Start-up culture:A Q&A w Milk Sugar’s Sam Dwyer

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 11.43.32 AM.pngI love milk and dairy products (cereal o’clock is one of my favorite late night habits), so I would be so upset if I were ever to become lactose intolerant. You can learn all about lactose intolerance, which basically forces some people to have to forgo most dairy here.

My mom suffers from this affliction and she has to spend close to $7 per gallon of Lactaid milk for her coffee. Well, now there’s a new product that claims to make your lactose intolerance a thing of the past.

Milk Sugar was invented by Brooklyn-based inventor Sam Dwyer. I talked to him about the product and what’s it’s like to invent a supplement! (You can buy Milk Sugar here.)
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Sam Dwyer
1) Why did you start Milk Sugar? 
Lactose intolerance is something that for many people develops in early adulthood, after you’ve spent your whole life eating dairy. I am a young guy living in New York City — I love pizza! It was so frustrating to give up my favorite foods!

I eventually discovered that I could take Lactaid pills with dairy, but they never made me feel good, and my beloved jerk room mate would make fun of me for being “lactarded.” I wanted to understand more about my body, so I started researching what lactose intolerance is — and I learned that while 10% of people with Northern European ancestry have problems with dairy, as much as 60% of our diverse US population at large has problems. But all Americans love eating cheese; on average we eat 34 pounds of the stuff every year.

What I realized was that Lactaid medicalizes, and stigmatizes, a common condition. If you’re lactose intolerant, there’s actually nothing “wrong” with you: it’s normal. So with Milksugar I set out to do two things: create a normal lactase enzyme supplement pill for normal people, and then also to… let nature in.

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What I mean by letting nature in, is that the psychology surrounding consumer products is tremendously important, because it effects how you understand yourself. The coolest thing, I think, about Milksugar is that the active lactase enzymes are derived from a cool Japanese fungus, koji, which in latin is called aspergillus oryzae. Koji is beloved in Japan, because it’s the secret ingredient for making sake and miso — it creates tons of enzymes, including the ones that break apart the dairy sugar, lactose, that gives us lactose intolerant people so much trouble!

I think that big corporations believe Americans are too wimpy to knowingly eat cool Japanese mushroom pills that help them digest dairy. I have a more optimistic view of my countrypeople: I think they will like to know! Because nature is really, really cool!!

2) What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

Well, I can sleep in and stuff. Also I can entertain myself with notions of earthly riches. I’m more inclined to think of myself as an entrepreneur than as a boss. It’s a distinction that makes a difference. I’m terribly impulsive; I don’t command myself, so much as I am drawn forward by curiosity and vision. In that way, I am a servant.

And that’s the best part — the freedom to pursue the dream!

3) What’s one of the hardest things?

Well, I’m not a rich kid, or in possession of vast savings, so there’s been some financially tight moments. How terrible — I have had to live off rice, and sometimes recycle my better-remunerated room mates cans for beer money. Oh, woe is me (I’m joking, although having money to go out is fun). It’s more seriously stressful to be late with the rent. Obviously, as a start up business with not too much sales volume yet I should worry about failure. But the truth is that I don’t.

In the back of my mind I have been preparing to do a project like this for awhile. I am very fortunate to have some truly amazing and inspiring friends, teachers, and investors who have walked similar paths. I wouldn’t be doing this without them.

The hardest task for me has been setting the correct expectations for myself, and remaining mindful. I can be very impatient, but changing the way an entire culture thinks about lactose intolerance won’t happen overnight.

That said, I think we can win.

Inspiration for your bedroom

… your bedroom style, that is! (Naughty, naughty!)

When it comes to interior decoration style, I’m basic at best. Clean lines, light colors, dark furniture. I would like to step it up someday, but I can admit it’s not my forte. I have two dear friends who kick ass in this department, especially when it comes to their bedroom style. Think fun colors and pretty scenes:

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Winter bedroom style by Michelle Christina Larsen.

The above winter wonderland bedroom is by Michelle Christina Larsen, a Brooklyn-based copywriter who specializes in fashion editorial writing and creator of Day Job Optional, a blog dedicated to helping writers  launch & grow sustainable online careers. She has a fashion school background, but something tells me she’s been decorating like this since she was a kid. You can find more of her DIY style on her style blog, Hey Mishka.

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Working from home is a cinch when everything is pink. By Michelle Christina Larsen.
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Disco bathroom, anyone? By Michelle Christina Larsen.

My other bedroom style inspiration is Charly Carlyle (a moniker, obviously) who is a psychometrician in her daytime career, but blogs about sex positivity when she’s not measuring medical research. She is TRULY inspired by bright colors and girly things, but she has a penchant for skulls, too.

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Who wouldn’t want to sleep here? And maybe do other things. By Charly Carlyle.
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Work is fun when your work station is pretty. By Charly Carlyle.
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Another view of that pretty Charly Carlyle bedroom.

A well-being experiment: the Facebook-free summer.

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The Facebook.

It was a long time coming: I’m taking a hiatus from Facebook.

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There are plenty of reasons people announce (on Facebook, of course) that they are quitting. More often than not, they come back. And, there’s nothing wrong with that; It’s good to take breaks.

For me, this hiatus has nothing to do with those studies that say Facebook can cause depression, jealousy, and so on. It’s not over any relationship drama. I don’t use Facebook for that kind of thing, especially since that would require someone to have a dating life. Ha!

On the contrary, I happen to think it’s a brilliant way to communicate to a wide audience at once. I have lots of fun on Facebook, sharing funny, odd, or depressing news stories in order to engage my 1200+ Facebook “friends.” Not only do engaging debates break out on my Facebook profile, but the funny commentary often has me in tears … laughing.

Sharing important news, as always.
Sharing important news, as always.

But … I work in news and media relations. SO much of what I do is tied with constantly surfing the web, reading, and communicating: watching news trends, checking in with my ‘clients’ (faculty) and urging them to write OpEds or matching up their academic expertise to media outlets for commentary and interviews, then sharing these hits with various social media outlets. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

I’m always “on.” And I’m tired, especially with everything going on with my dad.

With the advent of the smartphone (the Blackberry was my first) years ago, it became clear that even though one wasn’t in the office, work could still get done. Emails could get answered first thing in the morning when I wake up, or at 1 a.m. in the morning, when I’m in a cab on my way to the next social event: Why not look at my phone and respond to that email, or surf Twitter for the latest breaking news? And with that news in hand, it’s only “my (self-imposed) duty” to share with my Facebook friends, right?

To put it simply: I’m burning out.

In addition to putting this sometimes undo pressure on myself to constantly communicate (sometimes necessary for work, but definitely NOT necessary to the point that others remind me [jokingly; I know] that I’ve missed a weird news story), it’s become a massive crutch when it comes to friendship.

Earlier I mentioned 1200+ “friends.” Let’s be realistic: I do not have that many friends. Some of these are networking acquaintances. Others were friends in high school and college who, these days, make me cringe with their racist, sexist, and misogynist, (yeah, I said it) statements on Facebook that it’s no wonder we do not hang out in person.

But among that list, are real friends who I have neglected because life gets in the way—and so does Facebook. Check out this excerpt from a Matthew Warner blog post that explains what I mean perfectly:

“When we see each other’s status updates every once in awhile, it gives us the illusion that we’ve “kept in touch” (even though most family and friends don’t see our updates — they aren’t on Facebook, don’t check regularly or missed it in their feed). It’s a poor substitute for meaningfully keeping in touch with our loved ones, but we compromise and settle for it anyway because it’s easy. When it comes to allocating how much energy we put into which relationships, it builds in a bias toward convenience vs importance. And, again, we end up doing so at the expense of time we should be spending on more personal interaction with our most important relationships.

“It’s made me into a lazy friend and loved one.”

So why not keep Facebook and just not log on and engage? Um, duh: I’m a communicating junkie; I can’t do that. (For more on that and other reasons to quit or take a real break from Facebook, check out “5 Things I Learned When I Quit Facebook” over at ABC.com.)

And why choose Facebook out of all the other social media? Well, I can’t quit Twitter: too much of the news world is there, so it comes with the career. And Instagram is easy: it’s just pictures. Since Facebook is more of a time suck, it’s the natural choice. And, remember, this is not a permanent thing. It’s simply a hiatus. An experiment, if you will.

The one worry I have on taking this break from Facebook is that it’s an excellent way to keep in touch with family and friends in other United States and overseas. This is especially crucial at a time when my father is in poor health and living at a nursing home since his hip fracture in late January. But I have to think of my well-being first. The less time on Facebook, the more time being present when I’m with my mom and dad. So, although it will take more effort, we’ll have to communicate via phone or email.

Sharing family news on Facebook: definitely one of the many reasons it's a great social media channel.
Sharing family news on Facebook: definitely one of the many reasons it’s a great social media channel.

So this is it: the hiatus is on, and so is the challenge: I feel the need to reconnect with people and return to my hobbies (writing about South American culture and music for Sounds and Colours) the good, old-fashioned way.

In the meantime, follow me on Twitter: @ginavergel7, Instagram: @ginavergel, and on this blog, of course!

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Tweet, tweet!

Women Entrepreneurship Conference in New Jersey

Screen shot 2014-10-06 at 9.37.09 PMA former assignment editor from my newspaper days is now a program manager at Montclair State University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship and she’s asked me to share the following information for what seems like an excellent FREE event for the business-minded.

Women Entrepreneurship Conference
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Montclair State University
1 Normal Avenue (University Hall – Conference Center 7th Floor), Montclair, NJ
Sponsored by the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship

This daylong conference of high-energy inspiration and practical tips for entrepreneurial people. The event is for those who are looking to grow their own business, or start a new venture, or executives who want to be more entrepreneurial in their company. Students and wannabe entrepreneurs are welcome! And the event is FREE: (You should register here: http://bit.ly/1CQhr8L)

Confirmed speakers include:

Essence magazine’s Mikki Taylor, Catalyst’s Ilene H. Lang, NASDAQ OMX’s Ellyn McColgan, Golden Seeds’ Joan Zief, venture capitalist and former Time Inc. exec Fran Hauser, Tracye McDaniel of Choose NJ, Kathleen Coviello of NJ Economic Development Authority, Michelle Lee of Wells Fargo, networking guru Sally Glick, plus executives at companies ranging from startups to giants like Prudential and Horizon BCBSNJ.

Visit WomenEntrepreneurshipWeek.com for speaker bios.

Everyone is invited to join the conversation. Use #WEW on social media. Tag your posts with @FelicianoCenter on Twitter.

A brilliant Latina law scholar

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Tanya Hernandez

I was writing to an editor at a magazine this evening about an opinion piece one of our law professors is going to write for them, and as I was going through her credentials, I thought, “She’s one brilliant Latina!”

An alumna of Brown University and Yale Law School, Tanya Hernandez is a professor of law at Fordham School of Law. Her expertise centers on discrimination; Latin America/Latin American law; and employment.

In 2013, she was selected by a Manhattan Federal Court judge to sit on a council that would weigh in and advise on New York City’s controversial Stop & Frisk policy.

She penned this opinion piece for the New York Times about civil rights: affirmative action, voter rights, and same sex marriage rights.

And in this piece she penned for the Huffington Post (before the Supreme Court ruled on Affirmative Action), she covered one of my favorite things to bring up when debating matters of race with friends: implicit bias.

The thing is, once I bring it up, it usually shuts the (Facebook) discussion down. The person feels I’ve insulted them, when in reality, I haven’t, because I’ve had implicit racial biases as well. We all have! And as Hernandez explains, they can be overcome:

As a decision is expected within the next two weeks, one thing I hope the Court will consider is that research in the field of cognitive psychology reveals that we all harbor biases and that affirmative action policies assist in addressing those biases.

Part of the reason for enduring social hierarchies is that individuals rely on stereotypes to process information and have biases that they don’t know they have. These implicit biases, as psychologists call them, are picked up over a lifetime, absorbed from our culture, and work automatically to color our perceptions and influence our choices.

Over a decade of testing with six million participants of the collaborative research venture between Harvard University, University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, called “Project Implicit,” demonstrates pervasive ongoing bias against non-Whites and lingering suspicion of Blacks in particular. Some 75 percent of Whites, Latinos, and Asians show a bias for Whites over Blacks. In addition, Blacks also show a preference for Whites.

In the educational context, studies of school teachers indicate that teachers generally hold differential expectations of students from different ethnic origins, and that implicit prejudiced attitudes were responsible for these differential expectations as well as the ethnic achievement gap in their classrooms. This is because teachers who hold negative prejudiced attitudes appear more predisposed to evaluate their ethnic minority students as being less intelligent and having less promising prospects for their school careers.

The pervasive existence of implicit bias in society and its manifestation in the educational setting, strongly suggests that the selection of students can be similarly affected by unexamined stereotypes and implicit biases. Bluntly stated university Admission Offices are not immune from the operation of implicit bias.

But we are not slaves to our implicit associations. The social science research indicates that biases can be overridden with concerted effort. Remaining alert to the existence of the bias and recognizing that it may intrude in an unwanted fashion into judgments and actions, can help to counter the influence of the bias. Instead of repressing one’s prejudices, if one openly acknowledges one’s biases, and directly challenges or refutes them, one can overcome them.

Read the rest of that piece here, and then check out this sampling of academic articles she’s written on a bevy of important topics:

  • Defending Affirmative Action: An International Legal Response, in vol. 29 Civil Rights Litigation and Attorney Fees Annual Handbook (eds. Steven Saltzman & Cheryl I. Harris 2013).
  • Racial Subordination in Latin America: The Role of the State, Customary Law and the New Civil Rights Response (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013) (https://sites.google.com/site/racisminlatamerica/)
  • HATE SPEECH AND THE LANGUAGE OF RACISM IN LATIN AMERICA: A LENS FOR RECONSIDERING GLOBAL HATE SPEECH RESTRICTIONS AND LEGISLATION MODELS, 32 U. Penn. J. Int’l Law 805-841 (2011) (http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1103&context=jil).
  • “What Not to Wear” — Race and Unwelcomeness in Sexual Harassment Law: The Story of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, in Women and the Law Stories 277-306 (2010 Foundation Press book chapter, Elizabeth Schneider & Stephanie Wildman eds.).
  • Afro-Latin@s and the Latino Workplace, in The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States 520-526 (2010 Duke Univ. Press book chapter, Juan Flores & Miriam Jimenez Roman, eds.).
  • Latino Anti-Black Violence in Los Angeles: Not “Made in the USA,” 13 Harvard Journal African American Public Policy 37-40 (2007).
  • A Critical Race Feminism Empirical Research Project: Sexual Harassment & The Internal Complaints Black Box, 39 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1235-1303 (2006).  Available online at: http://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/Vol39/vol39_no3.html.
  • Sex in the [Foreign] City: Commodification and the Female Sex Tourist, in Rethinking Commodification: Cases and Readings in Law and Culture 222-242 (Joan Williams & Martha Ertman eds., NYU Press 2005) (book chapter).
  • To Be Brown in Brazil: Education & Segregation Latin American Style, 29 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 683-717 (2004-05).   Available online at:http://www.law.nyu.edu/journals/reviewoflawandsocialchange/issues/ECM_PRO_065694.

 

A word about demographics and missed opportunities

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Screen shot of the sad and lonely Spanish-language option by me.

I don’t purport to know very much about running a business. Aside from deciding whether I want to take on public relations work on a by-project basis, I’ve never run my own shop.

But I can safely say that Great American Opportunities, a fundraising corporation, has dropped the ball on an additional “opportunity” for their constituents to make more money.

Back in my day, for grammar schools to raise funds, students had to sell chocolates or Christmas wrapping paper. Today, with the power of the Internet, you can imagine those opportunities have become more diverse.

My cousin’s son’s school in Florida is raising funds by using Great American Opportunities to sell magazine subscriptions. It’s much simpler now. Parents forward a link and we help raise funds by shopping.

Or so I thought.

I’m in media relations. I don’t want for many magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I have plenty and they are all digital. So I figure, I’ll shop for my parents.

My folks are Colombian immigrants and American citizens who have been living in this country for more than 40 years. Yet Spanish is still their first and preferred [reading] language. They’re senior citizens, why wouldn’t they enjoy a subscription?

Sadly, the only Spanish-language magazine Great American Opportunities offers is People en Español. No offense to the celebrity magazine industry, but my parents have no interest in who J-Lo is dating. (Well, maybe if she finally moves UP in age of the person she’s dating. Just kidding!)

Has Great American Opportunities not looked into changing demographics of this country, especially in Florida? There are a TON of Hispanics/Latinos in the United States and they are a huge buying power. The more Latino-friendly products a business offers to the Latino community, the more they will buy. (Take a hint from the many corporations that advertise and offer circulars in Spanish.)

And that, mi amigos, in my opinion, is a missed opportunity for Great American Opportunities.

In case you’re wondering, I *did* buy a subscription to help my cousin’s son’s grammar school. I bought an interesting-looking health/neuroscience magazine, but certainly would have purchased much more had there been more than one entertainment-based, Spanish-language option.

Perhaps this is something Great American Opportunities can consider in the future. After all, many of Spanish-language readers and speakers are shopping in America!

 

Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) Event on June 28

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 1.05.46 PMThroughout my tenure here at Fordham University, I’ve learned about many great non profit and advocacy organizations in New York City. One such organization is the Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), which serves girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.

GEMS, which has a relationship with Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service’s Institute of Women and Girls, was founded in 1998 by Rachel Lloyd, who had been sexually exploited as a teenager. GEMS has helped hundreds of young women and girls, ages 12–24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and to develop to their full potential.

Any notion I ever had about prostitution was completely changed one day when I covered a Fordham / GEMS event where a young girl talked about how an ex-boyfriend forced her into the lifestyle and GEMS helped her get out. It’s a form of human trafficking, though not in the traditional way people tend to think of trafficking in developing nations.

GEMS and Fordham’s Institute of Women and Girls are co-hosting an event called, “Before,” on June 28, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. You can RSVP here.

“Before” is an evening of original monologues written by GEMS staff and fellows preformed at Fordham University’s Pope Auditorium. There will also be a survivor created art show and light refreshments.

For more information, visit GEMS website here.