“Hi there,” I typed on my laptop. “I am a speech pathologist who has some product ideas. How would someone like me go about sharing my ideas with you?”
I clicked “send” and, just like that, I had reached out to the CEO of a global, billion-dollar health-science corporation from my kitchen table as my toddler napped in the next room.
It was a bold move, considering I’d been out of the professional world for the past 3 years while raising two children. Oh, and considering I had zero experience in business, sales, or CPG. What I did have was an idea that kept calling: create a unique food product to enhance the quality of life for individuals with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and/or neurological impairments.
I just needed the right connections—and that’s how LinkedIn transformed everything for me.
Turning an Idea to Action
Prior to starting a family, I’d been in clinical practice for years treating adults with speech, language, and swallowing difficulties. In the process, I’d watched so many clients and caregivers struggle to find food that not only nourished the body, but also the spirit. “There has to be a better way,” I remember thinking as I prepared yet another pureed snack for a dementia patient.
Even after I left the field and threw myself into motherhood, that vision persisted. When my husband and I moved back to our native Midwest, just 45 minutes away from the medical center where we both did our training, he in medicine and me in speech pathology, I knew: now was the time to act.
But where to even start?
Hoping to validate my product idea in the marketplace, I met with some sales reps in the industry, former colleagues, and other business people, but felt like I kept spinning my wheels. Yes, I was connecting, but my connections didn’t seem to have the expertise I needed. More specifically, I needed someone who not only knew the food industry, but also had an eye for innovation.
“Are you on LinkedIn?” my good friend, a saleswoman for a major tech training company, asked me upon hearing my dilemma. I looked at her blankly.
“Create an account,” she said. “Now!”
Within 24 hours, I was reaching out to professional’s at large corporations around the world who were focused on individuals with difficulty eating or enjoying food. Even better? I could do it from my kitchen table.
Goodwill in the Business World
Remember that CEO of the global corporation I messaged? Much to my shock and elation, he wrote back. Next thing I knew, I was in touch with his product development innovation head. Within weeks, I was sending over an NDA and teleconferencing with the company’s Switzerland-based research and development manager for dysphagia products. She floated the idea of me consulting for them, but also encouraged me to consider making the product myself.
Suddenly, the possibility of being an entrepreneur felt real. Very, very real.
The idea quickly came together. A few days later I heard back from another LinkedIn contact I’d messaged, a kind and insightful healthcare research scientist who had developed and patented a product for patients with swallowing difficulties. “Helping others and paying it forward will be the best reward of your life,” he told me during a two-hour phone chat where he shared his journey and told the story of its ultimate acquisition by a food and beverage corporation.
Conversations like these propelled me and my brother, an attorney, to co-found our company and launch it in January 2019. Our signature product, theEATBar, recently won first runner-up in the food/ag division of one of the country’s largest start-up competitions.
Most rewarding, however, has been the overwhelming customer feedback about how our transitional bars have changed peoples’ lives. Over the past year, we’ve received hundreds of thank yous from patients and families who have found nutrition and solace from our creation. “I want to say thank you for this amazing product that single handedly brought joy to my mother after her stroke,” wrote a woman from Illinois who discovered our bar to be one of the few things that lifted her mother’s spirits during an extremely challenging recovery. “Forever grateful.”
Had it not been for LinkedIn, that moment of joy would not have happened. That’s the genius of the platform: it helps to disrupt the “traditional” playing field. It gave someone like me, a stay-at-home mom, access to a world of business that was completely foreign to me, arming me with the confidence, validation, and hope that my start-up dream could actually come true.
My point here? Next time someone messages you on LinkedIn for advice, seriously consider providing some guidance and expertise. You have no idea how your small act of kindness might make a difference in someone’s life—and the larger world around us.
Author: Tia Bagan MS ccc-slp co-founder of theEATBar www.theeatbar.com
Editor: Brooke O’Neill www.brookeoneill.com