“We all do better when we all do better.” That’s a quote from the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. For entrepreneur Becca Cooke, it’s so much more than a note at the bottom of her email signature – it’s a reminder she carries in her heart every single day: this idea that working together as a community and building each other up can yield multitudes more than going it on your own.
Cooke, an Eau Claire native, graduated from North High School, studied in Minnesota at the University of St. Thomas, then moved to California to start a fast-paced career fundraising for political campaigns. She was living in the desert, caught up in a bustling lifestyle. But while diving into her passions was exciting, it ultimately left her wanting to do something more creative and thoughtful. So she came back to her roots in Eau Claire where she could be around lakes, rivers, and family – and without much help or mentorship, she opened the doors on Red’s Mercantile, her downtown Eau Claire retail and home goods shop, in the fall of 2015.
And almost immediately, she started giving back.
It was always part of the plan to have Red’s be more than just a shop where people can buy stuff. So Cooke launched a line of Red Letter Goods, a collection of items in the shop from which 15 percent of the proceeds would be pooled into an annual grant to be given to women who wanted to start their own local ventures. This effort, the Red Letter Grant, quickly snowballed with a crushing wave of support, a handful of wildly successful fundraisers, and a match from a big donor. The first year surpassed Cooke’s loftiest expectations, and she was able to give a total of $2,000 to four burgeoning women-powered startups. Thriving new efforts like Odd Brand Strategy, Melnaturel, Moonrise Aerials, and Giizhig Design Company are already making some major moves in the local business world partly because of the grant, but also with the fire and passion that comes from a spirited support system.
“I think in some capacities there’s still a boys’ club in Eau Claire as far as business leadership goes,” Cooke said. “And creating something like the Red Letter Grant both in the people that win and the people that apply, you create this network and sisterhood of support.”
The grant is a testament to the power of what’s possible when you tap into the strength of a community built on togetherness, when you bring energetic, like-minded entrepreneurs together, and when you foster an undeniably supportive network of movers and shakers.
“If not now, when? If you want to do it, figure out how to do it right now. That’s kind of what my mantra is. I’m not going to wait around for somebody to do it, or for somebody else to figure out how to make something better, I’m just going to do it myself and get it done.”
And that isn’t exclusive to the grant. Though Red’s Mercantile has only been open for a little more than two years, the space itself has become a blossoming hub for new products, new ideas, and new collaborations. By hosting all kinds of get-togethers like rallies, small business workshops, and pop up shops all with the intent on bringing powerhouse creators and makers together, new connections are made, ideas flourish, partnerships are made, and our community evolves ever so beautifully.
Cooke is a young force to be reckoned with, and it’s already thrilling to see the crystallization of all of her efforts. She has a bright future of her own, but even more exciting is the forthcoming watershed of Chippewa Valley women taking their destiny into their own hands, building each other up, and making their ideas into reality right now. Not later, right now. And it all starts here.