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Marie Maher, CEO, Synapse Sitters LLC

A little over a year ago, Marie and her husband found out that their son is on the autism spectrum. She wasn't prepared for the many changes and challenges it would bring, and quickly realized that childcare was incredibly difficult to find. She founded an online community of parents and sitters and spent 2 years growing it, but her community couldn't even use the network they created and built to find sitters for their own children. They needed a different kind of sitter candidate to interview, but where could they find those candidates? Then in May 2017, Marie had her light bulb moment! She realized she could recruit very specialized sitters and already have an online community to place them and help them connect with parents of special needs children, and Synapse Sitters was born.

More about Marie:

1. What is your professional background?

My background is in sales. I was in sales for about 8 years prior to starting my own company. I have sold within the manufacturing, technology, and financial sectors, both direct to consumer and business-to-business.

2. What is the mission of Synapse Sitters LLC?

Our mission is to connect and present solutions to the special needs community, particularly parents and those that want to help others. Parenting is challenging enough. But when your child has special needs, there are a lot of things you can’t do that most “normal” families can. Like finding childcare. I want to change that. I want to give parents within the special needs community the same thing that most other parents have: access and options.

4. What is the biggest challenge starting up your business?

Finding and working with a technology team. I am not a developer, nor have I had any prior technology experience. So to create a web app with lots of functionality and conveying that to a technology team has its challenges. I have had to learn a lot! But I love the challenge and seeing it all come together.

5. What are your plans for growth over the next year?

We are working out details for development of a mobile app and adding some additional solutions other than childcare for the special needs community. I think a rollout of both is entirely possible within the next 12 months.

6. How have you become a better leader/entrepreneur? How did you get to this point?

I was very humbled with my first startup. I was so afraid of failure and made up all these stories of how terrible and humiliating it would be if my business didn’t prosper, only to find out that you really learn what you're made of when things aren't going that well. Failure means opportunities to learn, and learning and pushing forward is true growth.

Because I learned that I can’t do everything by myself and it’s ok to say I need help, I had absolutely no ego about getting my son the diagnosis and help he needed. He has come so far this past year, and I truly believe early intervention is the reason why. Humility and the strength to push forward has served me well professionally and personally. Vulnerability is incredibly intimidating, but it has really opened doors and connected me with such amazing people.

7. What does being a “woman founder” mean to you?

When I hear of a “woman founder” I instantly think that she knows how to multitask, delegate, and get the job done. I think there is such power in being a woman, we just have this beautiful and assertive way to us.

8. What advice do you have for other women thinking about starting up a business?

Do it. Do something small if you are unsure. I like to get a coffee mug made with my logo on it - it just makes it feel real. Starting your own business can be scary and overwhelming. Just take a few steps at a time, but DO something. Plans are ok, but actions are much much better.

9. Congratulations on being a finalist at the 2017 Indiana Conference for Women pitch competition! Tell us more about your experience, and how you will apply it as your business moves forward.

Preparing to pitch for the first time ever was so nerve wracking, but the coaching I received prior to the conference was invaluable. I learned I do some strange things when public speaking (cross my arms, whip my hair), but being aware and making changes ensured that my message came across clearly without distractions. The other 3 founders I pitched with were just these incredibly smart and talented women, I was so honored to be included. The experience of preparing together truly bonded us and I made some great friends in the process.

I learned so much from the other founders, the panelists, Sara and Rhonda of When You Leave the Room, and Kristen, I could go on and on about it. But my biggest takeaway would have to be to continuously create opportunities for yourself no matter what stage your business is in. You are very likely to find someone that can help you or connect you.

10. How have The Startup Ladies helped you grow?

When I attended my first Startup Study Hall, I knew I had found my people. So many groups are focused on networking, The Startup Ladies offered me real resources about creating and growing a business. I mean truly scaling a business to reach the masses. Prior to joining The Startup Ladies, I had considered myself a “mom with a website”, but now know I am a woman in technology. My confidence and my perspective have grown tremendously. I used to think that I would only grow my business in Indy, but now I want to launch nationally. Then after that, I want to work towards launching in the UK and Australia. I now see that technology can make that absolutely possible, so I’m just going to go for it.

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