COVER STORY: They’re playing the bigger game

Amy Wyant finally feels like she’s on the right path.

“Every January, I always do a review of the last year,” said Wyant, who owns Total Geekery, a business coaching and tech training firm in Syracuse. “And this January was the first one that I can remember that I was actually satisfied with the work I’ve been doing. I felt like I was really making a difference.”

Wyant credits the change to a two-day workshop led by 2018 Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (WISE) Symposium keynote speaker Rick Tamlyn, who co-created the “Play Your Bigger Game” motivational philosophy.

According to Tamlyn’s website, The Bigger Game is “a philosophy and methodology that inspires executives, leaders, and individuals to get out of their comfort zones and create intentional positive change.” For the 10 women who took part in Tamlyn’s two-day seminar last year, the event was nothing short of life-changing.

“Now all I could see in front of me was opportunity to do even more instead of always wondering if I’m doing the right thing,” Wyant said. “I finally got on the right path.”


WISE women

So who are the women entrepreneurs who attended the Play Your Bigger Game seminar in Syracuse last year? These 10 women received scholarships to attend the program, thanks to the Key Bank Boost and Build program. They are:


Christin Chandler: Christin Chandler Designs

Christin Chandler operates a landscape design business called Christin Chandler Designs in Auburn. She opened it in July of 2017, promoting herself as a “botanical stylist and horticultural consultant.”

“I grew up in the landscape industry and the garden center retail market for about 15 years. And I loved it,” she said. “I grew up in agriculture community. I invested my whole life in plants and what that means.”

Chandler was working at an existing landscaping business when some changes took place in upper management, which she saw as an “opportunity to take flight.” Shortly thereafter, she connected with WISE for help in growing her business.

“I was like, this is where I need to be,” she said.


Eileen Collins: Admin-On-Call

Eileen Collins watched her sister’s business shut down because she didn’t have the administrative support to keep it going.

“Her time to grow the business was consumed by the time needed to run the business,” Collins said.

Determined to help others avoid the same fate, Collins, who has more than 30 years of administrative assistance, started Admin-On-Call, which provides executive administrative support to businesses on an as-needed basis.

“These services are customized to effectively meet the clients’ needs,” Collins said.

Collins said WISE has been “instrumental” in helping her to grow her business.

“I credit WISE for being the stepping stone on my journey to entrepreneurship,” she said.


Bryony Grealish: The Fingerless Kitchen

Unlike many of the other women at the seminar, Bryony Grealish wasn’t looking to grow her established business when she showed up to learn about The Bigger Game.

“I was really contemplating having to get rid of my catering company so I was kind of sad about that,” Grealish said. “I couldn’t make it work. But I also could feel that it wasn’t the right thing for me to be doing.”

Grealish had left a career in social work a few years earlier in hopes of helping people with disabilities learn how to cook, but she lost confidence and never got anything off the ground.

“I had [an idea] like six or seven years ago to write a cookbook to teach and inspire people with disabilities to cook,” she said. “And the idea kind of resurfaced last year of… maybe doing a couple of videos [in the same vein to] reach people. But I let it go and then gave up on myself.”

Grealish heard Tamlyn speak at the 2017 WISE Symposium and was inspired by his message.

“I was really interested just from that short breakout session,” she said. “What he was talking about was where I was at and kind of what I needed.”


Anna Hartwell: Excelsior Wealth Partners

When Anna Hartwell first started her career as a financial planner, there were people who explained in detail the pros and cons of each different insurance plan, allowing her to make an informed choice. But as time went on, employees were only given an 800 number to call and a website where they were to sign up for benefits.

“They really didn’t understand it. People were making uneducated choices,” Hartwell said. “I wanted people to have someone they could trust to take the time to explain all of the tools available to them so they could make educated decisions.”

Hartwell works for Excelsior Wealth Partners, specializing in advising women on financial decisions.

“I especially enjoy working with women who are transitioning from coupled life to single life,” she said. “Whether your loss is from divorce or being widowed, it’s traumatic and frightening. Women need someone who they can trust to help them sort out the pieces, build a plan and help them move forward with confidence.”


Jody Hatch: Snowmass Alpacas LLC

Jody Hatch was looking at a major change as last year’s WISE Symposium approached. Having bred alpacas on her own for 17 years, she had taken a position with another company and she needed advice on how to be an employee again.

Hatch started working with alpacas after leaving a teaching job. She wanted something that would allow her to be home with her kids. Her husband saw a commercial about raising alpacas, and the enterprise turned out to be a good fit.

“I do anything with alpacas,” Hatch said. “I do coaching, consulting, we have a shearing service. I worked on my own throughout the country for the last 15 years, but the last year and a half, I was hired by one of the largest firms in the country.”

She reached out to WISE for some direction.

“I was like ‘Okay, I need like a brainstorm session. I don’t know what I’m doing,’” Hatch said. “Because for me, I had not been an employee for a really long time, and was kind of struggling.”

Lenweaver suggested Hatch attend last year’s symposium and offered her one of the Key Bank scholarships to Tamlyn’s seminar.


Agi Letkiewitz: Active Joy

Agi Letkiewitz started Active Joy because she was concerned about the waste in the fashion industry.

“The statistics on it are imperfect, but I hear quoted all the time that the fashion industry is the number two most polluting industry in the world,” Letkiewitz said. “The problem is going to keep getting worse.”

Active Joy is sustainable, ethically manufactured direct-to-consumer activewear. The clothing is made in the USA with recycled fibers. All packaging is 100 percent post-consumer recycled content and recyclable. The company uses a waterless printing method to prevent any runoff.

“Every step of the process we look at minimizing,” Letkiewitz said. “It’s all about those little like decisions that that make it make it better.”


Holly Scherzi: Holly Scherzi Design

Holly Scherzi has been involved with WISE since its beginnings, when women met at the Southeast Innovation Center.

“I loved those meetings,” said Scherzi, a graphic designer who owns Holly Scherzi design. “Everyone was super supportive of each other.”

Scherzi honed her design chops at Chase Design in Skaneateles, then at Timex Corporation in Connecticut. She moved back to CNY when she got married.

“I felt it was time for me to start my own business,” she said. “I really wish WISE had existed then.”


CJ Sturtevant: Edward Jones Financial Advisors

Catherine “CJ” Sturtevant worked as a scientist for Bristol-Myers Squibb for 20 years. When the company downsized, Sturtevant — who already had an MBA in finance and a master’s in accounting — went to work as a financial planner for Edward Jones.

“I really just went from helping people with medicine to helping people with finance,” she said. “It was a really easy transition for me.”

Sturtevant was always interested in money management. She started learning to invest at 19 and was part of a women’s stock club while her three daughters were growing up. She even did taxes on the side while working for Bristol-Meyers. When she came to Edward Jones, she found a place where she could help other female business owners.

“I found that there’s a lot of female entrepreneurs that have great ideas, but they don’t know how to [handle the logistics],” Sturtevant said. “I just really want to be part of helping other women”


Debbe Titus: Halfmoon Bakery and Bistro

When Debbe Titus retired from her career in education, she decided it was time to follow another passion: she opened a bakery.

“My husband and I had talked about opening up a little bakery/cafe kind of place, and I just decided that I would do that,” said Titus.

She started as a vendor at the farmers market, but demand was such that she soon had to look for her own location. She and her husband found a bakery for sale in Jamesville, and Halfmoon Bakery and Bistro was born in June of 2012. In addition to baked goods, the shop sells lunch and breakfast items, gluten free and vegan foods, and it does a thriving trade in local goods.

“I have a little corner of the shop where people can come in and buy Primo & Mary’s Salsa, Salsacuse, or I have Simple Roast coffee,” Titus said. “Syracuse Salt is here. We have Dutch Hill Maple Syrup. Clean Slate Farm Honey.”

Titus said it’s important to her to support other local businesses.

“By using local products, you’re supporting your neighbors, you’re helping them build their business, but you’re getting a better product,” she said. “You bring all these people together, the energy there is so great.”


Amy Wyant: Total Geekery

Amy Wyant thought she was going to be a marine archeologist — until she discovered in her senior year of college that she couldn’t be on a boat without getting terribly seasick.

“I was like, ‘Okay, well, here’s some lemons. Let’s figure it out,’” Wyant said.

She ended up in IT, working on the west coast for a while before moving back to her hometown of Richfield Springs in Otsego County. She opened a tech firm called Tech Geekery in 2013, but she found it wasn’t a great fit for her.

“I realized that the part that I really loved was not the broken technology, it was the people,” Wyant said. “I loved helping them develop their business ideas. I love finding the right technical solutions for them.”

So she decided to shift the focus of the company, renaming it Total Geekery. At the same time, she had bought her parents’ former home. She and her husband were living in the renovated barn and converting the house into a business retreat center. And she was managing Syracuse Co-Works, a collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs and freelancers without their own office space. AND she wanted to bring together all of the farmers in her area and create a co-working space in Richfield Springs and bring high-speed internet to the area.

“It was all about community,” Wyant said. “I had all of these diverse ideas, and I felt like there was something I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.”


On the game board

Though they have very different stories, these 10 women came together last April and stepped onto Rick Tamlyn’s Bigger Game board. At his seminar, Tamlyn uses an oversized game board, set up like a Tic-Tac-Toe board, which include the following phrases:

  • Comfort Zones
  • Hunger
  • Compelling Purpose
  • Assess
  • Bold Action
  • Gulp
  • Sustainability
  • Allies
  • Investment

Participants move from square to square depending on where they are in their lives and/or business journey (see for more information). The goal of the exercise is for participants to examine themselves and their goals to take more control of their lives. This is accomplished through a deep and honest evaluation of what participants want and what they’ve done so far to get there.

“Within five minutes, some people were in tears,” Chandler said. “And that was his intention — to get everybody to really get to the bottom of what was holding them back.”

For some of the women, the impact was purely professional. Collins is in the process of filing the paperwork to make Admin-On-Call an LLC, while Titus has brought in a partner to help at the bakery.

“Her expertise is a pastry chef and decorator cake decorator custom cake decorator,” Titus said. “We’ve been able to already implement a few different things that have taken off at the bakery.”

For other participants, the workshop had more of an effect outside of their work lives. Scherzi has tried to bring more art into her life.

“I have been letting myself pull more fun, creative stuff into my life, like taking watercolor and gardening classes and visiting more galleries,” she said. “I can see the results spilling over into my design work.”

Wyant finally found a way to connect all of those loose threads she had been picking at.

“I thought I was going to the class to hone in and develop Total Geekery a little bit more,” she said. “But Rick’s thing was don’t force it — it’s okay to let it kind of see where it goes.”

Instead, Tamlyn’s Bigger Game helped Wyant to create a food cooperative, café and co-working space in Richfield Springs. They’re also in the process of building a commercial kitchen.

“What ended up happening was that, going through the step-by-step of the picture, we brought in a lot of different elements that we saw that the community needed,” Wyant said.


‘A compelling purpose’

Wyant feels that she’s found her “compelling purpose,” the ultimate goal of the Bigger Game — something that inspires and drives you. Grealish said she found hers at the seminar, as well; since attending, she’s launched The Fingerless Kitchen, which includes a series of videos meant to raise awareness about cooking with disabilities. She hopes to eventually have a TV series to help teach people with disabilities how to cook, as well as launch a line of adaptive kitchen utensils.

“This was what my life has been calling to me since the beginning,” she said. “In that those two days, I really looked at myself in a whole new way, and I was able to kind of let go of some of those blocks in my own head.”

Letkiewitz said the compelling purpose isn’t necessarily set in stone.

“This is all a process. You can constantly be evolving the idea of your bigger game. You’re not going to decide what it is today,” she said. “You don’t have to have a single life purpose that you’re working towards. You can have a compelling purpose that compels you today. And that kind of helps me have a little bit of grace with myself for the journey.”

While the lessons from Tamlyn’s workshop have been life-changing for all of the women who took part in the seminar, perhaps the biggest gain has been the friendship the participants have developed as a result.

“Since then we’ve just been supporting each other and our endeavors, whether it’s to go show up at someone’s filming or to a seminar or whatever they’re doing, just to be supportive,” Sturtevant said.

Chandler said she’s come to rely on the other women in the group.

“This group has been instrumental in my life from, you know, a companionship standpoint, but also from a mentorship standpoint, because of the variety of women that have participated in that group and the commitment that they have to better themselves,” she said.

Wyant noted that the other women, and the experience as a whole, has made her bolder.

“I’ve always been relatively fearless on the outside,” she said. “But it finally helped me be fearless on the inside.”


The following disclosure is required for compliance purposes:

Anna Hartwell, Financial Advisor, Excelsior Wealth Partners

225 Wilkinson St., Syracuse, New York 13204; (315) 907-6032

Securities and investment advisory services offered through SagePoint Financial, Inc. (SPF), member FINRA/SIPC. SPF is separately owned and other entities and/or marketing names, products or services referenced here are independent of SPF.