We’re all in one way or another familiar with the television show “Shark Tank.” The giant doors sweep open as a nervous entrepreneur approaches the “sharks,” five of them seated on luxury chairs and donned in high-end business-wear. Although these sharks aren’t the ferocious beasts you would find in the ocean, their bite can wound nonetheless.
Titans of the entrepreneurial industry, they listen and watch as their “bait” pitches a new design or product hoping to strike a deal with one of them. Occasionally, if lucky, the contestant leaves unscathed and with that deal. But more times than not, the sharks bite and the bait leaves with, not only no deal, but also a broken heart.
“I’ve always been afraid,” says Johnson & Wales College of Online Education student Amanda York of putting her entrepreneurial dreams into action. A 41-year-old mother, Amanda has had more than her share of medical ups-and-downs, but despite overcoming some of the toughest odds, the idea of appearing on “Shark Tank” still scared her to her core. “For quite a few years I’ve had this idea, and when they came out with ‘Shark Tank’ on TV I thought ‘Oh my gosh, wouldn’t that be cool’ but my biggest fear was going on national television and being made fun of.”
But little did she know with just a few years of patience and a spark of serendipity, she would find her confidence when the opportunity to participate in this year’s Sharkfest, Johnson & Wales’ very own rendition of the show, arose.
A true country girl at heart, Amanda says she’s lived in every corner of her home state of Arizona. In her 20s, she made a life for herself working for a bank, and she said “I had everything going for me.”
Everything changed when she was pregnant with her son and things began to feel off. Describing herself as “one tough woman,” Amanda was also a professional kickboxer and trainer and said she knew pain. But this time, something was different. “For the longest time they just kept telling me I couldn’t handle being pregnant.”
Shortly after her son was born, her health began taking a downward spiral, and suddenly the pain she had been enduring was given a name: Crohn’s disease. The disease causes inflammation and irritation to a person’s digestive tract and increases the likelihood of causing more issues for a person’s digestive tract. “I knew that it was going to be a struggle but I wasn’t going to give up.’
She had her first surgery in 2004, but it wasn’t until her second surgery in 2007 when things began to take a turn for the worst. “When I woke up there was a surgeon holding my hand, and I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong.” The doctor explained to Amanda that toxins had spread throughout her body, and she would need emergency surgery. At 27 years old she was told she had only a 7% chance of survival.
After being on life-support for two weeks, Amanda woke to find another unexpected obstacle had entered her life. “When I woke up I had an ostomy bag, and I was devastated,” she said. “I was completely torn apart.”
She was told it was temporary, but a future surgery revealed otherwise.
“When I woke up they had told me I had had cancer in my colon and they had to take out the whole thing and I would have to live with an ostomy for the rest of my life,” she said. “At that point, I completely lost all hope. I didn’t want to try anymore.”
A New Normal
Amanda said that after getting that news, her once-optimistic spirit began years of struggle. It wasn’t until 2015, five years later, that she saw the first glimmer of hope.
On a whim, the country girl went out to help a man in Arkansas who needed assistance on his ranch. The 240-acre property with no phone or internet access gave Amanda the clarity she very much needed. “I went out to the ranch, and it was a really good time for me to find myself,” she said.
With her newfound confidence, she arrived home and started going out again on her own. But with this came its own new obstacles. “There would be times where you would go out in public and you don’t have control over it and people don’t always understand it,” she said.
This obstacle led Amanda to begin coming up with new, more stylish solutions. “I started coming up with my own ways of dealing with the ostomy bag and slowly I learned to grow into being OK with myself.”
In a much more content place with her life, Amanda decided it was time for her to go back to school to complete her BS – Psychology online through Johnson & Wales University, and it was here that she found what she was looking for all this time.
Sitting in bed late one night, Amanda thought it would be a good time to catch up on some of her emails. “I actually had not checked my email in quite some time, which isn’t normal for me … and low and behold I check my email and there was Sharkfest,” she said. “I about fell off the bed.”
Amanda submitted her idea of an ostomy bag that would allow people like her to live without the fear she had been living with for so many years. Her idea, a pair of jeans designed to not only cover the ostomy bag but also have an inner liner that allows for the pad to be removed and installed. “It’s giving you that protection of not rubbing against the ostomy but if you have an accident and it leaks, it leaks on to that pad and you have time to get to a bathroom and nobody knows.”
The idea all wrapped up in a name that means very much to Amanda, Scarred Beautifully.
When she got the news she was a finalist, it was the moment of affirmation she needed for so long. “When I got the letter that I got picked, I just started crying,” Amanda said. “It was tears of fear, and it was tears of excitement that somebody else thinks this is a good idea too.”
Come the day of the event, Amanda said her presentation went any way but ideal. “It was the most exciting moment but everything went wrong,” she said. Plagued with internet and cellphone issues, Amanda thought she had surely failed in the judges’ eyes … until she learned she had won second place. “When I won second place I couldn’t believe it, I just started bawling. I still get goosebumps.”
With her second-place finish comes a prize of $2,500, giving her the chance to actually begin making her jeans. “With this money that I won, I can finally make it real. I can finalize my company and make it an LLC,” Amanda said. “I already have the ladies at the church who are going to help me. They’re going to do it for free, and we’re going to make it.”
But now with her dream to produce more of her Scarred Beautifully jeans within reach, Amanda has already begun to set her sights on helping people like her in more ways, saying she hopes to create a community of support. “I’d like to eventually create a website that has tips. Positive reinforcement and encouragement so it can save people just coming out with an ostomy 10 years of struggling.”
Do you have a product or business idea? Earn your degree in entrepreneurship from Johnson & Wales University to take your idea from concept to reality. For more information, complete the Request Info form, or call 855-JWU-1881.