With a bright purple blazer and a goal to spread happiness, Kathleen Wood, co-founder of Suzy’s Swirl, hit the stage at the 2019 WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Baltimore, Maryland ready to deliver her best business pitch. And deliver she did.
Kathleen took first place in WBENCPitch, presented by PepsiCo, a large, tournament-style pitch competition for WBENC-Certified Women's Business Enterprises (WBEs) which took place June 25-27, 2019 at the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair. Eighty women entrepreneurs competed over the course of three days, pitching their business to a panel of judges from WBENC Corporate Members and other business experts. Only four women-owned businesses – Smarty Pits, Ice Safety Solutions, The Spearhead Group, and Suzy’s Swirl – made it to the final round, where they pitched on the main stage in front of an audience of more than 4,000 fellow business owners and corporate professionals.
WBENC Corporate Member and WBENCPitch sponsor PepsiCo generously provided Suzy’s Swirl with a grand prize of $20,000 and strategic mentoring provided by WBENC in partnership with PepsiCo.
“PepsiCo is delighted to support women business owners through sponsorship of the WBENCPitch,” says Paige Adams, Senior Manager of Supplier Diversity at PepsiCo. “The ideals of innovation and creativity embodied in the competition are aligned with our public commitment to empowering people around the world to contribute solutions to shared challenges. We are looking forward to learning more about Suzy’s Swirl and how we can contribute to its success.”
Passion Behind the Product
Kathleen says she always dreamed of owning her own business when growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. In 2011, she and her brother-in law, Joe Tierno, came up with idea for Suzy’s Swirl. Though the business was simply an idea, Joe’s sudden death in October of 2011 intensified Kathleen’s drive to make that dream become a reality. In 2012, Kathleen partnered with her sister Sue Tierno to officially open Suzy’s Swirl in Gurnee, Illinois, only to later move to Lake Bluff, Illinois.
Aside from spreading smiles, Suzy’s Swirl specializes in decadent frozen yogurt. And this isn’t like your average cup of fro-yo. Suzy’s Swirl features flavors like Horchata, Breakfast Cereal, and even alcohol-infused flavors such as Moscow Mule, Caramel Bourbon, and Irish Stout.
With the $20,000 in winnings from WBENCPitch, Suzy’s Swirl is setting themselves up for future growth.
“We are going to use this generous gift from WBENC and PepsiCo to evolve our digital strategy, website and sales collateral materials to accelerate our growth,” says Kathleen.
However, Kathleen says winning the pitch tournament provided more than just a monetary prize.
“It truly was an amazing experience on so many levels,” she says. “Personally, the support of WBENC, the coaches and everyone at the conference was amazing. Professionally, it was so great to share our story, our exciting product, and represent the hard work of our team. Winning was simply epic and the support, and celebration before, during and after will always be a very special memory for me and my business partner and sister Sue Tierno.”
Though it only started as an idea between two family members, Suzy’s Swirl is hurtling towards a successful future as a profitable women-owned business. Having had quite the journey, Kathleen has some sage advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs:
“Practically, join WBENC and do everything to get your business certified - it's game-changer,” she says. “Philosophically, remember success is a journey filled with failure so accept them both, you are never too old or too young to pursue your dream, and always have more faith then fear.”