At first glance, Brendan Loney, Maddie Woo, and Mnar Muhawesh appear to have little in common, besides Maple Grove roots. Brendan Loney splits his time between classes at Gustavus Adolphus and his start-up clothing company, an impressive accomplishment considering a diving accident three and a half years ago left him a quadriplegic. Maddie Woo is a high school senior who maintains a near-perfect GPA and a dominant presence on the Maple Grove hockey team—as well as a side job maintaining her neighbors’ yards. Mnar Muhawesh, whose parents immigrated to the US from Jerusalem, balances life as a wife, mom, journalist and CEO.
But a closer look at these three individuals reveals some significant commonalities. Each has seized opportunity when presented with it. Each has persevered, in spite of challenges. Each has found a niche, a passion, and turned that into a source of income. These factors have made Brendan Loney, Maddie Woo, and Mnar Muhawesh successful entrepreneurs in each of their respective industries.
Brendan Loney has always liked shoes, but he didn’t think he would ever create and sell his own brand. However, a diving accident during the summer of 2009 shattered Loney’s C4 and C5 vertebrae—as well as his plans to continue as a traditional student at Gustavus. After almost 18 months of rehab at both Craig Hospital in Colorado and the Courage Center in Golden Valley, Loney had regained some of the strength and range of motion in his shoulders and arms; he can operate his wheelchair and even the smart phone attached to his chair. “My mindset was workout, workout, workout,” he says, and then pauses. “And hang out with friends.”
During the summer of 2011, it was one of those friends, Kevin Hoffmann, who collaborated with Loney to launch Live Life Clothing, a line dedicated to promoting perseverance and positivity. “I used that same mentality when I was going through rehab,” says Loney. The clothing features a smiley face logo with two Ls for eyes, which Loney believes will inspire the wearer to “live life.”
Two additional friends, Tony DesMarias and Ben Ikeda, have also come on board to assist Live Life, which currently houses its merchandise in Loney’s garage. Orders from Live Life’s website have been shipped all over the United States. The company sells various shirts and some shoes, with plans to expand into other accessories, but it’s the shoes in particular that Loney loves. Hoffmann, who Loney says is the best artist he knows, strips and repaints each pair of shoes. Loney himself proudly sports a pair of Hoffmann’s custom-made sneakers and acknowledges that while sales so far have mostly been shirts, he hopes that the shoe business will take off soon.
Loney will graduate with a degree in business management from Gustavus this December, and then he hopes to commit to working at Live Life full-time. “I would love for this to be my life,” he says. “When you put something on and you realize it means something—that’s what I want people to feel [about Live Life Clothing.]”
For those interested in starting their own business, Loney cautions that it will take time and commitment. “It’s going to be different than you planned,” he says. “But if you really want something to work, it will work.”
A stellar student and stand-out hockey player, Maddie Woo has also operated her own lawn care business since age 12. “I like being outdoors,” she says simply, of her decision to start her business. After making her own ad fliers and rollerblading around the neighborhood to stuff them in mailboxes, Woo had a handful of nearby clients.
A few years later, Woo expanded her business to include snow removal. She has intentionally kept her clients to fewer than 5, due to her busy school and sports schedule. “At first I wanted to expand my business to 10 families,” she says. “But it was too much.” With so many commitments on any given day, Woo has learned to stay organized and focused on what’s most important. “I like being reliable and helpful,” she says. “I don’t spread myself too thin.”
Woo believes that any youngster thinking about starting her own business should consider what she likes to do already. “Make money doing something you like. You’re still a kid, so do something fun.”
“My interest has always been in national and international politics,” says Maple Grove native Mnar Muhawesh. Due to her family background and upbringing—as a young teenager, Muhawesh spent three and a half years living in Jerusalem, where some of her extended family still lives—Muhawesh has always had a strong understanding of international relations. By the time Muhawesh returned to Maple Grove for the end of her eighth grade year, she also knew that, without a doubt, she wanted to be a journalist.
In 2009, Muhawesh graduated from Saint Cloud State University. She interned for a year at KARE 11 before deciding to pursue freelance journalism, a choice brought on in part by the birth of her son. As a freelancer, she chose topics that were important to her and sold pieces to different news organizations. She also put articles on her blog, Mint Press, which she named because mint is “fresh, invigorating, new.” Around this time, she began to envision a platform in which “long-form, investigative pieces” could cover national issues often overlooked in newspapers.
With aid of local financial backers, and some guidance from her father-in-law, Muhawesh launched Mint Press News in 2011. “We want to give a voice to the voiceless,” she says of Mint Press’ mission. Mint Press has grown rapidly; as of August, there were 17 employees, eight of which operate out of Mint Press’ Plymouth office. Muhawesh is proud of the caliber of writers Mint Press employs and publishes; she lists college professors, political analysts, internationally recognized authors, a human rights director and a renowned photojournalist as contributors. Her commitment to allowing the writers a say in what they cover has allowed her to attract and retain talented contributors.
Muhawesh insists that networking was key to her success. She advises teens to take in-person and social networking seriously. “Don’t put limits on yourself,” she says. Her other tips mirror what Woo and Loney alluded to: “Always think big. Don’t be afraid to take matters into your own hands. Follow your passion.”
Live Life Clothing: livelife-clothing.com
Mint Press: mintpress.net