In 1999, Emily McHugh needed one more class to finish her master's degree in business at Columbia University. The course—"Managing New Business Ventures"—required her to write a business plan for a new enterprise. While searching for a topic, Emily noticed that most of her classmates used the same black laptop cases for their laptops. On the other hand, Emily had a more stylish case that her sister, Helena, had made for her. "People were always complimenting Helena's bag," Emily recalls. "So, I developed a plan for a company that would make laptop and Palm Pilot cases, and custom logo handbags."
Emily got an "A" in the class and idea for starting a real business with her sister. She was unsure about pursuing it, however, because the real world of business is much different than a class assignment. "But when you wake up in the morning and in the middle of the night, and all you can think about is this business idea, that may be a clue that you should pursue it," Emily says.
Casauri has come a long way from Emily McHugh's class project, and there are still many steps ahead on this entrepreneurial journey. Whenever Emily needs help with a decision, she goes right to her team of small business experts at SCORE. "They are just like an advisory board for us," she says. "You can bounce ideas off them and get tangible feedback. If they didn't know the answer, they always guide me to someone else who does." Casauri relocated to Florida in July 2004 and continues to expand its sales and line of bags.
Casauri continues to grow and thrive, and the savvy business owners take advantage of all resources available to them. In 2010, they received an ARC loan from SBA. They also maintain contact with their SCORE mentors and tap them for advice as needed. In fall 2009, they got e-commerce advice from a SCORE mentor.
Another reason Causari, Inc. has maintained momentum on a growth trajectory is by using broadband, which they see as a crucial element of their business model. “Without broadband, our time was spent in utter frustration and total inefficiency,” adds McHugh. “Broadband access is as basic as electricity and running water. I firmly believe that every small business–make that human being–should have access!!”
With SCORE's help, Emily and Helena had everything ready to debut their line of designer laptop and palm computer cases in time for the start of the December 2001 holiday shopping season. Their products can be found in several stores and boutiques in New York City, including Bloomindales and Sony Style.
“When I first started my business SCORE helped me in many ways, from preparing my business plan to applying for a loan. Now ten years later, my current SCORE mentor has helped me to clarify and focus on our core value proposition in order to maximize our web presence and better reach our target market online. SCORE provides and adds significant value throughout the entrepreneurial spectrum.” says Emily McHugh.
As part of her project research, Emily had learned about many SBA programs, including SCORE. She visited Newark, NJ SCORE Chapter and began meeting with Volunteer Mentor Lou Zivi, who counseled her on business start-ups, setting priorities, and obtaining financing. Emily also had several sessions with Dan Frisch, a former accountant, who helped fine-tune her business plan.
A year into her business start-up project, Emily met SCORE Mentor Stephanie Farrar, an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. "It was wonderful to work with someone directly involved with the fashion industry," Emily says. "She offered many ideas on the creative side, and encouraged me to attend seminars and other meetings where she would introduce me to her industry contacts."
As the McHugh sisters began putting the pieces of her new enterprise together, Emily began seeking help on specific business issues from SCORE experts. When a fellow alumnus helped Emily identify an overseas manufacturer, SCORE Mentors Peter Nachburg and David Malka provided help with international trade and shipping issues. For marketing guidance, Emily relied on Mentors Al Pearl and Marvin Solomon. Former attorney Joseph Horowitz reviewed contracts and provided legal advice. And whenever she was at the SCORE office, Marvin Strauss always made time to check up on her progress.