Creating Your Own Path, with Dana Rebecca Designs

While most successful businesses undergo dozens of ideation stages before a founder is confident that their vision will resonate with consumers, Dana Rebecca began the process of turning a personal interest into a multi-million-dollar business at the age of 16.

Dana Rebecca’s family history first introduced her to the world of high-end jewelry. Although her father is a jeweler, Dana had strong opinions on his designs and provided him a perspective closer to that of the person that would generally be wearing his jewelry. At the young age of 16, Dana created her first collection that sold out in just 48 hours.

I didn’t just join my dad’s business; I had to be true to myself.
— Dana Rebecca Gordon

Although Dana pursued academic goals and believed she would go on to law school, she began considering continuing her success as a jewelry designer and applied to the Gemological Institute of America following her college graduation. Six months later, Dana Rebecca Designs was born in the midst of the Great Recession. For two years, Dana faced all of the challenges of starting a business in possibly the worst economic environment of our lifetime. As if this was not enough, Dana was adamant that she should learn every aspect of running her business before hiring outsiders for help. “I had a commitment to myself for two years that I would do everything the business required. I assumed all roles from accountant to designer to PR manager. Looking back, I can see that I am the only person in my business that has done everything in every role, which made me a more well-rounded business owner,” Dana stated.

In 2010, DRD was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Things and has since been worn by celebrities and featured in magazines regularly. However, Dana has even bigger plans for her company: launching a new website focused on her clients’ tastes and personalities, and how the DRD brand fits into their lives.

“It is so important to my team and I to ensure that our customers feel that they are a DRD girl. I’ve built a home-grown team of women who all embody the DRD brand and we want our customers to be a part of that too,” Dana said. An important part of the Dana Rebecca Designs brand is that women are empowered to dream big and be themselves while doing so. With many opportunities for women in the entrepreneurial world, there are also several challenges that Dana has dealt with first hand.

It’s fascinating to look around and remember the people that have been standing next to me since the beginning.
— Dana Rebecca Gordon

In today’s world the work/life balance for women can be difficult, but Dana states the following, “It is a really exciting time for myself and the team. As I am expecting my second child and the team is also growing future DRD girls, work life balance can be a challenge. It is important to take it day by day and see what the balance is every single day rather than as a whole.”

In the ten years since DRD was founded, Dana has also found personal success, surrounding herself with driven, business-focused women who have helped her grow from the roots of her father’s business in a unique direction that is all her own. Dana chose to build parallel rather than within. “My dad is my greatest mentor and it is really special to have built a business that is so complimentary, but still my own. I stayed authentic to myself and stepped away from my dad’s business and built a foundation of my own,” Dana said.

“We are six months away from the 10 year anniversary of Dana Rebecca Designs. I am already thinking about the next thing and what else is coming. But, it will be so special to celebrate with those whom have helped me get here. I hope to stop and smell the roses and then think, ‘ok, what does the next 10 years look like?,’ she said.

At this moment, I hope I can stop to smell the roses and then think, ‘Ok, what do the next ten years look like? I am already thinking about what comes next.
— Dana Rebecca Gordon

With ten years of retrospect, what Advice does Dana have for people starting their own businesses? “Surround yourself with people who make you proud to hit those milestones,” she stated, “as long as you are willing to jump on the crazy train, it’s great.”


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Build Your Business without Compromising Morals with KMR Group

“I didn’t grow up wanting to be an attorney like Keli and Yondi did,” said Jessica Reddick, a partner at KMR Law Group. “Both of my parents are entrepreneurs and out of undergrad I was working in finance at Morgan Stanley. Following applying to law school, I reconnected with Yondi.” It was during this time that Yondi Morris was unhappy with her position at the firm she was working at and tweeted how she wanted to start her own firm.

“It was really perfect timing for each of us. Jessica and Yondi had been in touch, and Yondi said she had a plan to start her own firm so we all got in touch to discuss the opportunity,” said Keli Knight. It started with 140 characters on Twitter and continued with multiple discussions over the course of the next year about how the women wanted KMR to come to life.

Fear debilitates you...
— Jessica Reddick

Today, the Chicago-based firm specializes in real estate transactions, estate planning, entertainment and corporate law, as well as legal staffing. “From the day we sat down together in 2011 to work through the business plan, we decided to be very thoughtful about starting this business. We wanted to build a brand that reflected who we were and the types of clients we wanted,” stated Jessica.

Jessica, Yondi and Keli understood that they were young for being founders and faced other challenges, such as being the minority in the industry filled with white, older men. “Those are the factors that we strived to counteract in our business. We wanted to be a place that could compete with those types of firms and be taken seriously,” said Yondi. The women consulted with many lawyers, advisors and accountants to ensure their plan created the most value. “We wanted to grow roots in the right places to move us forward,” Yondi continued.

The women of KMR began to receive a lot of media attention because of the difference they were making in the industry. A group of young, African American women created a storm of confidence by competing with the industry ‘norm’ and winning. While interviewing Jessica, Yondi and Keli a theme came to light for the firm’s success - integrity.

“It is really important to walk in integrity and be consistent with who you are and what you are trying to build. We built the firm we wanted without debt and without compromising our morals or our vision,” Keli stated. “We also wanted to be fearless in thinking about how we wanted to get to a certain place. Fear debilitates you and stops you from moving forward,” Jessica added.

Those are the factors that we strived to counteract in our business. We wanted to be a place that could compete with those types of firms and be taken seriously.
— Yondi Morris

It is because of this mindset that KMR has reached the level of success that it has today. With numerous clients, a variety of offerings and even more room for opportunity, KMR is focused on expanding their legal staffing to LA and DC. Jessica, Yondi and Keli are also very passionate about having the firm give back to the community.

“We are very excited about launching the KMR Foundation in the next year. We want to be able to offer money to law students to help with tuition, books and internship opportunities,” Yondi said. It is with this foundation that the women of KMR can contribute to an ultimate goal of theirs, helping other strong business owners create strong businesses in the minority position. “It is so rewarding to work with someone who just has an idea and help them build that into a lucrative, tangible business,” Jessica added.


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The Challenges of Dreaming Big with ResQ Pharma CEO, Paul Burton

From growing up on the west side of Chicago to working in investment banking following law school, Paul Burton created waves in multiple industries before he was CEO of ResQ Pharma.

During his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Paul began working as a lab assistant in the pharmacology department and studied the tolerance of morphine. It was during this program that Paul excelled in his research and was exposed to all that is associated with a life science researcher. During this time he was also a cadet in the US Army, which would lead him to active duty during the Gulf War.

Upon returning to Chicago, he finished his second bachelor's degree in english and then applied and was accepted to the University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign College of Law. One year into his program, Paul was recruited to the MBA program. Through these programs, Paul joined multiple organizations, including the Black Law School Association.

I was thinking that this venture would be a
difficult and long process because of the industry it was in...
— Paul Burton

"I grew up in a modest household and had a view of the African American law students of being privileged and that we were not giving back to the community," he said. It was this observance that prompted Paul to organize several community service events in the inner cities of Chicago and promote interaction between other law students in different geographies.

Some of the students in the organization were involved in investment banking and this is where Paul's fascination with investment strategy began. This interest in the industry led him to be recruited by investment banks in New York where he joined Salomon Brothers as a Summer Investment Banking Associate.

From 1998 - 2006, Paul worked in investment banking in New York City and he began venturing into other industries including real estate. It was the dream of owning his own business that brought him back to Chicago. In 2006 Paul acquired a business serving the real estate market in the Chicago area. However, the trajectory of that business was hit with the real estate crisis and the business was forced to close. As Paul was back working in financial advisory on a small scale, he met a trauma surgeon through a friend at church that had a business venture he wanted to share.

"The product was an oxygen carrying resuscitation fluid. I was thinking that this venture would be a difficult and long process because of the industry it was in, but when I was told that the product would help with septic shock, I was interested in learning more," Paul said.

As you live your dream the only regret you will
have is that you didn’t dream big enough.
— Paul Burton

The survival rate of Septic shock is very low and the condition presents a substantial unmet medical need. The surgeon’s potential product offered a substantial improvement over the current products used to treat this condition.  This led to further discussion and Paul challenged the surgeon to get his work published in a peer-reviewed journal and attain five letters of support from experts in the field. If the surgeon could do this Paul promised he would present the opportunity to his investment banking network as a potential investment.

Ten months later the surgeon came back with letters  of support which included one from the University of Maryland School of Medicine head of Trauma. The two partnered together and raised an initial $1 million in capital for the surgeon’s product.  During this process, Paul was introduced to Dr. Guy Weinberg of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and was invited to become CEO of ResQ Pharma.  

At ResQ Pharma "We have raised a total of $1,050,000 of seed capital and are looking to have market entry of Lipid Rescue Therapy, our lead product, in the first quarter of 2018," Paul stated. With so many accomplishments and exciting things to come, Paul states this when giving advice to young founders, "Ensure that your idea/dream is large enough. As you live your dream the only regret you will have is that you didn't dream big enough."

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