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Ep. 58 with Donna-Rae Crooks, YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

By August 19, 2020June 5th, 2024No Comments

Episode Guide

Episode #125 with Kay Peacy from Slick Business

Episode #124 with Marc Toews from Gateway Web AR

Episode #123 with Sherry Pratt from Sherry Pratt Health Coaching

Episode #122 with Aaron Strauss from Cache Tactical Supply

Episode #121 with Cedric Delavaud from Ludoland Regina

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Episode #119 with Jeff Harmel from Realty Executives Diversified Realty

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Episode #101 with Susan Robertson from Susan Robertson Pottery

Episode #100 with Victor Roman from the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation

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Episode #63 with Mary Weimer from Conexus Credit Union

Episode #62 with Winter Fedyk from Silo Strategy

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Episode #60 with Amber Goodwyn from Regina Folk Festival & YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

Episode #59 with Cari Bode from South Country Equipment & YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

Episode #58 with Donna-Rae Crooks from Brain Snacks Co & YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

Episode #57 with Michelle Grodecki from  Deaf Crows Collective & YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

Episode #56 with Sarah Tkachuk from KPMG & YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

Episode #55 with Dr. Sharon Leibel, YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

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Episode #53 with Madhu Kumar, YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

Episode #52 with Eric Oelson from Mortise & Tenon Store

Episode #51 with Kim Korven from The Gentle Way Divorce

Episode #50 with Erin Vaughan from Kinetic Auto Service

Episode #49 with Lisa Brice from Brice Photography

Episode #48 with Colleen Strauch from Luther College at U of R

Episode #47 with Doug Pattison from Pattison Health

Episode #46 with Erika Gayle from Erika Gayle Photography

Episode #45 with Carly Patryluk from House of Paws Pet Boutique

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Episode #43 Part #2 with Nikki Jacquin from Nikki's Portraits of Childhood

Episode #43 Part #1 with Jess Tiefenbach from Stay n Play Parenting

Episode #42 with Nadene Joy from Nadene Joy

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Episode #40 with Jodi Barrett, CEO of Kettlebell Kickboxing Canada

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Episode #31 with Charlene SanJenko from PowHERhouse Media

Episode #30 with Dr. Vianne Timmons from the University of Regina

Episode #29 with Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis, from All Nations Hope Network & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 28 with Dr. Renatta Varma, Vitreo-Retinal Surgeon & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 27 with Jo-Anne Dusel from PATHS & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 26 with Dr. Emily Bamforth from Royal Saskatchewan Museum & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 25 with Nigora Yulyakshieva from City of Regina & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 24 with Pam Klein from Phoenix Group & Miriam Johnson from Saskatchewan Roughriders

Episode 23 with Gr. 5 & 6 Students from Argyle School

Episode 22 with Tiffany Wolf from Helium Communications

Episode 21 with Jeff Kinash from Peregrine Farm

Episode 20 with Charlene Oancia from Springer & Oake

Episode 19 with Dan Benesh from BarterPay Regina

Episode 18 with Prabha Mitchell from WESK

Episode 17 with Terrie Dunand from REMAX Crown Real Estate

Episode 16 with Kim Zacaruk from Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective

Episode 15 with Luke Rossmo from Luke Rossmo Music and Gareth Bawden from

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Episode 13 with Cyndie Knorr from Cynergy Coaching

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Episode 11 with Rea Faber from Amaranth Designs

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Episode 8 with Candyce Fiessel from The Style Academy and Shear Escape Salon and Spa

Episode 7 with Michelle Strawford from Bella Chic Fashion & Decor and What Women Want

Episode 6 with Jordan McFarlen from  Conexus Business Incubator

Episode 5 with Cheryl Giambattista from Health Coach Cheryl

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Episode 3 with John Hopkins and Amanda Baker, Regina Chamber of Commerce

Episode 2 with Christina Carlson from Queen City Collective

Episode 1 with Sherry Knight from Dimension 11

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Donna Crooks’ personal vision is to make a difference in the lives of others through her work and in her life. She is the Founder & Chief at Brain Snacks Co, a platform business with a mission to help close the gender gap by supporting women with core services, like study and workspace, supervised play for children, networking, career coaching, and professional development.

Donna’s career accelerated early. Despite her success, she found she lost ground in her career when she started her family. When she returned to work from her first two maternity leaves, her position was gone both times. Donna began to focus on the necessity for women to have choices, financial freedom, autonomy and capacity to weather adversity.

Thinking of this problem, she began to wonder how she could diversify her own career and financial stability while designing a business that would help women be successful in managing all the demands of work and family. Thus, the idea for Brain Snacks Co was born.

The Brain Snacks Co experience is all about choices for women from all walks of life, mothers and careerists, women on maternity leave, Indigenous women, women of colour, newcomers, and members of our LGBTQ+ communities. Even the food is inclusive, offering choices for vegan and gluten-free customers as well.

Men are most welcome too!



Barb 0:01
Our guest today has a personal vision for making a difference in the lives of others through her work. And in her life. She’s a mom, a wife, a business owner and an employee. Donna Reed Kirk’s is the founder and chief at Brain Snacks, CO, a platform business with a mission to help close the gender gap by supporting women with core services, like study and workspace, supervised play for children, networking, career coaching, and professional development. We’re going to talk about brain Brain Snacks code today. But we’re also going to talk about some of the choices she made and how she ended up where she is, as a nominee in the YWCA, Regina Women of Distinction programme, she’ll talk about what that means to her and how she believes she can use that type of recognition to further support our community. Welcome, Donna. Thank you for being here.

Donna Rae 1:06
Thanks for having me.

Barb 1:08
So tell me a little bit about Brain Snacks. Let’s start there. That sounds like a really cool endeavour.

Donna Rae 1:15
Well, thank you, I loved hearing you talk about it. It’s really cool hearing your vision articulated by someone else. I, oh, man, I just got to a point in my life where I wanted to have a little bit more control over how I had an impact in the world. And so I started to brainstorm a business that would support women with their career development. And I started with the, you know, professional services in combination with some childcare, and wasn’t too long before we decided to add the coffee shop into the revenue mix. So it’s been a really exciting journey.

Barb 2:03
I bet. Yes. Okay.

Donna Rae 2:05
So if I’m a mum and I need childcare, and I want that workspace, is it kind of like a co working space? Is that a collective? Is that the idea? Yeah, it’s a co working space. So it’s free to our guests at the coffee shop, and anyone can come it’s not membership base. So if you come in for a drink or a snack, and you’re going to be working for the day, then you’re free to use our workspace. And if you need somebody to watch your kiddos, so you can do that, then you can book them in by the hour into our supervised play area where we actually have a really fabulous early childhood educator.

Barb 2:42
Okay, so that’s really cool, because I think back to when my kids were young, and at that point in time, I was still traditionally employed. So I had an employer and daycare, but the thought that I could have gone and worked for a couple of hours, without the commitment to have to bring them in every day. Like that kind of flexibility. That’s huge.

Donna Rae 3:04
Yeah, women need flexibility in order to be successful, because we have so many things on our plate, whether or not we have children at work. And at home, there’s types of invisible work that women do. And so we just need to have access to resources that help us to succeed.

Barb 3:22
Excellent. So how do you know at any point in time, how many kids are going to come and go? So is the idea that you would like people to book in advance? And if there’s room, when someone drops in? They can

Donna Rae 3:33
We actually do it both ways you can drop in, I mean, take it at your own risk if we’re full. But we also do bookings ahead and we take up to six kids at any given time. Hmm, yeah, cuz I guess

Barb 3:47
There’s still ratios, right, depending on the age of the children. And so what age can kids come and be in your space for supervision while parents are working?

Donna Rae 3:57
We’re designed for newborn to age five. And we do have some helpful older siblings as well who come in.

Barb 4:05
Okay, no, that’s awesome. And what if mom or dad want to leave during that time period? Are they Is that okay? To

Donna Rae 4:14
Yes, if you’re going to be on or have your kiddo with us all day, then we asked you to stay on site, but you can leave to run errands or, you know, hit the dentist for up to three hours on any given day.

Barb 4:26
So you know, that’s actually kind of cool, because I think I can go and work for a little bit, and then still go do something it might be as simple as get groceries. Right? But be able to do it in peace in these last few months. We all really appreciate the opportunity to have peace and quiet because it hasn’t been there a whole heck of a lot. Right? So

Donna Rae 4:48
I’m all for women, you know, dropping off their kiddos and men to actually we have dads who come and to go do something nice for themselves, but it’s often not very fancy. It’s It’s usually just grocery shopping or an errand or, you know, going to the dentist. So it just gives you a bird’s eye view of how women’s lives are very practical.

Barb 5:10
Exactly. And we’re kind of programmed that you have to take advantage of like every minute in your day, because you’ve got so much to do that if you want any kind of downtime, during the day or in the evenings, you have to make sure that you have your stuff done first.

Donna Rae 5:24
That was definitely a motivation for health. Because, you know, I realised that this idea of work life balance is such a farce, we actually need support and integrating the demands of our lives so that we can move between our commitments more, with more fluidity and flexibility, rather than being locked into a period of time every day where we can only do one thing, right? That’s the exact word I was thinking of, is we need some fluidity in our life, because parenting doesn’t stop just because you walk into the office, and home doesn’t start, simply because you walk through the door. There’s so much ebb and flow in our lives now between our phones and our work. And now having been

Barb 6:15
Locked down for the last couple of months. Everything is kind of 24/7. So yeah, it’s been it’s been a real learning experience for us. I remember I spent a quick Funny story, I remember my kids were little. So my kids are 11 and 13. So we’re kind of past that. They have to be with me all the time phase. And I would say that we’re moving very quickly into that, do I have to be with you. He’s right. And they this switch flips really quickly. But I remember, you know, I’m gonna say my son was two or three. And so my daughter would have been four or five. And I was going grocery shopping, and I was going grocery shopping on my own. So my husband was home, he kept the kids and I went grocery shopping. And a it was the most expensive grocery shopping trip that we had had ever because I had time to look at stuff and read ingredients and pick and choose between, you know, different snacks and different gluten free foods and right like I suddenly had time on my hands. And I so I came home with all this cool stuff. And the kids are just like, Whoa, this is awesome. But I came home with so much stuff that otherwise there’s no way you’re gonna stop and read labels and look at new products, when you’ve got the kids in your tone them around and right. And I honestly like we share everything in the house and my husband does do a tonne of the grocery shopping. And it was dope. That’s one of the last times he let me go on my own. With so much stuff. I was like, Oh, you got to try these. These. These are so good. And this is so yummy. And here’s a new recipe and he was just like, oh my god, what has she done?

Donna Rae 8:01
Was become a luxury when you’re, you know, so pressed for time, you know, I, I used to be, oh, I don’t want to wash my hair. What a pain all the time. And now I’m like, I would love to be in the shower by myself washing my hair.

Barb 8:17
You know, that thought when we when we travel or we go someplace. It’s like, oh, I can close a bathroom door. Nobody’s gonna walk in. Right? And we’re still in that world, even at this age where, you know, yes, you get some privacy in the bathroom. But there’s no point closing the door. Because if it’s not the dog who comes and pushes out the door, then it’s gonna be a kid who, you know, mums busy. So there must be an emergency happening. Just leave the door open. And it’s like, well, at least this way I don’t have to yell through the door because I know somebody’s going to interrupt.

Donna Rae 8:51
Yeah, it’s it’s so hard to find any space for the things you need to do. I think that’s why it makes it really hard for women to put themselves first and and do you know self care and things like that? Because they’re always at the bottom of their own list of to do’s

Barb 9:08
Oh, God, like, I don’t even know if it bottom is like low enough like, yeah, so yeah, meantime. Yeah, getting a it’s funny that, that we talked about this, because we just had this conversation at home this morning. You know, we’re trying to support the kids, middle of a pandemic, they don’t understand any more than we do. So we’re trying to support them. And we’ve kind of said, you know, you can be done school, we want you to get a certain amount of assignments done. But you can be done. Well, what we’re seeing is now they just want to hang out on their gadgets all day and watch TV. And I’m like, no, no, that I’m not cool with but I still have to work and so I can’t supervise them, you know, for their eight, nine hours because I’m doing my thing. And you know, they’ve got to have a little bit of freedom and flexibility. And suddenly as a parent, you can’t kick them out. tight. You can’t say, hey, go for a bike ride play at the park. Yeah, okay, parks are open, but they’re kind of over that, too. So, anyway, so what time it is. So tell me about the award with or the nomination with the YWCA, that YWCA of Regina. So did you know that the nomination was coming? And what does this possibly mean to you into your business?

Donna Rae 10:26
A friend of mine actually nominated me. And I was totally shocked, I had no idea she was planning to do that until she came to me with the request for permission, because you do have to give permission, okay. And it’s just such a thrill to have somebody that you respect who’s in your life, want to recognise you for something that you’ve done. And it’s just, you know, brought me so much happiness, I guess. And in terms of how significant it will be for, you know, our business, I think it’s amazing, because we’re in our first year in operation, and it’s a really scary time with the pandemic. Nobody puts a pandemic in their first year business plan.

Barb 11:22
Nobody puts it in their 10 year business plan up until now.

Donna Rae 11:26
And I remember at the start of it, especially before we knew what it was going to look like thinking, you know, sure, it’s great to be nominated. But I might not be a woman of distinction by the end of this, you know, by the time the awards come around, I might be a failed business owner. So it was terrifying that way. But it just gives us more opportunity to create awareness for women about having more choice, having more financial security, having more. I guess, having more options for how you create career stability and financial stability in your life, you know, the potential for entrepreneurship, you know, to ask for more than you have to say I deserve more time to chase my passions or to care for my children or to earn as much as a man. And I just think that’s really important. Yeah,

Barb 12:37
I agree with you. So you referenced earlier in the conversation, of course, this first that we call balance, so you’re an employee, still you own a business, you’ve got a couple of small children. And I presume that there’s still a spouse in the picture. How in the heck are you balancing it all?

Donna Rae 12:54
I don’t.

Barb 12:56
Excellent. We’re on the same page, okay.

Donna Rae 13:00
It’s a wild ride, you know, I, it took me about 10 years in my career to realise that I was struggling with getting to the next level because I was different. And it’s not, you know, just being a woman. It’s being like an entrepreneurial minded person. And so you, I guess, you hit your organization’s tolerance for innovation and risk and you wonder, you know, where you belong? And so I decided that I wanted to start my own business, which is something I never thought I would do, I thought I was going to be a public servant for my career. Okay. And from there. I, we were having our third baby in the business while I was on maternity leave. And that’s what it’s been. And, you know, I like to tell people about my last, you know, 24 months of my life, because I give so first off, always, women’s voices are important, and you heard, and secondly, because I want other women to know that even if you’re experiencing adversity or things aren’t going well, that you do have the power to make choices and to move forward in a direction that works for you. So, we had an extremely challenging, well, first of all, in 2017, I was moved out of a position I was in which within my employment with the government, which was very traumatic for me. And then my sister was dealing with her chronic illness and passed away at the end September of 2018. Oh, wow. No, I started a new job in 2019. And then got pregnant. Or I’m mixing up my ears. But so my sister passed away I had a baby. I opened the business, my middle son had a life threatening spinal abscess from his tailbone to his skull, and had to have emergency surgery in Saskatoon and my husband was on a leave of absence from work, we opened the business, my dog died, and my newborn ended up having a pulmonary stenosis and heart surgery. Oh, my God. Yeah, it was, you know, I use you can see why I can’t keep the timeline straight. Like there was, it was just such a traumatic time. And I really drew a lot of strength from other women entrepreneurs, because I had attended women entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan Annual General Meeting in 20. Oh, it was 2018. Okay. And there are a couple of speakers and entrepreneurs who had like really traumatic stories they shared about resilience, and how that, you know, instilled in them really, you know, great strength that they were able to use with their business. And at that time, I was really having a lot of difficulty with my sister’s illness and her care, and things that we were struggling with with her. And it made me think like, okay, even though that’s going on, I still have the energy to begin my own journey with my business. Okay. And so I want women to know, if they are, if this is something they desire, whatever it is, doesn’t even have to be a career thing. But they have something they desire, that they can chase it and go after it no matter what’s happening in their life, if they have the will to do it.

Barb 16:44
Exactly. You know, in a lot of cases, I think, women especially we put it off, or wait till the kids are a little bit older. I’ll wait till my husband’s you know, employment is more secure. Oh, wait, oh, wait, oh, wait. And so the things that we want in life end up becoming, never coming to fruition, because we’ve waited for so long. And, you know, I know even in my own relationship, we’re pretty darn equal. But there are still times where, like, I want to shake my husband. And I’m like, No, that is such a preconceived, traditional notion of how things work. And it’s really made me appreciate that, you know, as a woman, I might be fully enlightened. But we all have these ingrained beliefs in terms of how things work, whether it’s relationship parenting, working, right, and those beliefs are really difficult to overcome. I was talking with another guest. can remember if it was just earlier this week or on a couple of months ago, because I can’t remember which guest it was, but we talked about, you know, those traditional roles. And I’m curious, from a generational standpoint, how many generations will it take before to our kids, mom and dad, both working mom having a business 5050 sharing? When does that become the traditional belief? Right? And so I’m curious, like, I hear your story. And I think, okay, to your kids, they will no, no different to them, it will be perfectly normal that mum and dad work mum and dad own a business. Mum and Dad are partners in whatever way shape and form. Right? And so I’m curious how long that evolution is going to take. And, you know, just hearing your story, I suspect that, you know, for your kids, they will have a very different fabric in their own belief system, right, until you start to think about the impact that you’re making with your own kids. And of course, you know, your future grandkids and etc, etc. Right. So I

Donna Rae 19:02
Really think that’s true.

Barb 19:03
Yeah. So tell me what you took away from all of that. How has that changed your approach now to parenting and running a business, knowing the experience that you’ve had? What do you take away with that and sort of carry with you on a day to day basis in terms of, you know, your decision making and stuff like that? How has that been impacted?

Donna Rae 19:29
I think all the trauma that we’ve been through has made me a little bit more cautious. As a parent especially. And a little bit more patient because being an innovator, I always want to do cool things right now. And before where I was able to really dig deep within myself, and I do every little thing all the time. Now I get to say, I’ve done enough today. And I can just, you know, not do anything for the rest of the evening, if that’s like what’s right for me?

Barb 20:15
Exactly if that’s what you choose.

Donna Rae 20:17
Yeah. But I really love working. I’m 100% addicted to it. And I love having children. When we had our first I was like we’re having bloomer. We’re, we’re at our capacity. Now with three, we’re very busy. Yeah. But I tear comments around children being shaped by the experiences in their home. I was raised by a single parent. And so you know, no, not to disparage people who co parent, but I, like had no other parents in the picture. So is really a single parent situation. And when that happened, we, my mom was afraid. And we ended up in a women’s shelter, and having to find our way back from Canada to get home to Saskatchewan. And I remember leaving on my aunts and uncles plote couch in the basement as a small child, while we figured things out and seeing her work three jobs while I was young. It just like I have an incredible work ethic, like I never tire of working like. And it’s wonderful. It drives me and I often feel quite euphoric. When I’m like, really aligned with my purpose. I feel like I’m having an impact on my community. And I’m working with a team, that we’re all supporting each other, and I love it so much. But on the other side of that coin, we only have enough energy and we have to care for ourselves and sit down. Take a breath. Yeah, sleep II exercise, care for our mental health. So I want my children, I guess, to see all of that spectrum. I appreciate my work ethic know that that’s, you know, awesome to have a strong working woman in your life, if that’s, you know, the choice of your mother, and to bring that forward into their future relationships with women and treat women really well, exactly. If nothing else, in this time, we are learning how systemic abuse of women can be in very high profile situations and just allowed to continue.

Barb 22:49
Yes. It’s a

Donna Rae 22:51
Real goal of mine as a mother to raise my boys so that they respect other people.

Barb 22:58
Yeah. And you know, it’s funny that you say that, because my son is the younger of my two kids. And I am bound to determine that that kid is going to be able to stand on his own, not have to stay in my basement, you know, until he’s 30. And somebody else’s, like bound and determined, like the kid is going to know how to cook. He’s going to know how to clean a house. He does fight it kicking and screaming, not so much the cooking part, but the you know, cleaning and that kind of stuff. But yeah, bound and determined because there’s so many times where when I was growing up as a woman, I would be involved with guys who their mom had done everything. And they were literally just knew mum shopping. So is this wife going to look after me? And and I just didn’t buy into that very well. It took me a long time to finish my shopping. Yeah, yeah, it’s

Donna Rae 23:49
Not. It’s not cool. No. I wrote like, I’m a elder millennial, I like to say, Okay, and so I was raised to believe that feminism had happened. It was in a current need in our society. Not deliberately by my mother or anything like that, but just you know, it wasn’t really covered in school. And at the time I went to university, it wasn’t really cool to be in gender studies. It was kind of like if you were a hippie, or an old school, feminist kind of thing. Yes. And so it took me 10 years in my career to realise that I was hitting barriers that had to do with my gender and my age, that, you know, were impeding me from, you know, my next performance or my next promotion and opportunity. And so, that was a big epiphany for me, and I, women who are younger than me now, they’re a lot more educated around feminism. And it’s a lot there’s a lot more awareness about it. And I think that that same principle holds true for women And in the home as well right now, and there are a lot of women who are doing more than their fair share of work in the home and more than their fair share of work in the workplace and aren’t being you know, compensated for it.

Barb 25:13

Donna Rae 25:13
And that needs to change.

Barb 25:15
Yeah, no, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Donna, we’re actually out of time. This is typically the fastest coffee chat that folks have. Time just flies. So just before we wrap up, can I get you to share with everyone how they find you at Brain Snacks where they find you online? What your social channels are? Sure.

Donna Rae 25:35
Brain Snacks is located in Regina, on our coal Avenue and University Park Drive. On the internet. We’re at And you can find us on Instagram and Facebook at Brain Snacks. Oh,

Barb 25:54
Awesome. That is fantastic. So we’re gonna wrap wrap up. Donna, thank you very much for joining me today to talk about your nomination with the Why do WC Regina, women of distinction and about Brain Snacks. It sounds like such a cool endeavour. And in fact, I had heard about it before, but I haven’t had a chance to come out and visit. So one of these days we will be out there. I think I’d like to if you’d like to be a guest on the show. You can email me at barb at google or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at above the fold. Ca just a reminder, you can even submit questions in advance of our live show on our Facebook page. Our shows are live right now but hopefully we’ll be back in studio soon. And then you’ll be able to submit those questions. I’m your host Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember you are charged for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.


Barb McGrath’s been cracking the online code for nearly 20 years. She helps local businesses get to the top of Google with digital marketing training, web design, SEO, online reputation and advertising. Most importantly, she’s earned the trust of Google.Barb runs the only Google-approved agency designed to show you how to turn the online “stuff” into in-store buyers.If you depend on in-person customers, you need Barb’s step-by-step, online marketing plan to generate a steady stream of onsite buyers and make it rain money. She is the host of the Secret Life of Entrepreneurs, a local radio show and iTunes and Google Podcast.