As Alysia Tucker readied her pitch for Blast Furnace Demo Day, she had a certain confidence she was going to leave with the prize money.
“I think going into anything you want to do your best,” she says. “I don’t think the Steelers go into the Super Bowl expecting not to win.”
Tucker’s business idea, Best4Baby, did win, giving her a $2,500 head start. Best4Baby will provide business support for doulas, who give physical and educational support to pregnant women before, during and after birth. You might say they’re like Sherpas for childbirth.
Tucker’s plan is to help doula independent contractors with scheduling, customer management, and with securing backups. She will also match expectant mothers with local, affordable doulas.
“She has an idea that has an enormous marketplace,” says Greg Coticchia, director of Blast Furnace, a student accelerator at the University of Pittsburgh that coaches student entrepreneurs. “She’s collaborative, so I know she’ll work with a team.”
Tucker, a 28-year-old Homewood native and Oakland Catholic High School alumna, started down the road to Best4Baby as an undergrad at Gannon University in Erie. It was there that she joined AmeriCorps and found an interest in public health. Post graduation, she returned to Pittsburgh and worked for a time at the Birmingham Free Clinic. Eventually, she enrolled at Pitt and hopes to earn a master’s degree in public health, focusing on behavior and community health sciences, by the end of 2017.
During the graduate program, Tucker connected with National Health Corps Pittsburgh, where she trained as a doula.
“Being in the public health field, I began to think about infant mortality and maternal health data,” Tucker says. “For the wealthy, and many insured people, you can get a doula. For lower income pregnant women, it’s harder.”
Coticchio says the fact that Tucker’s idea is more sophisticated than the usual food delivery or textbook sales ideas he sees gives Best4Baby a good chance to succeed. The fact that Tucker, at age 28, is more knowledgeable about real-life issues than the other competing students helps, too.
“She got captured by her daily life,” he says. “The real world problems tend to be a bigger payoff.”
Jeanine McCreary, an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Blast Furnace, met Tucker in Erie, while Tucker was in AmeriCorps. They reconnected at Pitt. “Tucker has a work ethic and enthusiasm that will serve her well,” McCreary says. Tucker accepted all feedback and suggestions with an eye toward improvement.
“She always came back and would be stronger and motivated,” says McCreary of working with Tucker on developing the Best4Baby Demo Day pitch. “As it got closer, and we were evaluating the students in the class, I just knew she was going to be in the top five.”
Tucker has incorporated as an LLC and has an advisory board and mentor helping her build the business. As part of the Blast Furnace Fellowship program, she will get $10,000 at the end of June, which will supplement the fundraising she’s been doing with family and friends.
Tucker has already made two matches as part of her exploratory process. One was in Pittsburgh, and another was in North Carolina. That latter scenario came about after someone saw media coverage of Tucker’s story on Facebook and got in touch. Tucker used Facebook groups to find doulas for the North Carolina mom.
“We’re like the eHarmony for doulas and moms,” she says.
Many young, first-time entrepreneurs think that the glamorous success stories of “Shark Tank” and Silicon Valley await, McCreary says.
But, “the rest of the story is that it takes a while for a lot of businesses to get started. Some people get lucky right away, but for most, it takes several years.”
McCreary has no doubt Tucker is equipped to finish her story. She has the willingness to work, and the desire to work.
“You are the total business. You’re going to be the accountant, the cleaning person,” McCreary says. “Those general intrinsic traits are what will make it work. Whatever Alysia decides to do, she’ll be successful.”