MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Isabella Yosuico of Morgan County has received several accolades since starting her MightyTykes business in May, but she still was excited to be invited by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to attend the State of the State address.
“It’s thrilling,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday while on her way to Charleston for the event. “It’s an honor and it was a big surprise. I’m glad our kids will have this experience, to see how government works.”
She was contacted by the governor’s office late last week about being featured during the governor’s speech as an example of the West Virginia entrepreneurial spirit and a successful small business. She was recommended by the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
Yosuico developed the MightyTykes Infant & Child Weights after her son, Isaac, was born with Down syndrome. Infants with Down syndrome often suffer from hypotonia, that is low muscle tone and weakness.
Using a scrap of fleece and sand from her kids’ sandbox, she sewed together some wrist and ankle weights sized correctly for Isaac — and they worked.
Isaac’s physical therapist, Dr. Mary Jane Baniak, was impressed with the invention and encouraged Yosuico to manufacture the weights for distribution, which started Yosuico on a journey to develop MightyTykes LLC, with the help of several state agencies.
The help came in the form of funding and business coaching, she said.
The funding came from the INNOVA Commercialization Group, an initiative of the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation, and the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, the state’s venture capital fund. The two organizations invested $200,000 in Yosuico’s start-up business.
“They lent me money – it wasn’t a handout,” Yosuico said. “They believed in me. They were very supportive and encouraging. They want you to succeed.”
She singled out Guy Peduto of INNOVA and Michele O’Connor of WVJIT for championing her cause.
And then there was Bob Marggraf, a business coach with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, whom Yosuico met about two years ago.
“He’s been a mentor, bringing me to the next level, making my plan viable for funding,” she said. “He’s been a tremendous help and I continue to consult with him.”
Contacted by phone Wednesday, Marggraf said that when Yosuico first approached him, she had a rough outline of a business plan.
“She brought some samples of the weights and told me her story,” he said. “She was bright, had an understanding of the market. She did her research. She had a vision and a commitment to that vision. You have to have a passion to succeed.”
Working together, they refined the business and marketing plan to get it ready for funding.
The turning point in the development process was when Yosuico did a market trial, Marggraf said.
She sent samples of the weights to several highly respected children’s hospitals and clinics for trials and designed a survey for the results of the trials. The responses were very positive, Marggraf said.
“Isabella had a great idea and she had a passion,” Kristina Oliver, director of the SBDC, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “And the business coach walks the journey with the entrepreneur and small business owner. They listen to their hopes and dreams, offer their expertise and connect them with state resources.”
Oliver said the purpose of the SBDC and the business coaches is to help entrepreneurs and small businesses to become successful.
“Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the backbone of the West Virginia economy, and with the start of the new legislative session, we believe that’s what the state’s economic development should be based on,” she said. “And the SBDC is a critical component in the state’s economic development.”
For more information about MightyTykes, go to www.mightytykes.com. MightyTykes is a registered trademark.
For more information about the SBDC and its business coaches, go to www.wvsbdc.org.