Success stories

Aspidistra Naturals

Battle Creek, Michigan

Lori Olsen is delighted with one benefit of owning a business – the jump in her confidence.

“I’m doing things I never thought I’d do,” said Olsen, owner of Aspidistra Naturals in downtown Battle Creek. “Now I’m super excited about talking to people and community involvement.”

Adrianna Brown, left, and Lori Olsen in the retail area of Aspidistra Naturals

Olsen is a first-time business owner and a graduate of Northern Initiatives’ Fast Trac Business Planning cohort. The 10-week course includes lessons about legal structures, target markets, and financials, but also the development of a business plan.

“The knowledge gave me the confidence to move forward. I also learned how much more there was to focus on than what I was mostly focusing on,” Olsen said of the course. One impactful lesson was listing the roles her business would need – and handing off several of them to her daughter, Adrianna Brown. Brown creates designs and labels and handles Aspidistra’s marketing and social media. “She’s stretching herself, too,” smiled Olsen.

Olsen had been a real estate agent for more than two decades when her son Adam started talking about how hard it was to find soap free of harmful ingredients.

“I started making soap and found out it was a great stress-reliever. I made soap as if I had a store, but I didn’t!” Olsen laughed. Still, “I always knew from the moment I made soap I was going to own a business.” That first soap was made in 2016; she opened her retail store in 2022. In the interim, she started a business selling at farmers markets and other events, eventually moving to online sales as well.

She was intentional in planning the growth of her business and a large part of that was taking the Fast Trac course, which wasn’t always easy. “I made it to classes but I also had a full-time job and a side hustle. It was great when I could sit in my office with no distractions.”

 “To do something I want to do, that I love to do, is amazing.” – Lori Olsen, owner, Aspidistra Naturals

Business Coach Jenny Mualhlun has been working one-on-one with Olsen as she’s moved from a 1,100-square-foot “wholesale showroom” space with zero foot traffic to the new 300-square-foot retail and soap-making space downtown. Yes, organization is key.

Lori Olsen arranges soap samples.

Also key is Olsen’s willingness to put in the work, Mualhlun said. Part of that has been developing plans, and making and reaching goals in order to qualify for a $5,000 startup grant. The funds will be used to buy goods from makers; at least half of the items sold at Aspidistra Naturals are made in Michigan. Many of the items are made by makers Olsen met at the farmers markets and other events.

Aspidistra is the name of the “cast-iron plant,” Olsen said, but the name of the store is based on the title of a book Olsen found inspiring.

The Fast Trac cohorts and startup grants are supported in part by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The second cohort winds up in mid-October with Pitch Night and networking that includes members of the first cohort. The event will be held in the building, now owned by the Battle Creek Community Foundation, where Aspidistra Naturals is located. The next cohort is planned to start in January.

“The Fast Trac classes are designed for aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs,” said Mualhlun, “and everyone who finishes walks away with a business plan that has been discussed, analyzed, and refined. Along the way, they learn about pricing strategies, projections, even contracts and intellectual property. It’s a great way to get a solid foundation under a small business.”

Aspidistra Naturals’ sign on Michigan Avenue in Battle Creek.

For Olsen, the best part of owning a own small business – next to the jump in her confidence – is knowing she did it herself. “Nothing was going to happen unless I did it,” she said. “And now, to do something I want to do, that I love to do, is amazing.”

Aspidistra Naturals

  • Fast Trac Business Planning cohort member
  • First-time small business owner
  • Opened bricks-and-mortar retail shop



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