This week WBEC-East is spotlighting the CEO of the certified woman owned business iSwitch, a unique take on the ice cream sandwich. Angela O’Brian gives some insight into how she started and grew her company to what it is today, while also giving great advice for up and coming entrepreneurs. If you’re looking to grow your company, check out how you too can become a certified WBE and get started gaining momentum in your business endeavors today!
What is unique about your business – and what inspired you to start it?
I’ve been part of a gourmet food club for over 20 years, and in 2012, a friend of mine in the club asked me to make ice cream sandwiches for our next club meeting. They were the hit of the event! I started experimenting with fun flavors and fillings – and my friends and family were happy to try them out and provide feedback. Over a two-year period, I refined my recipes, and the entire time, people encouraged me to start my own business.
So, I took their advice, and in 2014, I started iSwich. Our ice cream sandwiches are unique because of their signature layered look, which contains delicious layers of cookie, ice cream, and filling. More importantly, my company is unique because it’s built on creating fun memories through food and interesting flavors – and that tradition continues today.
How has networking or mentoring helped your business?
Networking has helped me gain access to larger accounts than I could reach on my own. We currently sell our ice cream sandwiches at a wide variety of popular locations, from Whole Foods to Longwood Gardens to several New Jersey and Maryland shore points. I have utilized my network in Philadelphia to gain an introduction to Aramark, and my WBENC connections have enabled meetings with Sodexo and Marriott.
I recently joined the WBEC-East certification committee, which has granted me a higher level of understanding of what’s involved in the certification process, as well as more in-depth relationships with my fellow WBEs. The more people you know, the more opportunities you have to gain access to the potential customers and partners you seek.
What’s next on your business “wish list?”
I’m looking to boost my possibilities on both the sales and operations sides of my business. In sales, I’d really like to land some of the accounts that have come from being a certified WBE – and there’s been quite a bit of traction there. From an operations standpoint, I’m currently looking at automating our ice cream sandwich cutting process, which is the last piece of our process that is still done by hand. This will enable fantastic scale-up abilities, especially if we land more of those bigger accounts. We want to be ready with production when opportunity comes knocking!
What is the top piece of advice you have for women entrepreneurs?
As an owner of your own company, you get to learn every single aspect of your business. On a daily basis, I’m working on sales and customer relationship management, while taking calls from the engineers and marketing folks to discuss our latest challenges and opportunities. I find this all-encompassing oversight exhilarating; I feel like I’m in my 20s again – when I came out of college ready to take on the world.
So, my favorite piece of advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to enjoy the ride and cherish the freedom. I used to be very structured and risk-adverse in earlier chapters of my career, and owning a business has helped me become a person that can more easily pivot and think more creatively about challenges. There will always be stressors in the entrepreneurial path – because you hold all the reins – but at the end of the day, the process of building something that’s yours is deeply rewarding.
What is the most surprising thing about you?
About ten years ago, I took my son to a Jose Garces restaurant for his 12th birthday. Garces was a winner and ongoing “challenger” on Iron Chef, and my son and I are big fans. Over dinner, my son expressed a wish to one day see Iron Chef in person, and I suggested that he write Garces a note, which he did right there in the restaurant – on a napkin! He handed it to the waiter, and we pretty much forgot about it. About four months later, one of Garces’ PR people found the note on her desk, and she called to offer us tickets. The show was incredible, and we even got to sit with Garces’ close family and friends!
As you can tell, the love of food has played a huge role in my passion and my family’s passion – and every day, it makes me feel happy and proud that I’ve been able to turn that passion into a thriving and unique business.