Surviving, Thriving & Breast Cancer

I have been teaching Strategic Business Planning (SBP) at the Wharton Small Business Development Center since 2006. Fundamentally, this program is an adult education class designed to enable existing and startup business owners to write a business plan in five sessions before they create something new. My tenure empowers me to monitor SBP entrepreneur alumni after they complete a business cycle (defined here as five years post innovation).

Here, I share my follow-up conversation with Dr. Debra Kimless-Garber (Dr. Deb), a medical doctor and alumnus of my 2007 SBP class. I remember Dr. Deb as a highly intelligent person, passionate about life, a fighter, a survivor, an enabler and truly stubborn—a beautiful person on a number of levels. She now runs Red Thread by Dr. Deb, which offers products designed specifically for breast cancer patients and survivors.

Dr. Debra Kimless-Garber

The purpose of this blog is to assess her entrepreneurial performance and share those results with my Wharton colleagues. Why was Dr. Deb was one of my best SBP students? What made her so passionate about her value proposition?

She told me, “John, I survived breast cancer and you know that I am a passionate lady! We are talking about women who have been through hell and back—breast cancer survivors and everything that goes along with that including medically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually, now completely altered.”

My fellow alumnus, imagine yourself teaching a high-level business class with students ranging from medical doctors to high school graduates, all of whom have little to no business training. Most of the time, I get through; sometimes I do not. As an Instructor, I needed to understand why Dr. Deb did so well in SBP.

Dr. Deb informed me, “I am a geek; I had an amazing Instructor who resonated with me. I understood everything that you said, and it made sense. I recognized the importance of the information that you were imparting; therefore, I was 100 percent engaged.”

I was also curious about her biggest money mistake since 2007.

Dr. Deb confessed, “A prospective customer of mine [a TV shopping channel] asked me to create a line of skin-care products for breast cancer survivors to round out my clothing line. … After tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours, I did so. Post product development, that TV program later decided to only include well-known, name-brand products—not mine. My decision cost me a lot of money and eight months’ time. The loss of time, energy and money took me away from my Dr. Deb business model that we created. It really hurt me.”

Editor’s note: To learn more about Dr. Debra Kimless-Garber and her line of clothing and shapers for breast cancer survivors, visit www.redthreadbydrdeb.com. To submit your own Wharton success story for possible inclusion in John’s future blogs, email the author at john@pioneerbusinessventures.com.

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