Four young women entrepreneurs work to better their mid-Michigan communities

Writer Kim North Shine talked to four dynamic young women who are building businesses in their mid-Michigan communities and helping drive the entrepreneurial economy forward.
A dietitian whose career path took her from a hospital setting to the blogosphere to a bricks-and-mortar nutrition boutique.

A photographer who went beyond families and weddings to the bedroom, where in boudoir sessions she captures women without clothing and exposes them to the strength that comes with letting their natural beauty shine.

A marketing wiz who ties together her loves of Christian music, entertainment and technology to make her mark on a national stage while staying true to smaller venues close to home.

A foodie, coffee connoisseur, all-around creative (and world-class rower) who swapped corporate life for running her own business and bringing a cool, bigger city vibe to her small hometown.

Four Mid Michigan entrepreneurs, female and under 35, each putting a girl power stamp and some estrogen-drenched business brawn behind the successful enterprises they run. What they sell is certainly different from one another, but they share a devotion to being business owners who are engaged in the Mid Michigan communities where they live and work.

Kati Mora 
Around the Plate blog and The Plate Boutique

Mount Pleasant

Kati Mora did what few bloggers do but many aspire to by making the leap from cyberspace to real-life businesses. After launching the Around the Plate website and blog in 2009 with her husband, Aaron Mora, they could see the appetite was there for how to easily eat better.  

"The website had continued to do really well for us," she says of the Around the Plate blog that hosts the Plate Community roster of experts discussing all sorts of food-related topics with a national audience. "We kind of always envisioned being able to take what we did online with Around the Plate so we could go face to face and share the information. 

"One of the things we really wanted to make sure we were doing with nutrition was take away that sterile hospital feel, to make it more comfortable," says Mora, 29 years old, a registered dietitian and mom of two sons, 7 and 5. "We didn't want a meeting with a dietitian to come only after you've been diagnosed with something. We wanted to make it more mainstream, something that's a normal part of everyday life, something that's enjoyable in your life."

Their chance to do that happened sooner than expected, and they opened The Plate Boutique in downtown Mount Pleasant in July 2012, less than three years after the blog launch. 

"There were some changes with my work and my career, and the opportunity presented itself. We said, 'Let's see what happens.'"

The Plate is a 1,200-square-foot shop and meeting space where Mora and two other nutritionists--each with their own specialties and styles--bring together dietetic services and products. There is a classroom area and private counseling space in the back of the shop and a nutritional items boutique in the front--wrapped in very un-clinical, charming decor.

Less than two years after opening, the response has Mora planning how to add a kitchen to the shop, either by renovating or by opening in a new space downtown. She says they are also considering opening a second location in Mid Michigan, likely in a location that will serve their Bay City and Saginaw customers.

The Plate Boutique is an e-commerce biz as well. The site sells tested, trusted and unusual products from vendors worldwide: the Dinner Winner, the Berry Box and Solid Granite Drink Chillers. 

"The store and the website work well together," she says. "The website enhances what we do at the store and the store enhances what we do at the website..It's very cohesive and simple. It's worked out so well."

And together the shop and the website are solving the problem that led to the launch of the Around the Plate blog.

"Clients were coming in with all this information and we would spend hours going over what they had found, figuring out what was accurate and what wasn't," Mora says. "I wanted to get some science behind the information out there."

"We've been pleasantly surprised with how well we've been received. A lot of people in Mount Pleasant are interested in healthy eating, in incorporating local foods into their diets," she says.

The Moras' love of Mount Pleasant kept them from going elsewhere, something they could have done since their audience is spread across the U.S. They are involved in downtown events, work with schools, have partnerships with doctors and are the diet consultants for the Central Michigan University football team.

"We had a dream of what our business should look like, but we also decided to stay local. We love Mount Pleasant and because we love where we live, we want to do something to make the community better."

Lyndsay Edmonds
Populace Cafe

Bay City

Lyndsay Edmonds is another fempreneur with a close connection to the community--not just her customers. As owner of Populace Cafe in downtown Bay City, she cultivates a community of coffee lovers and of supporters of local businesses, artists and artisans. 

Her customers say she's the bomb and her employees are the friendliest "brew crew" around. She became owner of Populace Cafe when the founders of Populace Coffee, the Bay City coffee bean roaster, realized customer service was not their forte and kept only the roasting operation. Edmonds took over the cafe in 2012. "She put the focus back on the customers' comfort and coziness and still offered the high quality beverage," says the owner who operates the roasting operation not far from the cafe.

Edmonds, 28, has many balls in the air.

Besides running the cafe, she is working on opening a craft cocktail bar in downtown Bay City and introducing the town to fresh, high-quality, pure cocktails. She purchased a downtown Bay City building at 811 Adams St. and is renovating it to become Public House, a speakeasy-style bar like ones she's visited in other cities, including Detroit. She's studying the craft of cocktail-making for her own endeavor while she works with local chefs and other creatives and entrepreneurs to take Bay City to the next level in food, drink and fun - like the Bay City Half Mile Film & Music Fundraiser.

Like Populace Cafe, Public House will likely bear Edmonds' sassy and fun style. The coffee shop is a hip little space that invites customers to stay awhile. She welcomes customers to the "living room," and works to sell fresh, pure, good-for-you products like kombucha and Zingerman's cheeses. The shop is a little French, a little contemporary, a lot artistic. It serves the locally-roasted coffees using more East Coast or Euro conventions like pour-overs, and this summer a patio will open.

Edmonds traveled the world for years doing corporate work, and realized where she wanted to be: at home in Bay City. Entrepreneurism came naturally as her grandparents and  parents ran their own businesses. She also attempted a world record in rowing and still puts her love of exercise and degree in exercise physiology into hiking, exploring and more. 

"I'm completely flattered you want to do a story on me," she laughs. "It's kind of comical because I don't think I'm anything to do a story on."

But with more than 1,000 social media followers and a contagious happiness, Edmonds is the center of attention whether she thinks she deserves it or not.

Rochelle Mann
Mann Made Productions


The name of Rochelle Mann's business has multiple meanings. Mann Made Productions as in hails from a strong family named Mann. Mann Made as in self-made by Rochelle Mann herself. And then there is the irony of a woman making a go under the name Mann Made and turning it into a national marketing, event and artist management and graphic design business.

The 32-year-old Mann, a keyboardist, drummer and dedicated churchgoer, managed to tie her lifelong loves of music, technology and ability to run the show into a career that started before she received her college degree. 

She graduated from Oakland University in 2003. A foot injury sidelined her. During that time she decided to obtain a master's degree and work the phones, getting more work, making more connections--connections that eventually made Rochelle Mann the go-to girl for many mom and pop shops, Christian singers and eventually the faith-based marketing contact for networks such as ABC Family, BET and the organizer of the NFL Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, an event that puts her on a red carpet each year with celebrity athletes and musicians.

"I was always doing a lot of different things in college, getting to know people, doing good work, and that would lead to more calls to do more things," she says. "In 2005 I decided to step out there and do it, to make it a real business. I formed Mann Made Productions…What I think has helped me succeed is networking and always knowing that wherever I go there is an opportunity to show someone the person I am, the hard worker I am.  I always tell the teens I work with at church to always put your best foot forward in whatever situation you're in."

Mann is music director at her church. That music is a part of her career makes it more fun than work. She also works marketing for the Stella Awards, gospel's equivalent to the Grammy's, and travels with gospel artists on tour.

"One of the biggest challenges is telling people no because you love what you do and you want to say yes," she says. "I've done 36 straight hours, or six hours of sleep in a span of four days. It's the natural adrenalines that keep you going when you are doing something you love. There is no on and off switch. Everything is on full throttle when you love what you do.
"But I've also realized that being a good entrepreneur is about being able to decipher when enough is enough, and because I'm driven, that's hard."

At every event, every show, she takes on all kinds of jobs, big and small, to make sure the presentation goes off. The Super Bowl, her largest account, is no different.

"Every year with the Super Bowl I'm there with the hoopla of everything…The CEO allows me to take over and do whatever needs to be done, pretty much turns me loose," she says. "Last year I was handling guests and the artist talents, the NFL players, the red carpet. If there's last minute graphics needed, I knock 'em out. Whatever little thing or big thing needs to be done, I'll do it or find someone to do it. I tend to be the monkey wrench for whatever situation I fall into."

When she's home in Saginaw, where she decided to move after falling in love with her church, which also needed her drumming skills, she eyes smaller clients. She sees the work as just as meaningful. She saw a void in Saginaw, versus Detroit, she says, in accessible, affordable marketing for small businesses.

"Before I knew it I became attached to everything going on here. I said, 'I could call this place home,'" she says. "I saw this as fertile ground for opportunity. The Detroit area is one thing. A lot of people do what I do. What's different about me is you don't need a million dollar budget to get my services."

She has an office at the church but is mostly a mobile operator.

"One of the main reasons I like being mobile is I want to get out to the establishments I work with, spend time there," she says. "One of the main reasons I joined the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce was to reach people who need marketing or graphics but don't see it as affordable. I see so many gems in Saginaw that can take off."

Miranda Parker Photography
Miranda Parker Boudoir

Unlike Rochelle Mann, Miranda Parker came to her career late in life, after she was a mother.

The 34-year-old started Miranda Parker Photography about five years ago. Based in Alma, she started out shooting families and weddings on locations. About three years ago she ventured into boudoir photography and opened a studio in downtown Ithaca. It's where her female subjects take off their clothes and pose for pictures. Many, after having hair and make-up done, are captured in beautiful lingerie and sensual poses framed in sophisticated settings and flattering light.

"I never set out to become a professional photographer. I don't have a story like so many about how I have had a camera in my hands since I was a little girl.  In short, I became a mom obsessed with taking pictures of my kids and wanted to learn how to take the best pictures I could. The feeling I get when I capture that perfect photo of one of my babies... it's priceless,"  says the media-savvy mom of three with a talent for capturing light, emotion and setting in her photos.

"That feeling I get when I capture that 'perfect' photo for my clients is  just as priceless," she says. 

The boudoir photography has been a life-changing experience for her and, she believes, her clients. 

"I'm a very happily married mom of 3. And I love taking pictures of women in their underwear," she blogs. "There, I said it. It's what I do and yet it's kind of hard to admit sometimes. People can be judgmental. Not everyone gets it. But I do. I've been there. I know how it feels to look in the mirror and not like what you see. I know what it's like to feel incredibly not beautiful. I know how it feels to put your heart and soul into tiny little humans who need you and lose all other identity except mom. And I know how it feels to let life get in the way and put yourself, your health, and your well-being on the back burner. Can you relate?"

Her work has led her to the discovery that she's better if she takes care of herself and feels good about herself. It's what she wants to do for others. 

"One of the best things I have ever done for myself was investing in my own boudoir session.  Not only was it an incredible experience and made me feel great about myself (and my husband loved the outcome), but it helped me relate better to my clients. All the reservations and nerves that you will experience… I've been there. You have to just trust me that this is something that you will be so glad you do."

As a self-employed writer and mom to three, Kim North Shine had to ask this foursome how they get so much done. The answer: focus on what's important to you and let some things go. Perfection is not the goal. Happiness is.

Kim North Shine is a Detroit-area freelance writer and the Development News Editor for Metromode.
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