Women entrepreneurs have local roots but a far reach

Michaela Grubbs
Sage Bagnato

Vermont is full of entrepreneurs. According to Jeff Barett of the business magazine Inc.com, “It’s a state with fewer people than Oklahoma City, yet it has a 40-year track record of creating billion-dollar exits.” Charlotte, despite its small size and population, is home to many of those businesswomen.

Here are just two of them.

Michaela Grubbs is the owner and founder of The Yerbary Master Tonic, a wellness company that features a variety of health tonics designated to aid with digestion, detoxification, metabolism and many other benefits. She said, “A tonic by definition is a drink that restores and revitalizes the body…. I’ve always loved natural medicine since I was a little girl,” and got inspiration for her tonic from a mentor who created something similar. Since starting her company officially in 2017, Grubbs has seen an outpouring of support, especially in her home state. “It’s Vermont that knows this product the best…for this product [Vermont] has been amazing.” She credits the in-state success to the openness of Vermonters, as well as their love for health and wellness.

Grubbs said she experiences difficulties working on her own schedule. “There are days that I feel like everything is really, really great, and then there are days that I just feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. But other days it’s the greatest feeling ever.” Owning your own business can be challenging, but Grubbs said that flexible hours allow her to be with her family when she needs to be. “First and foremost, I care about being a mom. That’s why I did this.” Her personal mantra, a reminder for anyone looking to start a business, is, “People have done it, so I can do it too.”

Sage Bagnato is the founder and head of the Vermont Day School, a small private school located off Route 7 in Shelburne. The institution is the second to be located in that building, following the small preschool Heartworks. “Vermont Day School started in 2015 and we had just 12 students,” said Bagnato. “We have grown and added a grade each year, and we currently have 63 students in grades K-8.” In just four years, the school has expanded to fit four more grades and 51 new students.

“I think what Vermont Day School focuses on,” Bagnato said, “is fostering 21st-century competencies in students, so they are really learning skills that are important for today’s world.” The school incorporates education centered around STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—and sustainability to help prepare their students “to be creative and innovative and able to address and solve real-world problems.”

Bagnato mentioned that, with the goal of increasing their enrollment, plans for a new addition are underway. “It will allow us to grow our student enrollment, and with the new addition, we should be able to grow the school to 100 students.”

Despite the school’s positive growth, Bagnato revealed that “one of the biggest challenges with starting the school was overcoming the challenge of being new and being small and encouraging our inaugural families and teachers to sign on to something that was just a mission statement on a page.” Despite the initial struggles, Bagnato said, “Seeing the school be so successful and how much we have accomplished in just five years is very rewarding. On a more day-to-day basis, I love seeing the excitement and the enthusiasm that the children have when they’re engaged in learning and they’re excited to come to school every day.”

When I asked her how being an entrepreneur is personally rewarding, Bagnato said, “It is a really enriching experience to have a vision and take the next step and act on that vision to see it become a reality.” But starting a business is no quick decision, she said. “I thought about and planned for many years before actually taking the step to move forward.” At the end of the day, Bagnato is more than just the one in charge. “I do everything from subbing in classrooms to driving the bus, to addressing maintenance issues.” As both entrepreneurs seemed to agree, Vermont has served as an amazing host for their budding ideas.

Lily Menk is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School. She is working with The Charlotte News as part of her Grad Challenge project.