After attending the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s Lean Startup Weekend, Michelle Zimora had the tools and guidance she needed to start Z Wraps, a business that provides an eco-friendly alternative to plastic wrap and aluminum foil. In May 2018, she won a grant from Valley Venture Mentors to support her business.

Looking for Adventure

Michelle Zimora of Easthampton was looking for her next adventure when her daughters, ages 5 and 2, go off to school. She began to ask herself, “What are my skills? What am I good at?” The answer: making things.

Photo of Michelle Zimora, founder of Z Wraps, a CEL startup

She started making paper chandeliers and papercut shadow boxes and selling them at a store where she works part-time in Northampton. She got great feedback and began to think that she could create a business, but she had questions: “What would my customer base be? How can I reach stores in the right way to sell these things?” she said. “Coming at business from a maker’s left-minded perspective is why a lot of makers don’t make it in business.”

Finding Guidance with CEL

A friend mentioned The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s (CEL) Lean Startup Weekend, and Michelle recognized the opportunity to get some advice and guidance. “What I realized through the class is, the product is not scalable. I can’t make them in faster than an hour,” she said, which makes them financially unfeasible to produce.

She needed another, more easily reproduced product. And she found it. “This business is making an alternative to plastic wrap and aluminum foil: a piece of fabric that’s coated in beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin,” Michelle said. “They last for six to 12 months, which is great.”

Photo of Z wraps from Michelle Zimora's CEL startup company, Z Wraps

She called the business Z Wraps. The concept itself is not unique, but she had identified a need in the market for a more stylish approach, which became an outlet for her natural design skills. She got started quickly using the Lean Launchpad model.

“Your business model is on one page; it’s not like this 40-page document,” she said. “You can see everything right in front of you, and it’s a work in progress.”

Another valuable experience arose during the requirement of the class to conduct interviews with potential customers. “Every week you had to interview at least 10 people,” she said. “Before you even create your minimum viable product, get out there and ask questions about it. The people I chose to ask questions of were people who owned or managed stores.”

‘Your business model is on one page; it’s not like this 40-page document. You can see everything right in front of you, and it’s a work in progress.’

What she discovered was that assumptions can often be wrong. “The point was, you really don’t know anything and you have to go out and ask questions first,” Michelle said.

After the weekend program, she realized she had more to learn, so she signed up for the Lean Launchpad class.

Photo of Michelle Zimora, founder of Z Wraps, at a Valley Venture Mentors event

She has continued to move forward: She has hired a fabric designer and is planning a crowdfunding campaign. The packaging is done, and she is getting a machine to coat the fabric. Her sister, who works for Roche Brothers supermarkets, showed the wrap to the supermarket’s buyer, who said, “Once you have your packaging and your UPC codes, come and talk to us.” The chain sees her product starting in their Brothers Marketplace stores.

“If things go well there, they’re going to put me in their top-nine-performing Roche Brothers stores,” Michelle said.