations and Finance Amanda Kristinat. “On a personal note, after being given the opportunity to try some samples, I was hooked. My whole family loves Karen’s shortbread cookies.”
A regular shopper at Russell’s weekly Sedona Farmer’s Market, Margaret Weant- Leavitt says she absolutely loves Karen’s cupcakes, cakes and cookies. “I’m a self-professed chocoholic and can’t go a day without these wonderful baked goods. I couldn’t find good bread until I tried her sourdough bread and bagels…they are amazing. When I share with my friends, they are in disbelief that they are gluten and sugar free. Plus, they taste like gourmet baked goods.”
Packaged mixes are available from Karen’s Gluten Free Living, as well. “We have a brownie, muffin, bread and shortbread cookies mix,” said Russell, who plans to add more products.
A heart-warming recollection for Russell was when she was at the Sedona Farmers Market and a young boy walked up. “He was eyeing my cupcakes and told me how good they looked but he was sure he couldn’t have one because of his allergies. His mom came and read the ingredients and he was so happy because he could have one. Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.”
Born in Japan and raised in Ohio, Russell is married and has lived in Sedona for eight years. She has three adult children and four grandchildren. Her kitchen is currently based out of her home. “Someday, I’d like to grow bigger and get a bigger space.”
By V. Ronnie Tierney, FBN
To find Russell’s products, visit karensglutenfreeliving.com or call 928-282-8918.
in-person mentoring, pitch contests and conferences to inspire and mentor budding entrepreneurs in Flagstaff and beyond, is now pivoting to provide that guidance and support in the era of social distancing.
The non-profit is launching Mission Control Startup Pitch, a free service connecting new entrepreneurs with “moonshot” ideas to a panel of successful business leaders via teleconferencing.
“Just like astronauts need Mission Control to provide vital guidance and support during their journeys in space, we want to provide risk takers and change makers with what they need as they take their innovations and turn them into viable businesses,” said President and CEO of Moonshot at NACET Scott Hathcock.
Entrepreneurs are invited to complete an online application on the Moonshot website. A video conference session is scheduled so they can make a five-minute pitch to a panel of Moonshot mentors.
After the presentation, the mentors provide feedback, guidance and in some cases, assistance by providing contacts who can help the entrepreneurs with their business.
An official from the City of Flagstaff, one of the main financial supporters of Moonshot at NACET, noted that these free sessions are both an innovation and an investment in marketing the city to potential businesses and job creators.
“I feel what Moonshot at NACET has put together for their virtual start-up mission control program is beyond next level,” said Director of Economic Vitality Heidi Hansen. “There are so many entrepreneurs globally that are looking for this type of mentorship by experts in the field. Moonshot, along with their partners, is offering an opportunity to put their ideas in motion. I also love that they are not only assisting our locals, but welcoming others from out of the area to come visit, discover and possibly grow in Flagstaff – virtually and someday, in person.”
The virtual pitch is just the latest innovation from an organization that has been encouraging disruptive thinking and the entrepreneurial spirit for more than two decades. The original iteration of Moonshot was a business incubator for homegrown talent that opened its doors in 2001. Its first two clients were Kahtoola and Aspen Communications.
Through the years, the facility grew from a series of offices on Milton Ave. to its own campus on McMillan Mesa with a business incubator and accelerator for startups looking to scale up.
Believing that an entrepreneurial hub should be more than a brick-and-mortar location, Moonshot at NACET began concentrating on programs, education, mentoring and events to support entrepreneurs and their new businesses. It also began to export that knowledge to other communities for a fee.
“We discovered that Moonshot as a program did not have to just live on McMillen Mesa,” said Hathcock. “It could be exported to other communities who would pay for the expertise in growing entrepreneurial ecosystems – and those funds would go right back into programs for local startups.”
In addition to Kahtoola and Aspen Communications, graduates of the Moonshot program include Symple Surgical, POBA Medical, Love You Foods, Mother Road Brewing, Canyon Coolers, War2In, Mosaic and Tepa Burger.
Once the era of social distancing is over, Hathcock said, Moonshot at NACET will continue to grow its programs, including more initiatives designed for high schools and summer camps to encourage entrepreneurship in teens, as well as an expanded focus on women entrepreneurs and women leaders though its W.E. (Women Entrepreneurs) Mean Business initiative.
Understanding that new cutting-edge businesses will not thrive without a matching workforce, Moonshot is also partnering with organizations like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Promineo Tech to develop workforce development training modules with an emphasis on targeting those who are not pursuing secondary education paths or are seeking to shift to careers that require a new skillset.
“This will have multiple benefits,” said Hathcock. “These partnerships will enhance technological talent in communities, which in turn creates access to high paying jobs for employees. For new businesses, it means a tech-savvy local labor force ready to help them grow.” FBN
For more information about Moonshot at NACET, visit moonshotaz.com.
Dan Kasprzyk, founder of startups Symple Surgical and Poba Medical, received the Carolyn Shoemaker Award at the first Moonshot Entrepreneur Awards, presented by Moonshot at NACET, the region’s entrepreneurial development program.
The Shoemaker Award was created to honor entrepreneurs who have graduated from the Moonshot program at NACET and gone on to establish businesses in the greater Flagstaff area that hire local employees. The recipient is chosen by a panel made up of members of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance.
The award is named for Carolyn Shoemaker, a pioneering astronomer who at one point held the record for the most comet discoveries (32) in addition to more than 800 asteroids and almost 400 minor planets. With her husband, Gene, she established the USGS Center for Astrogeology in Flagstaff.
“Carolyn is the perfect example of entrepreneurship and the process of reinvention,” said Moonshot at NACET President and CEO Scott Hathcock. “She is a trailblazer, a true moonshot thinker in astronomy – a field she didn’t begin working in until she was 51 years old. She perfectly illustrates that with passion and a newly discovered purpose, you can achieve great things.”
Katoohla and Mother Road Brewing Company were also honored with honorary Shoemaker awards as past graduates of the program.
This year, in addition to cultivating entrepreneurs in Flagstaff, Moonshot at NACET held a “Pioneer Pitch Tour” throughout the state, a series of events to identify promising startups in Navajo and Apache counties, Flagstaff, Page, Chandler and the Verde Valley. The tour was sponsored by APS, which selected Drinking Horn Meadery, a Flagstaff brewery, as the overall winning business from the tour.
Russ Yelton, former head of NACET, received the Mission Control award for his past service to building the entrepreneurial program. This award is given to a past or present volunteer or employee of Moonshot at NACET.
The ceremony kicked off a weekend of events celebrating entrepreneurship, including a premiere showing of the documentary series TrueFuture.tv at the Orpheum Theater. The program highlights people in the medical device industry and the communities that nurture their ideas and startups. The first episode featured Flagstaff and local entrepreneurs and innovators, including Kasprzyk.
In addition to APS, sponsors of the Moonshot Awards ceremony included Amazon Web Services, the City of Flagstaff, Foothills Bank, Real AZ, AWD Law, WL Gore, POBA Medical, Kinney Construction, Lowell Observatory, Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization and Little America Hotel, where the event was held.
Sponsors for the TrueFuture Flagstaff screening included Machine Solutions, POBA Medical, Symple Surgical, Wanderlust Brewery, the city of Flagstaff and the Orpheum Theater.
By Cindy May, FBN
One manufactures the next generation of outdoor gear to protect camping and backpacking provisions from being ransacked by rodents, birds and other critters. Another is a band of self-described “renegade recyclers” addressing the problems of plastic waste products. A third is giving the time-honored task of tutoring a facelift with technology.
While the products and services provided by these companies are quite different, they have some notable similarities.They are Flagstaff-based businesses working with Moonshot at NACET, the region’s entrepreneur development program, and they are all mentored by Leonard Quimby.
Quimby is a recent transplant to Flagstaff, having moved here last year. A serial entrepreneur who has started half a dozen successful businesses and sold three of them, he currently is the chairman of Sonherd, a business acquisition company that has 11 brands ranging from a brokerage agency to a school supply store.
“I started out my career in sales – door-to-door, sitting-at-the-kitchen-table type sales,” Quimby said. “A good 15 years in, I realized that my most important commodity was not money but time, and the only thing that affords latitude with time is not having to answer to anyone else.”
It is a philosophy that Quimby is bringing to the companies he mentors – Armored Outdoor Gear, Praxis Waste Solutions and Tailored Tutoring – as he coaches them in starting or scaling their businesses.
Moonshot at NACET has eight volunteer mentors assigned to its entrepreneur clients. Their insights, coaching and expertise are all key to the success enjoyed by Moonshot’s startup clients, said Moonshot President and CEO Scott Hathcock.
“All of our mentors are successful entrepreneurs in their own right, so they have the experience, but we also ask that they have a passion for seeing others succeed,” he said. “In Leonard’s case, he just connects very well with people and he goes above and beyond in his dedication to these companies.”
It is a view shared by the company founders with whom Quimby works.
“Leonard has helped Armored Outdoor Gear and myself more in the last few months than anyone else has,” said Tom Monroe, who started the company with a partner back in 2002 as a side project and only pursued it as his full-time career 10 years later.
The manufacturer is housed in NACET’s business accelerator, and Quimby was introduced to Monroe when the company was undergoing some cash flow challenges. Monroe was working on buying out his former partner and, simultaneously, the company had just won a massive order, but did not have the funds for necessary materials.
Quimby helped Monroe negotiate with banks in order to fund both the buyout and meet increased production demands. Quimby is also helping the company with in-kind services, conducting an email marketing campaign on the company’s behalf to increase awareness of the brand. The result has been a “huge” increase in traffic to the company’s website.
“This is stuff I never would have been able to do on my own and I’m sure it would have cost me an arm and a leg to do it,” said Monroe....
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