From the September 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

What: Home parties selling gourmet food
Who: Jill Blashack of Tastefully Simple
Where: Alexandria, Minnesota
When: Started in 1995

Want to know how Jill Blashack converted her gift basket business into a $100 million enterprise? She got rid of the gift baskets.

After realizing that the products inside her gift baskets were what really interested customers, Blashack, 43, decided to transform her existing business into a home party opportunity that specializes in gourmet food.

The idea sparked after Blashack participated in the Holiday Crafters Tour, a local event that opened the doors of fancy homes to artisans and entrepreneurs wanting to show off their wares. As soon as Blashack gave the attendees taste tests, orders for her products started pouring in.

An SBA LowDoc loan and a personal investment helped Blashack finance Tastefully Simple, which features a menu with everything from sauces and popcorn to beer bread and dips, most priced around $6.99. Many customers have become consultants for the company. Hoping to expand her roster of consultants to 10,000 nationwide by year-end, Blashack says, "The best people we find are the ones who have [experienced] a party and said 'Wow, this is cool. I could do this.' "

On the Right Track

What: Brokering deals between race cars and sponsor companies
Who: Cragg Eubanks of RaceSport Ltd.
Where: Wichita Falls, Texas
When: Started in 2001

Cragg Eubanks, a 47-year-old amateur sports car aficionado, uses his expertise to broker business deals and his contacts in the professional racing industry to find corporate marketing partners for race teams nationwide. "Everybody realizes that the whole marketing venue in sports is changing and that we have to come up with methods to better manage these programs," says Eubanks. "We have to come up with business plans to show these corporations what they're going to get out of it if they invest these marketing dollars in professional motor sports teams."

He first came up with the idea for his business after realizing that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year on team sponsorships yielded few quantifiable results for the companies that choose to invest their marketing dollars. So he decided to change the way sponsorships were approached.

Today, his company brokers deals that generate revenues and value for everyone involved. For example, RaceSport brokered a licensing deal between Lampus Racing (a major race team) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), whose logos will be placed on Lampus race cars. In exchange, RaceSport is seeking corporate sponsors in the non-alcoholic beverage industry for MADD, which plans to implement a multimedia-based youth education and awareness program at the race track. Having closed one deal and with another in the works, Eubanks is on his way to reaching sales projections of $400,000 by the end of the year.

Tech Tutors

What: Computer training for seniors
Who: Sarah Chapman and Devin Williams of Spry Learning Co.
Where: Portland, Oregon
When: Started in 2000

with the belief that technology best aids those whose mobility is limited, and with dreams of starting a business that would bring modern innovation into the lives of older people, Sarah Chapman and Devin Williams, both 31, set out to teach seniors about technology.

Although neither had teaching experience, they worked with gerontologists and instructional designers to put together the curriculum for their courses. Chapman and Williams launched a pilot program at two retirement communities and also took into account helpful feedback from their pupils about the quality of instruction on basic computer skills and on using the Internet and more advanced programs.

Currently offering services only at retirement communities, Spry Learning Co. will soon offer tutorials and training manuals to enable seniors to learn from home. "The whole point is to [make it] a positive experience [as well as] something that brings good into their lives," says Williams, who expects sales to reach $4.2 million this year.

In the (Doggie) Bag

What: Candy and mints for dogs
Who: Sarah Speare and Lesley Lutyens of Chomp Inc.
Where: Lebanon, New Jersey
When: Started in 1999

When these two sisters decided to go into business together, they knew they wanted to combine their creative skills with their love for dogs. Sarah Speare, a graphic designer, and Lesley Lutyens, a children's clothing designer, finally got the push they needed when they won prize money from a business plan competition sponsored by the Center for Women in Enterprise in Boston and received a loan from their mother.

After raising an additional $2.1 million in capital, they brought in experienced managers and a team of food technologists that eventually created their innovative canine treats: Yip Yaps (bone-shaped mints for eliminating doggy breath) and Sniffers (M&M-like candies made of beef and cheese). The two products hit store shelves in 2001, quickly ringing up sales of $370,000 in just six months. Projections for 2002 are at $2 million.

"Our goal from the get-go [was] to make [these products] as available as human candy," says Lutyens, 39. These days, the line of dog treats is sold in Bed Bath & Beyond, Petco, grocery stores, and in vending machines along with candy for humans. Lutyens and Speare plan to release their next product, Pitter Pats--breath mints for cats--in 2003.

The sisters believed that they could build a successful company with a repeat-purchase product such as food, and it turns out they were right on the money. "They're fantastic products that dogs can't get enough of," says Speare, 45. In fact, the treats are so popular with their canine customers, they've even received chewed-up Yip Yaps tins as testimonials.

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