Throughout the rich history of the Mount, there has been no shortage of alumni who use what they learn at the college to go into business for themselves. Colm Sullivan
'84 became owner and president of Sullivan Steel Services, Inc.; Audra Woodruff Smith '04 cofounded the media company Turn Card Content; and Jeremy Smith '06, a Mount trustee, founded communications company SKYWIREme.com. These are just a few out of dozens of examples.
Even in the present day, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't put a dent in our graduates' entrepreneurial drive and spirit. From providing valuable services to shops of all sorts, Mount alumni – and even some current students – are pushing ahead with their dreams of success.
Marketing evangelization in the digital age
In a way, it all started with a single Facebook page.
Emily (DiBiase) Ricci (above) '15 sat at her computer on the night of August 11, 2016, putting the finishing touches on the first social media page for Gloriam Marketing, LLC, a Catholic marketing and creative agency. When the page went live, Gloriam was born.
"That's the moment it felt official," explained Ricci, president and founder of the company.
Gloriam combines Ricci's devotion and vast knowledge of her Christian faith with the formidable marketing skills she learned at the Mount. Through Gloriam, Ricci works with Catholic churches, schools, and businesses everywhere to provide marketing services focused on evangelization. From email and social media marketing to web design and content development, Gloriam helps Catholic organizations to better promote themselves, their faith, and their community offerings.
The idea to start Gloriam came from a conversation Ricci had with her pastor about her love of marketing. "Well, marketing is kind of like evangelization," he observed. "Jesus is the brand."
"That just resonated with me ever since," Ricci said.
Since that August night in 2016, Gloriam has served almost 100 churches, businesses, and ministries, with the company's calendar booking out months in advance. After earning a Master's in Theology from Augustine Institute, Ricci made Gloriam her full-time job. The business continues to expand as she has recently taken on a business partner as well.
Not only is Gloriam growing, but so has Ricci's family – the entire business is conducted from her home, while caring for her toddler, Emma.
"Running a business during nap times and after bedtime is certainly a challenge, but a beautiful one," she noted. "I'm really proud that this little dream I had right out of college is now a thriving, female and mom-owned business in a largely male field."
Ricci made her mark on the Mount as a student – from Campus Ministry to her excellent academic performance – and later as a member of the college's faculty and staff. Not long after graduating with a bachelor's degree in English and minors in Religious Studies and Public Relations, she joined the college's Marketing and Communications department. In less than two years, she earned two major promotions, ascending to Assistant Director of Digital Communications. She also served as an adjunct professor at the Mount, teaching Introduction to New Testament and Introduction to Theology.
And the Mount, she noted, made quite a mark on her: "The Mount gave me the confidence I needed to become a business owner. It was at the Mount that I learned to dream big dreams and chase after them. It was at the Mount too that I learned how to look at faith from an academic perspective, something I'd never really encountered before outside of religious education growing up."
She added, "Before my college experience, I never could have imagined that I'd own a business one day."
Ricci credits her Mount professors with fostering her interest in marketing, helping her discover her confidence, and deepening her faith and commitment to service. One professor who had a major impact on her was Robert Miller, associate professor of Religious Studies, Chair of the Division of Philosophy and Religious Studies, and now, godfather to Ricci's daughter.
"Robert Miller was my mentor from day one; he opened up the Bible to me in a way I'd never considered before and encouraged me to pursue my master's degree in Theology," Ricci explained. "Without his guidance, I definitely would not be able to integrate the faith so deeply into my work as I am today."
Back when she first published the Gloriam Facebook page, Ricci didn't know that her company would become such an important part of her life. She also didn't know that Aaron Ricci '16, her best friend, would propose to her on the Mount campus the very next day. It's been a sort of real life fairy tale for the pair that would have them both living, as they say, happily ever after.
But that's a story for another time.
Joe's juice bar
In both sports and business, you've got to be in it to win it. And Joseph Borden '16 MBA '17 is playing for keeps.
The phrase "Shoot Ya Shot" might evoke images of sinking a three-pointer from downtown, but it's also the name of the juice bar that Borden, his brother Joshua, and his sister Tamara are opening on Broadway in Newburgh during the first quarter of 2022.
The family's goals are simple, Borden said: "to provide healthy food options to my community and a safe place to enjoy those options...We all deserve a space where we can go and feel seen, heard, and appreciated. Shoot Ya Shot provides that space."
Though he currently lives in another state, Borden never lost his love for his hometown. "Newburgh has given me so much," he noted, "and now it is time for me to give back."
So how did the siblings come up with the idea of a juice bar? The answer is simple – because the city needed it.
"I am a proponent of healthy, clean living," Borden explained. "It's alarming...that practically no health food-centered businesses are located in Newburgh. Well, that is until Shoot Ya Shot came to town!"
With 2020 essentially a global mulligan and COVID-19 still a presence to this day, some might wonder why the trio chose to open their business at this time. To that Borden counters, why not now?
"COVID gave us all a moment to pause and gather ourselves," he said. "Shoot Ya Shot is something that my brother and I wanted to do for a while. It was one of our dreams. The pandemic gave [us] time to work on this dream. Now, our dream is reality."
This journey, like all others, began with a single step. For Borden, that step was choosing the Mount for his college education, which gave him the tools he needed to take control of his career.
"I have been able to use my business knowledge at the Mount as an accountant and for my corporate clients as an attorney," Borden said. "Now, I am using it to start my own business."
Borden's Mount experience was enhanced by professors like Tracey Niemotko (Accounting), who taught him "to be persistent and thorough in my work." She "pushed me to go beyond myself, understand business principles, and to think creatively."
He added, "The Mount has had an undeniable effect on my life. I have gained friends and shared experiences that have molded me into the person I am today. Both of my parents, along with a host of relatives, went to the Mount...I cannot recall a moment when the Mount was not a part of my – or my family's – identity."
Newburgh is just the beginning for Shoot Ya Shot, says Borden. In the coming years, he and his siblings hope to expand throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond.
Love of literature becomes dream job
Coming from a family with three generations of English teachers – her grandmother, father, and sister – it's not surprising that Mayde Pokorny MBA '16 would one day own a bookstore.
"Literature and education have always been important in our family," she explained. "I grew up playing school and reading books at the dinner table, so turning that childhood passion into a full-time career just made sense."
Pokorny and her husband, Dan, recently opened Well Worn Books, an independent bookstore offering new and used books, stationery products, and more in Middletown, N.Y. It was an idea that came to fruition during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pokorny has always been an avid reader, a trait that was magnified by her sudden extra time at home.
Unfortunately there wasn't a bookstore nearby and libraries were operating on a limited schedule.
That meant that every time she needed a new book, Pokorny would have to drive nearly an hour to the closest bookstore. It was one of life's annoyances that most people would have begrudgingly accepted.
"It occurred to me that if I was having this problem, there must be others in the area who could also benefit from a new local bookstore," Pokorny explained. "I decided to take matters into my own hands and put my business degree from the Mount to good use."
In September 2021, Well Worn Books opened its doors to the public. "It's been a whirlwind, but I'm proud to have fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning my own bookstore," Pokorny said.
Well Worn Books is far from the Pokorny family's first business venture. For the last three years, Pokorny has worked as an independent contractor selling real estate in the Hudson Valley. Before that her husband opened his own tattoo parlor in Middletown, No Man's Land Tattoos and Piercings. Since opening in 2017, it has won Times Herald-Record Readers' Choice Award for best tattoo shop every year.
Before that, Pokorny had worked in the Mount's Office of Marketing and Communications, under the title of assistant director of Digital Communications.
From earning an MBA to her time as a college employee, Pokorny's Mount experience helped pave the way for her success.
"My business degree from the Mount gave me the confidence to invest in myself and start a new business from scratch," she said. "My coursework, along with the professional work I did in the Mount's Marketing Office, gave me the skills I needed to not only start and run my business, but also to get the word out about it."
As small business owners, Pokorny and her husband have used some creative ways of marketing and promoting the store. Social media has been a godsend, she noted: "We've received an incredibly positive response so far! It's been such a pleasure sharing our love of literature with the local community, and they've welcomed us with open arms."
The Pokornys have so far been focused on getting their brick-and-mortar store up and running, but that doesn't mean that they aren't thinking about the future. It looks like 2022 is going to be a great year for Well Worn Books.
"We hope to expand to online sales as well as in-person events such as author readings and book signings," she explained.
During those many nights reading at the family's dining room table, a young Pokorny envisioned her life as a bookstore owner. If she could have seen a glimpse of her future selling the books she loves, it surely would have made the English teacher's daughter smile.
From ice cream in a bag to high-end dessert
What makes Matthew Wyant and Jack Sheehy different from this impressive list of Mount alumni paving their own way to success? Well, they're not alumni.
In June, current Business majors Matthew Wyant and Jack Sheehy, along with their friend Kellen Sela who is studying Digital Marketing at Baruch College, turned what began as a high school science project into an exciting new business venture when they opened Shmuck's Sweet Stuff.
Shmuck's Sweet Stuff, located in the Hudson Valley Food Hall on Main Street in Beacon, is a dessert shop selling homemade ice cream, fresh cones, hot waffles, and other sweet stuff.
According to Wyant, the business was sparked in high school. Born and raised in Beacon, the long-time friends were deemed "the Shmucks" by their chemistry teacher; in the back of that same chemistry class, they concocted their first batch of ice cream – in a bag – as a science experiment; and the blueprints to their business plan were drafted in an economics class.
A dream sparked in high school was then ignited at the Mount.
Wyant explained, "The School of Business helped me gain a general background on the basics of economics, management, and finance."
He said the Mount's wide variety of professors and their wealth of experience in the business world helped prepare him to take on this endeavor. In particular, Thomas Fitzmaurice, assistant professor of Finance, "was an excellent professor in whom Jack and I learned a lot regarding financial models, cash flow statements, and more," he added.
Sheehy said that since opening Shmuck's Sweet Stuff, "I have found myself realizing a number of things that I have learned [at the Mount] directly relate to the upkeep of the shop and everything we do to run on a daily basis," from product systems management, to banking and finance, to learning how to keep customers happy, and more, he explained.
In alignment with the Mount's core mission, the Shmucks have made service an integral part of their business. Shortly after opening, they participated in a fundraiser organized by Sonya Abbye Taylor, associate professor of Education and co-counselor for Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), the Education Honor Society on campus.
After learning that Wyant and Sheehy recently opened a dessert shop just across the river from campus, Taylor reached out to the Shmucks and suggested they do the fundraiser together.
"It was arranged that 20 percent of sales from Mount customers would be given back to KDP," Taylor explained. "I went to Shmuck's that day. They sell amazing ice cream and baked goods."
In addition to giving back to their college community, "Sweet Stuff for All" is the shop's slogan. From gluten-free ice cream options, to keeping vegan flavors on-hand, to maintaining a 100 percent nut-free environment – Shmuck's Sweet Stuff aspires to serve desserts everyone can enjoy.
The Shmucks hope to expand their business by bringing their natural and wholesome ice cream to multiple locations within the Hudson Valley someday.
"We are looking to create a loyal customer base that will perceive Shmuck's Sweet Stuff as a high-class, yet affordable place to fill their sweet tooth," Wyant said. "We appreciate all the love and support from the community, because, after all, if it were not for our fellow shmucks, we would not be able to do what we love."
In good company
Many Mount alumni have started successful business ventures. For example, Christian Plaza '14 MSN '18, MBA'18 founded Cross Valley Health & Medicine in 2007 with his husband, Dr. Paul Saladino. Other Mount grads have joined Plaza at the practice over the years, including Kyle Russo '17 MBA '18, Practice Manager; and Mark Olsen '20 MBA '21, Business Development Associate. In 2018, Plaza was the only Mount student to earn two master's degrees simultaneously.
Other Mount entrepreneurs include:
- Barbara Citarella '80 – RBC Limited, owner, president, and CEO
- Elise McKenna '81 – Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, director and owner
- John Hughes '84 – The Gardner Farm Inn, owner and proprietor
- Jo-Ann Yaun '88 – The Sunflower Health Food Store, owner
- Michael Bulich '89 – Mushrooms Inc., owner and operator
- Kathryn (Gagnon) Rose '91 – wiseHer, founder and CEO
- Sean Creighton '92 – Echelon Culture, co-founder and managing director
- Karina (Cabrera) Bell '01 – B-Impact, founder and Chief Culture Strategist
- Jacqueline Powell '03 – Virtual Business Solutions, founder
- Justina Tozzi Grunow '07 MBA '09 – Justina Tozzi Agency (Allstate Insurance), founder