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Small Business Grant Interview Series: RonWear Port-able Clothing

Expert Interviews

Looking for a grant for your small business? NerdWallet is introducing its small business grant interview series. We will be featuring interviews with small business owners who successfully won a competitive grant. Learn from their experiences!

Deb Stanzak is the founder and CEO behind RonWear Port-able Clothing, an innovative clothing company that creates clothing designed for hospital patients undergoing chemotherapy and dialysis. These patients need constant treatment, so doctors install ports beneath their skin so that they can quickly inject drugs and draw blood, thereby causing less discomfort for patients than using a hypodermic needle would cause. Deb’s innovative company received a grant from the Chase & Living Social Mission: Small Business grant challenge. She shares with us how she won this grant and how other small business owners can do the same.

NerdWallet (NW): What does your business do?

Deb Stanzak (DS): “RonWear Port-able Clothing is a specially designed line of jackets and pants that discretely accommodate chemo and dialysis ports for people undergoing treatment. I founded RonWear after caregiving for my husband who was going through chemotherapy for cancer, my brother who was on dialysis for kidney failure and my mother who was receiving infusions for heart disease. All three of my loved ones used to complain that the treatment centers were cold and that they had to wear short sleeves or tank tops so the nurses could access their ports. With 35 years in the fashion industry, I designed and sewed a warm jacket with zippered openings to accommodate ports.

As a way to honor their memory, I founded RonWear to help make treatment a little bit more comfortable for patients.”

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NW: Why do you think you won the competition for this grant?

DS: “The companies entered were evaluated based on these factors:

1. Feasible growth plan. Our product line expansion will create an all-inclusive website of ‘treatment clothing’ to offer choices to those with ports all over the world. There is quite a demand for warmth, dignity and ease of access for the patient and from the caregiver (nurse, technician, doctor) Many areas stem from this one single product, and we can reach out in the future to the juvenile market, nursing homes, hospice, institutional sales, wholesale, retail and affiliate programs.

2. Creativity. We incorporate every bell and whistle that will help a patient have a better experience in treatment.

3. Overall passion for the business. My business is made out of love for my family. RonWear’s namesake, Ron Papes, is my brother, and he encouraged me to make this for others who needed it so desperately.

4. Potential to make a positive impact within the local community. My business will create more future jobs, and I plan on expanding to include a “Donate RonWear” program where people can donate an outfit to an indigent person who otherwise couldn’t afford an outfit. We work with social workers for those who need an outfit.”

NW: How has receiving this grant changed your business?

DS: “The grant winners were assigned Media Relations Managers from Chase bank for our areas. There was a Regional Manager from Columbus and a National Manager from NYC. These wonderful people worked with us throughout the months following the grant winnings (since mid-August) to get us involved in media articles, and most importantly we were recently the premier article on YAHOO! Finance’s “My Family Business,” a weekly segment which focused on family businesses. Through this venue, we were on the home page of YAHOO! on Thanksgiving Day, generating a total of over 9,100 hits to the website in 2 days around the world. Orders, inquiries and donations to “Donate RonWear” were generated by this article, thereby increasing RonWear’s awareness as well as revenue.

Robin Roberts of Good Morning America was given the outfit and has been seen with it on on TV interviews, but most of all, her doctor loved it at her hospital and wanted the hospital to purchase it for their patients. (The Roberts connection came via the Chase Media Relations team, which connected us to the Yahoo article, which connected us with Robin Roberts!) The grant also has enabled us to expand our growth expectations by creating product expansion we otherwise would have had to put off temporarily until future financing was procured. We are still seeking additional funding for growth, as a $250,000 grant, though seems like a lot, and is, is not enough to expand the market in the manner in which we need to, especially in the way of additional inventory, marketing expenses and the hiring of personnel to manage various departments.”

NW: What advice would you give others who are seeking grants?

DS: “I was told once that people who win a lot of contests or awards simply apply for a lot of them. By knowing that as a kid, I always won things on the radio they were giving away. But I called every time something that I was interested in was given away so the odds of winning were greater. When I applied for the grant, I never realized nor had any idea literally 70,000 other small businesses would be applying! They chose 12. I was one. If I didn’t apply I wouldn’t have had that chance. It was time consuming, but as you see, in the end, it was worth it. What do you have to lose?”

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