Homeless-to-millionaire entrepreneur shares story

Homeless-to-millionaire entrepreneur shares story

By TOM JOHNSON
ThomasJohnson@coloradoan.com

Rags-to-riches entrepreneur Lucinda Yates spoke to an attentive crowd Wednesday at the Budweiser Events Center.

Yates spoke as part of bixpo, a business exposition presented by the Northern Colorado Business Report. Bixpo is a two-day exposition Wednesday and today at The Ranch, Larimer County's fairgrounds and events complex.

Yates' inspirational story has captivated audiences across the country. In the early 1980s, after a divorce and a financial setback, she and her young daughter were left homeless and impoverished. Through hard work and creativity, she was able to get her life back on track.

While homeless in Portland, Maine, Yates taught herself how to make jewelry. With the help of friends and family, she found a home and started over.

In 1983, with a roof over her head and a young child to support, Yates turned a tiny attic above her apartment into a studio, where she launched a line of hand-made jewelry. Over the next few years, demand for her work grew.

In 1989, in a moment of inspiration, she combined a rectangle with a triangle to create a metal pin in the shape of a house.

"I heard this voice go off inside my head that said, 'wouldn't this make a great fundraiser for the homeless?' " Yates said. "I don't know about you, but when I hear voices inside my head, I listen."

Yates contacted a local homeless shelter and encouraged the organization to use the pins to raise money for the homeless. She sold pins to the shelter for $6 each. The shelter, in turn, sold them for $10 and used the profits to support the organization.

A Realtor soon bought a pin, starting a national phenomenon. Realtors from across the country were soon using Yate's pins to raise money for the homeless.

"The first year, I grossed $89,000," said Yates. "The next year, I grossed $300,000, then $1.4 million, then $2.6 million. I had challenges you can't believe. I had no experience. I simply did the same things I did on the streets. When I ran into problems, I figured out a way to solve them."

Over the years, Yates' jewelry-making operation expanded from her 75-square-foot attic studio to 8,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The company now has a line of 11 theme-based fundraising pins, international distribution and a work force of more than 50 employees.

Designs By Lucinda now is a business dedicated to creating affordable jewelry for the purpose of bringing financial help and awareness to nonprofit organizations and their causes.

Since the company's inception in 1989, Designs By Lucinda has sold more than 4 million pins and helped raise more than $24 million for charitable organizations.

"People who hire me to speak are looking for an inspirational story," said Yates. "They're looking for a female entrepreneur who has actually done it from the ground up. There are plenty of women who went to Harvard and work for a Fortune 500 company. My story is, holy cow, where'd you come from? And how does your background tie into what you've achieved?"

For more information about Lucinda Yates, visit www.lucinda.com.

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