CRYSTAL WYATT had been dating her boyfriend nine months when she got a call at 2:30 a.m. from the police with the news that he'd been arrested.
That began a long odyssey through the criminal-justice system that included her making 3 1/2-hour trips to Rockview State Correctional Institution to see him until they broke up after two years. They reunited after his release from prison, but that was short-lived because he wound up being reincarcerated.
A lot of women would have become bitter, but this Overbrook resident was inspired to start her own business, a transportation service called Ride and Rebuild that would take loved ones to visit inmates at prison facilities around the state.
Wyatt, who hopes to be licensed by September, conducted a handful of trial runs with women recruited by a friend who works at Graterford.
Each time she made these test runs, she noticed that her riders would enter her van all chatty and excited about their visits, but they were much more somber on the ride home. Now, she tells her passengers, "I would ask that we honor that and remain silent."
And based on some of the interactions she observed from going to see her ex-boyfriend, she plans to learn a little about her riders before they climb aboard.
"I have to find out the inmate information because I can't have two women in my van going to see the same man," Wyatt said, laughing.
Wyatt's business plan won an honorable mention last week from the Women's Opportunities Resource Center, which sponsored a competition for emerging, female-owned enterprises. The other finalists' business plans were just as novel as Wyatt's, and interestingly were all born out of the owners' personal experiences.
Gennifer Miller, who attended the George School before going on to Tufts University and Babson College, was getting an MBA when she found herself trying to control her naturally curly hair.
She started blogging about her experiences and giving advice to other hair-challenged women of color, not only about how to care for their tresses but also how to grow their hair long like hers. She eventually started charging users of her site - healthytextures.com - $9.99 a month or $99.99 annually.
She also sells DVDs such as one teaching women the art of roller-setting their hair. Simple idea, but she regularly sells out of the DVDs, at $17.50 apiece.
Miller, who runs her business from a co-op space called Indy Hall, at 3rd and Market streets, is mum about disclosing financial information but estimates that she has about hundreds to a thousand subscribers. In terms of a salary, she says, "It's enough that it replaces the job I would have taken after graduate school. I was going to do marketing in a marketing department."
Miller's business plan earned her second-place honors in the competition.
Melissa D'Agostino of Germantown snagged the first-place award of $2,500 and business coaching for her custom-made, eco-friendly fashion business, D'Agostino Fashion Textile Design (melissadagostino.com). A graduate of the Moore College of Art, where she majored in sculpture and minored in textiles, she got her start selling scarves at festivals.
"Each piece is a work of art," said D'Agostino, whose late grandmother was a seamstress who made all of her sisters' wedding dresses.
When I asked what the award meant to her, she said, "This is just such an encouragement to continue to grow carefully as well as consciously and just to grow."
Which is the point of this competition.