The Company Women

Three local entrepreneurs find niche markets and successful businesses

Seeing a need and filling it. That’s the key to any successful business. But for three local female entrepreneurs it also took a leap of faith, long hours and the right team.

Stacy Shannon wanted to give parents a safe transportation option for their kids. B.A. Eagles knew homeowners would appreciate a contractor who understood their concerns. Lisa Geyer thought women — and men — should have a way to get help when they felt threatened.

Geyer’s start-up is just launching its product. Shannon is expanding, and Eagles is an award-winner. Here are their stories.

Guardian Band

Lisa Geyer wants her smart safety watch, the G|B Defender, to help people live their lives without fear. The watch has an SOS button and a video camera that wearers can activate if they feel threatened. “Although wearing the G|B Defender will not take away all of your fears, it is a step forward in making you feel empowered,” she says on the website.

Lisa Geyer has high expectations for her company: to prevent assaults.

Guardian Band makes the G|B Defender, a smart watch that with the push of a button sends an SOS, live audio and video, and GPS coordinates to the wearer’s programmed contacts — or guardian network. It also does the usual smart watch things: monitors heart rate, counts steps and makes calls.

Geyer, the founder and CEO, says seeing a news report on the dangers of ridesharing triggered an anger that had been within her ever since a friend’s sister-in-law had been assaulted by an Uber driver.

She started doing research on what was available to protect people and found clip-on gadgets with GPS and alarms. OK, but insufficient. She wanted to prevent crime, and what does that?

“I found security cameras work,” she said. “Why not wear a security camera?”

Geyer was living in Cary at the time — her family recently moved to Chapel Hill — and began working with engineers. She wanted something wearable but not dependent on a cellphone (assailants toss those). A necklace was ruled out because the battery required to stream the video was too large.

After approaching several local companies only to be told, “Give us five years and almost a million dollars, and we’ll see what we can do,” she turned to China. Now, two years later, the first 3,000 watches will ship this spring. They’ll sell for $175 on gbdefender.com and Amazon. She’s working on a deal with T-Mobile to have them in its stores later this year.

Mina Lloyd, the company’s chief operating officer and “average consumer,” tests the watches and communicates problems to engineers in China with the aid of an intern, Jixiong He, a PhD student at N.C. State University.

Lloyd points out that the watch can be used by college students, real estate agents, nursing home residents, kids bullied in school, hotel housekeepers — anyone at risk.

“We want to make the world a better place, and I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s what drives us,” Geyer said.

GoKart Kids

Stacy Shannon, left, and Carly Hemminger have grown GoKart Kids from an idea into a network of vetted drivers ferrying children aged 6 to 17 around the Triangle. The company recently celebrated its three-year anniversary and has plans to expand out of state.

Necessity was the mother of Stacy Shannon’s latest venture.

The mom of three had run a dog-sitting business in New York City and a catering company in Las Vegas, but when she moved to Cary and took a 9-to-5 job, she ran into a problem common to many parents: getting her kids where they needed to be.

Shannon wanted a service like Uber but with drivers who were parents or had child care experience. When she couldn’t find one, she created GoKart Kids for ages 6 to 17.

She started her research in January 2016. By May, she had the required licenses and insurance and quit her job. Her first drive was in June.

“I got my start posting on Nextdoor,” she said. “I started driving kids that needed to go to summer school.”

Some parents were wary — she heard “There’s no way I’m letting a stranger drive my child” a lot. But those who did use her service became repeat customers, and word spread.

She soon attracted a business partner, Carly Hemminger of Chapel Hill, who brought marketing and tech experience. Working with Hyperspace Ventures, they built an app for iOS and Android. A parent who books through the app can leave messages for the driver, receive confirmation of pickup and drop-off, and track the ride.

GoKart Kids now has about 80 drivers throughout the Triangle. Each goes through an extensive multi-jurisdictional and DMV background check. Their cars are inspected, too.

How safe is it? Wake County recently chose GoKart Kids to transport children in its foster care program.

Shannon and Hemminger say they’d also like to partner with employers to provide the service as a perk. And, as GoKart Kids gets ready to celebrate its third anniversary, there are plans for an East Coast expansion.

“We get emails from all over the country asking when we’re going to be in their market,” Shannon said.

Total Construction Solutions

B.A. Eagles launched Total Construction Solutions to handle home remodels, projects that larger construction companies were reluctant to take. Now her award-winning company offers a range of construction services — from custom homes to decks and home repairs.

Barbara Anne (B.A.) Eagles, the owner of Total Construction Solutions (TCS) in Apex — says her pencil is the handiest tool she owns.

Which is good, since she also says her crew won’t let her near their tools. They handle the construction. Eagles handles the rest.

She’s the one who works with the homeowners, the one who ensures the work gets done right and on time. She knows what materials cost and who the best suppliers and subcontractors are. She’s the one who fields homeowners’ calls from early morning until night, because she understands that when you’ve taken over someone’s kitchen and filled their home with dust, you have to be “Johnny on the spot.”

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, getting to this point wasn’t easy.

The Meredith College grad was in her 20s and working for Apex’s Construction Management Department when a homebuilder offered her a job. Eagles admits she didn’t know what she was doing.

“One day he said, ‘I’m going to put you in the field,’ and I was so green, I thought I was going to go pick cotton,” she said.

“I had to look deep within myself, and it was either sink or swim, and I swam.”

By 2004, she was working with custom homebuilder Tripp Loyd, who encouraged her to start TCS. Most new homebuilders don’t want the hassle of a remodel, Eagles explains. TCS was a side project at first, but by 2013, her reputation was established and business was steady, so she dove full-in.

Now, much of her work comes from referrals and repeat customers. It helps, too, that TCS repeatedly walks away with awards from the Wake County HBA’s Remodelers Council, including three awards for best kitchen and two for best whole house remodel.

Eagles credits her five employees, four of whom have been with her “from the get-go.”

“They’re very, very good,” she said. “I’m only successful because they are.”

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