While growing up in foster care, Margaret Barrow found her confidence through her work with mentors who showed a light on who she could be. She was inspired by these adults to become a college professor and give back to a new generation of young people finding their ways in the world. Little did she know that it would be her students who would encourage her to be an entrepreneur! They were the ones to encourage her to become an entrepreneur and create It’s Nola, a delicious vegan snack food company. We will let Margaret tell you how it all went down!

What motivated you to start It’s Nola?

In 2017, I started bringing my homemade ten flavors of vegan bite-size snacks to the college for my students. It became evident that they enjoyed them as they asked for more and more of them each time I brought them. After months of eating these bite-size snacks, my mentees, students, family and colleagues insisted that I should start a company because they were so delicious; they satisfied their hunger and were much better than the chips, cookies, sugar filled candy and granola bars they used to eat in class. Each time my mentees told me that I should start a business. I would emphatically tell them, "NO!" Then, one day, my mentees dumped hundreds of surveys on my desk. "See!" they told me. "People love them!" I couldn't believe it at first. I read through every survey response. I was pretty shocked but became convinced of the possibility.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had heard, and listened to - in life or in business?

I wish someone had sat me down and said, "This journey is possible with the network you build." I would have invested more time with a smaller group of professional people rather than running after the shiny lights and wasting a lot of my time. This journey has made me so deeply aware of the value of time. I'm so used to giving up so much of it to others, and when you run a business, you can't do that. You have to carve up your time into bits, noting the importance of compartmentalizing time. It's easier said than done, but I'm working hard to become better at it. In the end, I am trying to work smarter not harder.

What are your hopes for the future?

My immediate hope is that someone contacts us and says, "We'd like to purchase that equipment you need to get your company to the next stage." Perhaps, that is just a dream. Still, I envision getting the equipment we need to meet the opportunities coming our way…I feel success within us. I feel it happening every single day.

What worry or concern - or excitement! - wakes you up in the middle of the night?

I am excited about companies contacting us and ordering large quantities of our product. I worry we won't be able to fill those orders if we don't get the equipment/automation we need in order to do that. So, it's a worry, concern and excitement all mixed into one area.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders or supporters in business or life?

My family is amazing in their unwavering faith in me. My students encouraged me to start this business and also are my biggest cheerleaders. I see in their eyes and hear in their voices how much they want this business to succeed. It's tough. We're all still working other jobs while making It's Nola a priority.

People call this a "Side Hustle" but I call this a career. I have spent most of my life doing two things at once. I look forward to the day when I can focus all my attention on It's Nola. I see our brand growing into the lifestyle brand it's meant to be. One other person who I reached out to on LinkedIn is Trevor Smith, Founder and CEO of Snack Jones, which just launched. He's successfully built other companies and sold them. From the day I reached out to him to almost two years later, he's still with me guiding me, and I am grateful to him for his support.

What is the one word that describes you the best?

Resilient - I know that my life has been filled with many challenges that should have knocked me down and out, but I refuse to allow anything or anyone dictate my life. I've never chosen the easy paths in life. I believe in challenging myself to grow into my greatest potential and creating It's Nola is certainly doing that!

>> Shop It's Nola for healthy and tasty snacks!

Her Story Q&A: Margaret Barrow, CEO of It's Nola

Her Story Q&A: Margaret Barrow, CEO of It's Nola