From Candy Aisle To Corner Office: Sugarwish Founders On Un-Commoditizing A Category


Corporate gifting can be pretty uninspiring at times, as gift cards and flower arrangements can feel a bit generic. Knowing this experience all too well, Denver entrepreneurs (and moms) Elisabeth Vezzani and Leslie Lyon decided to shake up the pretty bland gifting game by creating Sugarwish, a new sweet startup which allows customers to send birthday, holiday, and corporate treats.

And unlike most gifting models, Sugarwish allows consumers to choose exactly what kind of candy (think gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, and Jolly Ranchers!) they want, giving them complete control and personalization over the gifting process. "What makes Sugarwish unique is that it basically flips the gifting model, allowing the recipient to choose what they want," says Sugarwish co-founder Leslie Lyon.

A Sugarwish gift box

Sugarwish started off as a conversation between Lyon and Vezzani about the lack of clever gifts that existed on the market. Elisabeth Vezzani was tired of sending generic gift cards to her clients, and was searching for gifts that were more fun and customizable. She then teamed up Lyon, who would often reminisce about the fun she would have on her work breaks visiting candy shops. Both women were convinced there had to be a way to create a gift that was easy to give and fun to receive. The duo immediately settled on candy, as they both agreed it was celebratory and a fun item anyone can enjoy.

“Personalization is the cornerstone of our business and is what we do best. By letting the recipient choose what they want, we are absolutely certain they will love what they get."

After the basic idea of Sugarwish was conceived, both Vezzani and Lyon had a lot of decisions to make regarding its early stages. Deciding on the company logo, product packaging, and designing the website were some of the challenges the duo faced, especially since existing ecommerce platforms would not allow for the “receiver picks" aspect of the business.

However, both women felt Sugarwish had huge potential, even if that meant making meaningful mistakes along the way. Mistakes are part of the growth process of any business and can be the quickest way to identify problems and make progress in the right direction," adds Vezzani. “The real concern should not be about making mistakes, but rather, the loss of momentum, due to the fear of making mistakes. Fear of making mistakes and the resulting indecision can do much more harm than a few bad choices made in the spirit of progress and moving forward. So we try hard to keep choosing — and keep moving."

Thankfully, Sugarwish didn't face too many bumps in the road as the business grew faster than both women expected. Although they were anticipating bit of a ramp period along the way, Sugarwish didn't exactly experience one, making it a whoa-to-go from day one.

Lyon and Vezzani note that Sugarwish was self-funded for the first few years, which they believed had enormous value. Doing so forced the duo to prioritize constantly, as they didn't have the money to do everything they wanted to do. Shortly after going through a startup accelerator in Boulder, they met individuals interested in investing, which allowed the duo to move their business to the next level.

Over the past year, Vezzani and Lyon state that the company's tremendous growth was caused by the significant increase in corporate business. And by carefully and cleverly scoping out the gifting competition, they were successfully able to perfect the gifting platform in just 18 months.

Although Sugarwish has been an exciting journey in entrepreneurship, balancing motherhood with the business is an obstacle both Vezzani and Lyon face. “Balancing motherhood—and, quite frankly, everything else that is not Sugarwish—is definitely one of our biggest challenges," says Lyon. “Over the years we've established a few ground rules for ourselves to help decide what can be done versus what needs to be done, but we can't say we have mastered this skill. It is still a work in progress for us."

Founders of Sugarwish, Elisabeth Vezzani and Leslie Lyon

Earlier this year the company introduced a new Sweet Shoppe gift, which is sure to become the new luxurious candybar every company has dreamt of experiencing. In addition, expect to see more product lines from Sugarwish later this year, as both Lyon and Vezzani are constantly brainstorming new ideas.

“As far is what is next for us—we are planning to add more product lines to Sugarwish," says Vezzani. “Our customers love the receiver picks aspect of our gifts, and we are confident that this concept can be successfully applied to many other products as well. We are currently in the process of deciding what our next product line will be, so stay tuned."

“You'll probably hear this comparison a lot, but starting your own business is very much like having a child, as it is awesome, wonderful, stressful and scary. It will take all you've got to give (and then some). So just be sure you know what you are getting into—and then go for it." - Lyon

"Sugarwish allows consumers to choose exactly what kind of candy they want (think gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, and Jolly Ranchers)"


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.