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Fearless Founders Highlight McIntire’s Second Connaughton Speaker Series

On April 26, 2024, a dynamic founders panel featured Commerce alums and entrepreneurs Nancy Twine, Bradford Manning, Chat Razdan, and Ashley Young, who discussed their experiences building businesses while making a positive impact on society.

Bradford Manning, Ashley Young, Nicole Thorne Jenkins, Nancy Twine, Chaitenya “Chat” Razdan

Bradford Manning, Ashley Young, Nicole Thorne Jenkins, Nancy Twine, Chaitenya “Chat” Razdan

McIntire students consistently show great interest in business opportunities—from startups to initiatives within established companies—that can create significant, life-changing impacts on commerce and society. Because of the University of Virginia’s rich entrepreneurial ecosystem, many have witnessed firsthand the power of new ventures that make measurable positive differences capable of changing lives.

“Changemakers: A Founders Conversation,” the second edition of the Connaughton Speaker Series, featured a panel of McIntire alumni entrepreneurs who have disrupted industries, shaped the global marketplace, and bettered society through a diverse set of lived experiences and innovative ventures. In sharing their entrepreneurial journeys through commerce, panelists delved into how they successfully deliver business value at the intersection of profit and purpose.

Supported by a generous gift from John P. Connaughton (McIntire ’87) and Stephanie F. Connaughton, the speaker series examines McIntire’s “Commerce for the Common Good” initiative, the School’s interpretation of UVA’s aspiration to be an institution that is both “Great and Good.”

Nancy Twine: From Idea to Exit

John A. Griffin Dean Nicole Thorne Jenkins welcomed attendees and introduced guest Nancy Twine (McIntire ’07), Founder and CEO of global hair care company Briogeo. Recognized with honors such as Goldman Sachs’ Builders and Innovators Award, Entrepreneur’s 100 Women of Impact, Inc.’s Female Founders 100, Essence magazine’s Power 40, Black Enterprise’s 40 Under 40, and the Gold Stevie Award for Best Female Solo Entrepreneur, Twine says from early on, her work has been deeply aligned with a Commerce for the Common Good mindset.

In a fireside chat with Jenkins, Twine detailed a series of life decisions, including leaving her position as a Vice President at Goldman Sachs in 2010 to strike out on her own, developing her startup idea, finding her market, scaling up production, and ultimately, selling her business to the Wella Company—all before the age of 40. They also talked about more recent ventures Twine has undertaken, such as launching the “Makers Mindset” podcast and using her personal brand to advance her profound belief in promoting wellness, philanthropy, leadership, and helping other women entrepreneurs.

As Briogeo was built with a focus on clean beauty and integrating sustainable practices and inclusivity into its business model, Twine notes, “Our commitment is reflected in our use of sustainable packaging and emphasis on clean, accessible hair care.”

Explaining the challenges of maintaining affordability while continuing to use high-quality, ethically sourced ingredients, Twine believes that “balancing financial accessibility with sustainable practices has been a continuous learning process, compelling us to innovate continually and find solutions that do not compromise our ethical standards.” She notes that her steadfast commitment to core values, coupled with “the strong support of a like-minded team,” has made it possible for her to stay true to her vision and business ethics.

As for her latest ventures, Twine says that supporting underrepresented female founders in the consumer space has provided deep personal satisfaction, particularly through the recent launch of the Dream Makers Founder Grant; the $1 million four-year grant program supports female entrepreneurs while fostering diversity and inclusivity within the broader business community.

“The prospect of seeing these women succeed and enact meaningful change underscores the significance of aligning our business practices with ethical standards and community support,” says Twine, who also serves on the board of Cosmetic Executive Women and philanthropic organization Room to Grow.

More Professional Perspectives on Startup Success for the Common Good

Jenkins turned the event over to Twine, who then moderated a panel with her fellow Comm School alumni: Bradford Manning (McIntire ’07), Co-Founder of charitable clothing company Two Blind Brothers; Chaitenya “Chat” Razdan (McIntire ’05), Founder and CEO of healthwear company Care+Wear; and Ashley Young (McIntire ’09), Co-Founder and CEO of inclusive bridesmaid gown line Bridal Babes.

The conversation covered difficult decisions, imposter syndrome, and leadership styles. Panelists detailed how they learn from mistakes, consider future plans, revel in proudest moments, and generally manage the stress of running a startup.

Manning, who established Two Blind Brothers with his brother, Bryan, was first motivated by a mission to cure blindness by donating all of its profits to blindness research. “My brother and I, we’ve faced the challenges of vision loss firsthand. It shapes many aspects of our lives. Yet, we realized the one thing that wasn’t lost was our determination to create something meaningful,” he says, clarifying that Two Blind Brothers did not begin as a company, but as a personal mission that eventually became a business. “Our advantage over other startup clothing brands is that we were going to do something like this regardless of financial performance. We had the endurance.”

He says that using Commerce for the Common Good can fuel passion in supporters in ways that financial performance alone may not.

“The lesson to take away from our story—regardless of your business—is to deeply connect with your own reason for doing the work. And it doesn’t need to be a charity or mission-first business to inspire immense personal passion,” he says. “For example, an early-stage biotech that aims to cure blindness doesn’t need to invest their time in a tangential social mission; the attention on the medical innovation is valuable enough for the ‘common good.’”

Razdan’s Care+Wear, which produces clothing designed to provide dignity, comfort, and support to individuals throughout their healthcare journeys, says he was inspired in part by the University’s ethos of being “both great and good.”

“I loved being a Madison House volunteer, RA, and so much more at UVA,” he says. “What began as a mission to help my loved ones going through cancer treatment, Care+Wear has grown into a parallel opportunity to make a positive impact on thousands, even millions, of people experiencing a similar journey by continued innovation,” Razdan says. Having started with peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line covers, he has overseen the company’s expansion into an extensive merchandise catalog—and with that growth, a continued commitment to donate a minimum of 10% of its profits in either monetary or product form. He has stayed true to his original vision after 10 years: “To make a difference in people’s lives.”

For Young, starting Bridal Babes was a decisive act to disrupt what she saw as “the very vanilla, traditional bridal industry,” which had, “for years, overlooked Brown and Black women, plus-size women, and diverse love stories.”

She was spurred by a desire to challenge that pervasive narrow perspective and elevate the choices for a diverse set of women across ethnicities, body types, and personal styles. Addressing a problem she experienced while planning her own wedding, Young and her husband, Charles, launched their bridesmaid gown company shortly after getting married and have grown it tremendously since 2019. Subsequently, they were featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and agreed to a deal with Emma Grede, CEO of Good American.

“When we meet with clients virtually or in studio, we still hear that this is the first time a bride or bridesmaid felt excited and comfortable to go shopping for gowns,” Young says of helping to create positive experiences for people when it matters most. “We know we have a long way to go, but we’re so honored to be able to provide a supportive space for brides and their bridesmaids at one of the most important times in their lives.”

Measuring Success in Lives Changed

The positive feedback Young receives from her customers has ensured her that the tenacious effort is invaluable. “When thinking about our clients and receiving messages like, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen a bride who looks like me wearing a sequin gown’ and ‘Thank you for designing pieces I can actually wear,’ I get an additional spark of energy to push through and maintain our core vision to create gowns for women of all shades, shapes, and sizes,” she says.

Manning says that one of Two Blind Brothers’ most impactful opportunities occurred in recent weeks, when they launched their optical eyewear collection, a line that will be carried by upwards of 5,000 optometrists. “It’s very meaningful for us. Thirty years ago, we were walked into one of these offices and failed the eye chart, Now, 30 years later, we are the eyewear on the walls of these offices, helping other patients with their own vision struggles and providing hope.”

For Razdan, collaborating with like-minded team members, partners, and supportive investors who share his vision has prioritized decisions that benefit his community and healthcare providers in the long term, but he also credits the many healthcare professionals, patients, and mentors who have shaped his entrepreneurial journey. A highlight of his role is discovering how he is helping people with his products: “For me, true success is measured by the impact we have on others and the difference we make in their lives—much like the impact my network has had on me. Without the support of my network, Care+Wear wouldn’t be where it is today.”

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