Photos by Kristine Heykants
WomenVenture’s 20th Anniversary Luncheon Friday, November 6.
Tickets at womenventure.org.
Co-founder of Angie’s Boomchickapop
If you’ve been to a Twins or Vikings game in the past 20 years, or any Midwestern grocery store chain or Costco for that matter, you know Angie Bastian. She’s the woman kissing the man on the back of the Angie’s Kettle Corn bag circa 2004. You probably know her story, too: Mankato-area mom and pop buy a kettle and some corn to fund their kids’ college. They give popcorn away at Vikings training camp. The Vikings love it. The rest is Minnesota business history.
That history is rapidly becoming the nation’s.
During the past five years the company has grown by more than 3,000 percent, into one worth millions. Not only does Angie’s make one of the most popular popcorn brands in the Midwest, in August it opened a new production facility in Reno, Nevada, into which it plans to hire 160 people.
Do you like popcorn, West Coast market? Because this Minnesota chick is about to pop in your direction.
You’d peg Bastian for a nurse, not a snack company president. She favors cute-but-comfortable shoes and a no-fuss hairstyle. When she talks, she isn’t so much talking as watching your response, relating. When not talking she’s actively listening, with deep eye contact and lots of affirmation.
She spent 28 years as a nurse, a profession Bastian believes isn’t such a leap to company president. “At the end of the day, it’s humans that run systems. That’s where the big companies stumble,” she says from her company’s unpretentious Mankato offices, which it rents from nuns. “When you have passion and energy, buyers will support you, but you have to make it easy for them. You have to get to the patient before they put the call light on.”
It’s an old nursing adage, and a principal essential to the snack game: Give the customer what they want before they want it. And it’s definitely evident in Angie’s latest, and greatest: Boomchickapop Lightly Sweet, a version of the original kettle corn.
Boomchickapop’s marketing strategy wholeheartedly celebrates women, and it’s an unconventional approach, especially for a snack launched with an NFL sponsorship. It came from Angie’s assessment of the macho messaging of the snack aisle. “It was talking to men, and talking down to women. There was no fashion statement, nothing that would elicit excitement or curiosity.
“Everything marketed to women was saying, ‘This product won’t make you fat.’”
As a mom, Bastian had always pushed for wholesome ingredients—even funding organic popcorn research at the University of Minnesota. As a pitch person who’d sold popcorn under a tent direct to consumers, she knew it was women buying—even at sporting events, “she was driving the purchase,” Bastian says.
As a marketer, “it was so clear. You see women celebrated in beauty, in fashion. You don’t see them celebrated in food, unless they are producing and cooking [like making a meal]. You don’t see women celebrated as a consumer.”
The company launched Boomchickapop in March 2012, with its funky name in colorful, bold type, and the 35 calories per serving front and center, and a music video/commercial with a pink boom box and a theme song declaring, “It’s an old school snack with a new school vibe / a burst of color that steals the show.”
Says Bastian, “It’s not a conventional marketing strategy but it’s working.” Boomchickapop Sea Salt became the company’s top-selling product in four months. And boom goes business.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Expanding Business Award
Hannah Barnstable has come a long way from her little stand at the Midtown Farmers Market, where she’d get quizzical consumers asking, “What’s muesli?” Four years later, her healthy Seven Sundays brand breakfast cereal is in thousands of stores, including Targets nationwide and the food carts of Sun Country planes.
It’s a whirlwind trajectory that started in January 2010, when Barnstable and her new husband, Brady, honeymooned in New Zealand and fell in love with the leisurely breakfasts—particularly the simple, healthy muesli. Returning to the U.S., Barnstable saw a gap in the market. “Within six months I decided I’m going to start a muesli company,” she says. “It was this whole concept of simplicity, starting your day right, all these things that seemed to be missing in the U.S.” After quitting her investment banking job in New York and moving back to Minnesota, Seven Sundays—a muesli company driven by its love of relaxed Sunday mornings and nourishing food— was born.
It was a solo operation for the first two and a half years, as Barnstable worked from her basement, carted her newborn son to meetings, and knocked on doors to get placed in local co-ops and Lunds and Byerly’s. In mid-2013, Seven Sundays was in maybe 100 stores when the big game-changer came: Target wanted to test it in its Minnesota stores. In 2015, it went chainwide.
As Barnstable faced Target, she turned to WomenVenture for a loan and support. “Getting to talk to people about the business and what I was thinking for the future and the business plan was unbelievably helpful,” she says.
The loan helped her keep pace with the expansion, which continues: Seven Sundays now has a five-person team (including Brady), outside investors, and 4,000 stores. Through it all, the core mission remains the same: reclaim breakfast. “We need more inspiration around breakfast, we need to bring that mealtime back to better options. This I know deep down.”
A Woman’s Design
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Emerging Business Award
Long before Natalia Hals was a doula, she was helping women navigate birth. In fact, she left her own 16th birthday party to rush an in-labor family member to the hospital. “I was fascinated by the entire process,” she says. “I stayed there the whole time and was just enamored by it.”
That fascination turned habitual as Hals became the calm person friends or family called in the middle of the night when they went into labor. In 2010 it turned into her career, when she left real estate to become a doula and start her own childbirth business, A Woman’s Design.
Hals loves the process of birthing babies—you can hear it in the choke of her voice when she describes what it means. But after four years of going solo, she was on the verge of burnout. “I was starting to have more clients than I could take on myself and I was always on call, which meant I couldn’t go anywhere and my family was affected by it,” she says.
That’s when she went to WomenVenture. “During the six-week course, I realized I needed to try to create a different business model that was going to be sustainable for the long run, and that included bringing other people in.” It led to a revamped business plan and eventually a loan, which helped Hals relocate from her 400-square-foot space in Circle Pines to a more central, larger location in Roseville. There, she brought on four other doulas, found a virtual assistant, and added educational classes for new parents and parents-to-be.
All of which means she’s helping even more women navigate the process of welcoming a new baby—which is what Hals herself was born to do.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Social Entrepreneur Award
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And in Jen Swendseid’s case, her mother’s need became the seed of her startup business, Heart&Core.
Swendseid’s mother was getting ready to retire and work out more, so Swendseid and her sister Lara went shopping with her for a sports bra. The lack of good options for a larger-chested woman surprised them. “Everything was either just a piece of material, or an underwire that could have been an antenna from a 1980s TV,” says Swendseid.
Their mother’s struggle inspired the sisters to develop a patented sports bra for women like their mom, and in 2009 they launched their business with help from a $10,000 microloan from WomenVenture. Things ramped up with a government contract providing bras to the military (more than 200,000 thus far), helping the fledgling company build confidence, reach, and reputation. “It was a great opportunity for us,” says Swendseid. “And I think it bodes well for us as a small business to say we can manage larger contracts.”
That’s come in handy the past couple years, as Heart&Core has shifted its mission to focus on post-surgical bras, catering both to individual women and larger institutions like hospitals. “It is a large underserved market with a real lack of options for what women need after surgery,” says Swendseid.
Their Bonita bra (named after their mother) and new Elisabeth bra offer specially designed support, including drain management, to help women feel more comfortable and properly supported after surgery for breast, heart, or lung cancer. “To feel normal is a huge piece, because many of them have to go back to work or go be a mom, live their daily life, and this is one less thing they have to worry about.”
It’s a small but much-appreciated comfort. And it’s one their mother, a social worker who passed away from breast cancer in 2013, would be proud of.