She Got Rich Doing What?

Custom-sewn backdrops for megawatt rock shows. Sleek, fashion-friendly fanny packs for fitness enthusiasts. Skin creams cooked up in the family basement. Here, women who turned their interests into big-money businesses. Where will your passions take you? Read, learn and earn

by Amanda Robb
megan duckett image
Megan Duckett stitched together her love of rock and roll and her talent with a sewing machine to launch what is now a dream business.
Photograph: Chris Buck

Overton hadn’t named her product yet. It was like a fanny pack but narrower, slender enough to fit through belt loops but expandable enough to hold a cell phone, keys and money. Overton polled her clients for ideas on what to call it and how much to charge and settled on SPIbelt, short for Small Personal Item belt, and $20. After creating 10 prototypes by hand, she spent $100 on a sewing machine, which she set up on a table in her grandmother’s house. Just a few months later, in January 2007, a client introduced her to the owner of a running store, who asked if she could make 500 SPIbelts before the Austin marathon.

“Of course!” Overton answered.

The store owner sold 150 belts at the race—pulling in $1,500 for Overton. She quit her job and started attending trade shows, steadily accumulating orders and, with the profit, hiring sales reps. Today, SPIbelts are staples at America’s biggest sporting-goods retailers, including REI and Eastern Mountain Sports. In 2007, SPIbelt’s first year of operations, Overton grossed $150,000. In 2012 that number was $4.8 million, putting SPIbelt on Inc.’s list of America’s 500 fastest-growing companies. “I did not bring on outside investors, and I did not take on debt,” she says. “I moved the work out of my home to a 3,100-square-foot office space, and I have about 15 employees, depending on the season. But I still help design the products.”

Three years ago, when Overton was 39, she became a single parent when she gave birth to her son, Dylan. “This business has been a blessing,” she says. “I am grateful on a daily basis. It has allowed me to do the one thing I always wanted: be a mom.”

What she does: Runs a chain of swim schools
What her business brought in: $1 million

As a girl in England, Rita Goldberg was a nationally ranked swimmer, but back then it didn’t occur to her that she could turn that passion into a business. At 32, she agreed to teach a swim class at a Manchester pool only because it wouldn’t interfere with her responsibilities as a wife and mother. “But I got back in shape, and I loved it,” Goldberg says. After earning her teaching certificate, Goldberg was tapped for a position with the Manchester Education ­Department—a job she found satisfying until she visited an acquaintance at the house he’d bought in the country. “He’d installed a pool in his home’s garage and started giving lessons,” Goldberg remembers. She peered at the chlorinated water and had an epiphany. “I knew just what I wanted: to open a real swim school.”

She went home and told her husband, who worked selling window shades and draperies. “He was having a terrible time of it because England was in a horrible recession,” she says. “Still, he said OK.” A year-round swim school in England required an indoor pool, and the only way Goldberg could afford to build one was by selling her family’s home. So she did. “I found the perfect spot for the school: a derelict three-story Victorian big enough for my family to live and with a basement big enough for a pool,” she says. That place cost every penny she’d made from the sale of her house—and she still needed a loan for renovations. Every local bank turned her down.

Then Goldberg heard about a TV show called Enterprise 80. “You had to submit business plans and explain why you should be given money,” she says. “I made the top 20—and for that I got a loan guarantee of £10,000,” which would be roughly $70,000 today. The school opened on a snowy March day with 120 children. Goldberg taught what was then a new and surprising concept: that toddlers could be trained to float on their backs if they got into trouble in the water. “We grossed about $60,000 that first year,” she says. “The next year we doubled that, and for the next decade we earned about $250,000 a year. I’m still extremely proud of that business. It changed me. I had never been without confidence, but after making that business work, I had a lot more of it. I could make decisions, then deal with their consequences.”

First published in the July/August 2013 issue

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