The side hustle begins. After years of living with lymphedema, a condition that causes swollen legs and feet, LaShonn is tired of hiding her feet under long pants and skirts. She designs a shoe that finally allows her to step out with confidence, and incorporates her company.
She pitches the distribution company she works for, thinking they might carry her product. “I went and bombed,” she says. She’s kindly told to make some sales, then come back and talk.
A local business accelerator program rejects her application, saying she’s too early in her process.
An experienced cobbler informs her that her mechanical design is unsafe. And if she continues with this approach, “lawsuits will be waiting.”
The public library 3D printer she has used for prototyping breaks, so she’s directed to Synergy Mill community workshop space. Sometimes she is there working on her shoes until 2 a.m.
Programs. LaShonn signs up for Village Launch (Mill Village Ministries) to solidify a business plan. She meets a speaker, Bryan Davis, Managing Director of Furman’s Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and decides her next step will be their GVL Starts program.
She’s an official graduate of GVL Starts’ first cohort. Among other things, she’s learned how to cultivate a network that moves her business forward. "As an African American woman born and raised in Greenville, they opened up a whole lot of circles I would have never been a part of.” Doors keep opening. She’s telling everyone she can about the value of being willing to raise a hand and ask for help.
It turns out CAIRS shoes are a medical device, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “I had no idea I had to get FDA approval. Did you know a toothbrush has to get approved by the FDA?” She credits that knowledge to guidance from the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA).
But the bigger hurdles lead to bigger goals. Now she’s planning a “smart shoe” that can connect to health platforms, giving clinicians better insight into lymphedema. It could help improve diagnosis and treatment of a disease for which there’s not much existing data.
LaShonn plans to connect with South Carolina’s life science community now that she’s officially in the healthcare space. And, like any small business, find a really good lawyer.