Military Family Entrepreneur Spotlight:

Symoné Gates

Symone Gates Headshot

A lot of entrepreneurs felt the sting of the pandemic.

Businesses reliant on in-person contact scrambled to pivot, or they withered. A big part of strategic entrepreneurship is constantly evaluating the market, and then deciding if the market has changed in some way that means the business needs to pivot to best position itself for success.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the long road to national recovery has created moments for businesses where, in a lot of cases, staying the course was a death sentence, like it was for over 110,000 restaurants and countless other businesses. And when in-person businesses opened back up, things didn’t just go back to normal. Work from home and hybrid work became a norm. People were still leery about public events while still craving meaningful social interactions outside their home.

Symoné’s Military Family Experience

Symoné was born in Germany to two active-duty Air Force parents stationed overseas. She grew up on military bases, moving every four years to start at a new school, and missing at least one parent a few times a year when they got sent TDY. This can be a difficult, isolating experience for children, but Symoné credits it with gifting her independence, toughness, and an entrepreneurial mindset.

While Symoné, like most military children, had to make a lot of her own fun, she had some help from her father. While stationed in Japan, he launched a business doing events and renting out “bouncy castles” for children’s parties on base. Seeing how her father was able to address a need in the community with a business, and create events that brought people together is a memory that influences the events side of her business today.

It might be her background as a personal trainer and fitness instructor, but Symoné Gates, founder of Sincerely, Bädé, has managed to stay on her toes. She’s pivoted her business to adjust to the new reality and the opportunities it’s presented again and again since we last spoke to her about her line of direct-to-consumer wellness, self-care, and beauty products.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Symoné started in New York City working as a fitness trainer, instructor, and mentor, taking on her own clients and designing training programs. Eventually, an injury sidelined Symoné from training, and she had a moment to take stock of not just her physical, but her mental well-being.

She began exploring wellness, and crafting her own remedies. After she healed up, Symoné launched Sincerely, Bädé as a direct-to-consumer wellness, self-care, and beauty product line. She did much of her business in person, taking her products to shows and pop-ups, talking with customers, and refining and expanding her offerings. Things were going pretty well headed into 2019.

Connecting With Bunker Labs

In 2019, Symoné was part of the Veterans in Residence (ViR) program, her very first experience with any sort of entrepreneur programming, though it led to her enrolling in many others. She credits Bunker Labs with introducing her to a fantastic network of like-minded, driven founders. It also taught her to get comfortable and confident with reaching out to her network to make asks.

She also is thankful for the way the instructors and her peers challenged her to interrogate her ideas about her business. Symoné’s time in ViR taught her how to evaluate her business and business plan in tactical, practical ways on a nuts-and-bolts implementation level that school never quite drilled down to. It also gave her a baseline of what to expect from the over ten other business accelerators she’s completed since her Bunker Labs experience. We shot a narrative video discussing her Bunker Labs experience and exploring her business not long after.

 

Had I not gone through Veterans in Residence, I would never have been challenged to question my approach, to question everything. From my marketing, to pricing, and strategies, everything, really. My business was better for that, and it showed me how evaluating my business and pivoting to the market works in practice.”

Symoné Gates

Founder, Sincerely, Bädé

Pivoting With The Market

Shortly after Symoné’s time in ViR, the pandemic hit, and the world changed. Her business model of selling her products out of a booth directly to customers at events lost viability overnight. To survive, she tried her hand at online fitness and wellness coaching, but it didn’t take long to realize clients were burnt out on working out at home or getting a lecture. She needed to try something different.

Symoné makes her products. She hasn’t outsourced manufacture or design. The candles, balms, and bath crystals, it’s all her. So, she thought she could try offering a more social experience and have a group crafting session. It was an instant hit, providing people with some of the social experience they were sorely missing during the pandemic with something fun, engaging, and tactile.

When New York City opened back up, one of the first big cities to do so, Symoné had expanded her events to schools and community centers, but kept hearing about businesses struggling to bring workers back to the office. She saw a new potential customer for her crafting sessions as a B2B team building exercise to help encourage people to return to the office.

She’s since run mindful crafting events for household brand names like Nike, Spotify, Whatnot, and many more. Symoné has also been working with nonprofits to explore adding a social enterprise element to her work, and begun working with high-end property management companies like Liv Unltd that want to hold events for residents. Her biggest problem today is staffing up to meet demand.

It’s Your Time

Veterans in Residence is a peer-facilitated, six-month business incubator that provides veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs a networking community, business skills, and opportunities to help grow their business.
Breaking Barriers in Entrepreneurship is a virtual workshop series that facilitates business growth and support within AAPI, Black, Latinx, and female veteran and military spouse communities. The eight-week workshop is designed to create an immediate impact for early to growth-stage businesses by providing access to business tools, resources, capital opportunities, mentorship, and a stronger peer network!

As of January 2024, Bunker Labs is now a part of Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). In addition to ongoing Bunker Labs programming, we’d encourage you to browse IVMF’s deep wealth of entrepreneurship programming, much of it available virtually or at locations across the country. Find the program to help your business take the next step today!