From the August 1999 issue of Startups

Alexis Abramson is just 32, but the needs of senior citizens are always on her mind. That's because Abramson's Atlanta company, Mature Mart Inc., sells products designed to help seniors with everyday living.

"I've always had an affinity and respect for mature adults," Abramson says. "My ultimate goal was simply to be an advocate for seniors. I never thought I'd be an entrepreneur." But after earning a master's degree in gerontology and working at a senior center, she changed her mind. "I saw so many [seniors] having trouble with everyday living. They had trouble holding things because of arthritis or couldn't hear when they were on the telephone," she says.

So Abramson launched a personal search for products that would enhance senior living, but the few she was able to track down were spread out from Detroit to Cincinnati to New York City. Realizing there wasn't a one-stop shopping center for such items, she compiled a database of 20,000 products from around the country and set up a Web site in 1995 to gauge interest. She got her answer in no time: The site logged 40,000 hits that month and rang up sales of $150,000 its first year.

Since then, Mature Mart has grown to several channels of national distribution, including the Internet, grocery stores, mass merchandising, and retail and catalog sales. Sales also get a boost from Abramson's monthly appearances on QVC and on NBC's Today show. Among the most popular products she sells is the Swivel Seat, a Lazy-Susan-type seat that makes getting in and out of a car simpler.

Today, Mature Mart is a family affair. Abramson's grandmother, Rose, oversees the Web site (http://www.maturemart.com) and deals with customers; Abramson's mother, Phyllis, is a vice president.

"I'm a true believer that you can turn passion into profit," Abramson says. Although she expects 1999 sales to hit $4 million, for her, it's not about the money. "I know I'm making a difference. For me, that's success."

L'Chaim!

There are chocolate beers, raspberry beers, honey beers and even jalapeño beers. So why not kosher beer? Jeremy Cowan, 30, decided to fill that niche. "There was a microbrew explosion going on in 1996," recalls the Stanford grad, who launched He'Brew The Chosen Beer that year.

Although Cowan started the business with the barest essentials and $15,000-plus in savings, his San Francisco company expects sales of more than $500,000 this year. Cowan began by using a small Bay area "do-it-yourself" brewery to make experimental test batches. By Hanukkah 1996, Cowan--with help from his girlfriend, his mother and an assortment of friends--had produced about 100 cases of Shmaltz Brewing Co.'s first hand-bottled, hand-labeled beer, Genesis Ale.

Despite a negligible advertising budget (the biggest ad Cowan could afford was a 1-inch spot in the local Jewish paper), Cowan's kosher beer brewed in positive feedback. And thanks to He'Brew Beer's novelty, a short article in the San Francisco Chronicle led to tiny mentions in 15 national papers. During Hanukkah, says Cowan, "The voice mail was full every night with calls from all over the country. It was obvious we were on to something."

As sales increased, Cowan landed a contract with Anderson Valley Brewing, one of the nation's top 10 breweries, which enabled him to hire a distributor to warehouse and deliver the beer, now sold at grocery stores, kosher delis (yes, it's certified) and liquor stores.

Cowan eventually graduated from his kitchen office to a tiny loft--but the 6'1" entrepreneur didn't let the space's 5'10" ceiling cramp his style. "Each [difficult] step of the way [I told myself], `Someday I'll look back on this and laugh.' " He's laughing now: He's finally got a "real" office, private investors and distribution from Los Angeles to New York City. Says Cowan, "Every day, [people] e-mail me and say `Loved the He'Brew. Keep up the good work.' It's a blast."

Contact Source

Shmaltz Brewing Co., (415) 648-4327, http://www.shmaltz.com