LeAnn Carlson was a stay-at-home mother with an independent streak when the entrepreneur bug bit her.
Not content to sit idly by, Carlson, with the aid of a friend, discovered a niche in making and selling medical alert bracelets that would eventually go on to gain a celebrity endorsement from an Academy Award-winning actress.
Carlson was the keynote speaker for the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce’s annual Entrepreneurs in Motion breakfast Nov. 19 at the University of Central Missouri’s Lee’s Summit location.
The Gladstone native spent close to an hour detailing her initial foray into entrepreneurship and how the company that she helped start – Lauren’s Hope – progressed from a small home-based business to one that employs nearly two dozen full-time employees and several part-time workers.
“If you told me 15 years ago that I would be standing in a room filled with entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs and business owners to tell my company’s story, I just wouldn’t have believed you,” Carlson said of a company whose headquarters are now based in Riverside. “There was no way I would have believed that was possible.”
Lauren’s Hope manufactures and sells cost-efficient medical alert bracelets with a designer’s touch of style. The idea to launch the business stemmed from Carlson’s creation of an interchangeable medical alert bracelet for the teenage daughter of a friend afflicted with diabetes.
Soon the bracelets became the talk of the teenager’s diabetes educational class, which spawned an order from classmates for Carlson to fill, which led to more orders, which eventually morphed into a full-fledged and full-time opportunity.
After a successful media campaign and blitz that led to national exposure, the bracelets soon caught the attention of actress Halle Berry, who spent 90 seconds on air during an episode of the Rosie O’Donnell show talking up the bracelets she wore from Lauren’s Hope.
“Never ever in a million years did we dream we would get (Berry’s) permission to (use her as a celebrity endorser),” Carlson said. “I cannot believe how generous Halle was to us. She really supported us and she didn’t have to. Once we were able to use Halle’s face, it took us to a whole other level of publicity.”
Lauren’s Hope now targets all ages with its products including senior adults.
“I think of Lauren’s Hope as a Cinderella story,” Carlson continued. “I believe it’s a company that was meant to be. The success that we’ve had feels huge and honestly, looking back, I think the success that we’ve had was because we were in those national magazines and we were written up by the Wall Street Journal. We built a niche that had not been met before and that was the fashionable I.D. jewelry.”
For marketing students like Alex Hadley of Lee’s Summit West High School, Carlson’s experience was awe-inspiring.
“I thought it was very inspiring seeing how people can grow and how their business has grown and seeing the ups and downs,” Hadley said.
Carlson and Hadley were among a few dozen people at the breakfast which coincided with Global Entrepreneurship Week Nov. 13-23, a global event spearheaded by the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation nearly eight years ago.
The crowd also included three small business owners who pitched their wares for 90 seconds each.
“We want to celebrate the contributions – both socially and economically – that small businesses and entrepreneurs have brought to us and our community,” said Mark Dickey, vice president for the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce and point man for the Boost Lee’s Summit economic initiative. “This is one of 40,000 events that are occurring (globally) this week in this 10-day period. They are over 140 countries and over 20 million people involved in this. Incredible. And it all started right here in Kansas City eight years ago.”