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  WINDY CITY TIMES

BUSINESS Lesbian-run business benefits from 'Shark Tank' appearance
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-09-15

This article shared 6108 times since Tue Sep 15, 2015
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Her life changed dramatically last November when she walked into The Shark Tank, the hit reality-TV show that gives aspiring entrepreneur-contestants the platform to pitch their business to a panel of noted shark investors.

Heidi Lovig addressed the five biting sharks, pitching her plant-based vegan cheese alternatives—the company's name is, Heidi Ho—created from sustainably sourced ingredients, including nuts, seeds, vegetables, and herbs and spices. Heidi Ho products do not contain any additives, fillers or unnatural preservatives, are gluten-free and many are also soy-free. And, the cheese actually is dairy-free, too.

Wearing a black chef's shirt, Lovig sought $125,000 in exchange for 20 percent equity in the company.

All sharks bit on the Heidi Ho product, praising it on air—and Chicago-based shark Lori Greiner scooped up the savory deal, although she insisted on 30 percent equity.

"Say yes," fellow Shark Mark Cuban immediately told Lovig during the show when Greiner quickly made her an offer.

Lovig and Greiner hugged on air when the deal was announced.

Appearing on Shark Tank was, "the most intense, most nerve-racking experience of my career so far," Lovig said. "I don't think I've ever experienced that level of pressure in any other business engagement that I've had."

But, she added, "For me, [the show appearance] actually was like I was swimming with guppies. They were so nice, so gentle [to me because] they really, really liked the product—all of them did."

Lovig said Greiner was her chosen shark before entering the Tank because Greiner "is a very successful female entrepreneur, [with] energy and [a no-nonsense] attitude," she said.

Lovig also was eyeing shark Daymond John since he is lactose-intolerant, but he was not on the segment with her.

Shark Tank gets more than 50,000 applicants per season.

"The thought never even crossed my mind that [the sharks] wouldn't like the product; I never even thought about that. I know that my products taste good and I knew that they would like them," she said. "A lot of people said that they were so easy on me in the Tank, but that's because I have a really good product."

Heidi Ho and Greiner made the fastest deal in history of the show, and Lovig closed the deal with Greiner faster than any deal in the history of the show.

She was inside the Tank for less than 15 minutes, whereas some contestants might be pitching their product for an hour or more, though the segment would be edited to 10 or 15 minutes, give or take.

"Everything that happened [in the Tank], you saw," Lovig said.

Lovig could not reveal when the segment was filmed, but said it was very close to the air-date.

When it aired, Lovig was in Portland, Oregon, her home of the past seven years. She had a private screening party with family, friends, colleagues, and others.

Twelve minutes after the segment aired, her website crashed—and during those 12 minutes alone, Lovig received more than 100 text messages and her phone kept ringing.

In the first 72 hours after the segment aired, her website offered a Shark Bite Special sale—and that led to more than 6,000 orders and more than $200,000 in sales.

Heidi Ho also then, and still now, received extensive international requests, from Canada, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

"The rate at which we're growing does not come without growing pains, but we couldn't ask for better … problems, for lack of a better word. We couldn't ask for better challenges," Lovig said. "Not being able to reach demand is the challenge that every business wants and dreams of. Having giant retailers knocking at my door is a good problem, [but that means we] having to figure out timelines to get product on their shelves and scaling up our production to reach that. That's a dream come true, but it is a challenge."

Originally from San Diego, Lovig was, years ago, a freelance writer offering vegan options for menus in Portland.

She eventually earned her culinary degree, then did her externship on the Big Island in Hawaii.

When she returned to Portland, Lovig started focusing on work with local farmers, the seasons, what ingredients and what months she could/would work with those ingredients. She also started developing options for restaurants in Portland that were vegan.

Then one day she went to a friend's café, which predominantly featured morning-type foods. "For her menu, I really thought the menu items needed cheese," Lovig said. "So I went to Whole Foods and bought all of the non-dairy cheeses that were on the shelf, and then had a cheese-tasting.

"I have always loved cheese, and realized that all [of the cheeses sampled] were extremely processed and made from low-quality ingredients. I felt there was a big, gaping hole in the market for a product that had ingredients that were high quality, organic, with some nutritional value, and something that tasted like cheese."

So Lovig went to work creating such a product, and five years ago, she had a cheese-tasting for food bloggers—with her creations.

That led to more experimentation, more fine-tuning.

But Lovig was on her way.

Then at Portland VegFest, Oregon's largest plant-based food and lifestyle event, she saw visitors clamored for her product, even though she didn't have a name for the company at that point.

The great response showed Lovig that, yes, "there was a market for this."

The early years of her business were "challenging," said Lovig, whose partner of six years in Lyssa Story.

Five months after starting the company, Lovig met a high-ranking regional executive with Whole Foods—and he told her that he wanted to carry Heidi Ho products in select stores.

"That was a key moment,' she said.

"I knew that my relationship with Whole Foods on a global level was [eventually] getting to the point where they wanted [my] company to go national; they wanted me to have the ability in my production to support a national launch. They wanted to see the brand in all of their stores.

"Despite loans, I knew we needed more capitol to grow the brand, and also knew as a young entrepreneur that I didn't totally know how to build a national brand. I knew how to do it on the local level.

"When the idea came up [about Shark Tank], I was immediately behind it."

Lovig said she's built a thick skin in the business world, needed she said since she is a double minority: a women and a lesbian.

Lovig is the former assistant executive director of San Francisco Pride.

"I would say that I'm pretty actively involved [with the LGBT community], though less over the past couple of years because I've become more involved in this business," she said.

Lovig has done extensive regional fundraising within the LGBT community, and work with AIDS organizations, too.

She also has been active with gay-rights activism around marriage equality—and she's planning to get married to Story in 2016.

"One of the major issues that I want to tackle in Portland is the homeless youth. With the high number [of youth experiencing homelessness], it's really unfortunate."

She is planning to launch the Heidi Ho Fund, with resources geared toward LGBT issues "that I find to be really important," she said.

"I really could not ask for a better life. Sometimes when I'm in the trenches of a 100-hour workweek, I know I'm so blessed."


This article shared 6108 times since Tue Sep 15, 2015
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