Creating personal development products for youth leads to self-discovery for Smile Inside’s founder

The GROW program at Bounce supports both aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs as they bring their ideas to life. The program focuses on minorities and women. Vanessa Abraham is a graduate of the ninth cohort of the MORTAR at Bounce program, our 15-week business accelerator.

Vanessa Abraham has devoted much of her career to developing educational materials that enhance the social and emotional intelligence of children and teens. Through MORTAR at Bounce, she’s receiving support to market these resources to parents, teachers and other professionals.

However, her journey as an entrepreneur began many years ago when she was living in Australia and providing social-emotional development activities to young people there.

“I collected my favorite activities and compiled them into a book. I had interest from five publishers, so I wanted to make sure it was really good and spent the next several years working on it,” she said.

While still in Australia, she developed social-emotional programs for schools. Eventually, she was needed at home in northeast Ohio to take care of her mother and returned in 2016.

“I walked away from my network and my reputation, and had to reinvent myself,” Abraham said. “Since my Australian credentials were not recognized here, I had to start over. I began substitute teaching to gain insight and to re-immerse myself into the American educational system after being overseas for so long.”

Over the last seven years, Abraham has been networking and participating in various programs for entrepreneurs.

“I started at Northside Marketplace on day one to give me a portal to sell my products,” she said.

As she continued to seek support, she was accepted into the MORTAR program.

“The MORTAR program is a safe space where you can be authentic and ask questions you might be hesitant to ask,” she said. “It’s nice to be with like-minded people in the same room where you can share resources and help each other.”  

She also found that the MORTAR program and its homework assignments gave her the discipline she needed to reimagine where she wants to go.

“You have to find your real strengths and recognize your limitations. Up to that point, I was trying to do everything myself,” she said. “The MORTAR program helped me realize I need to invest more broadly in virtual assistants, including editors for my materials, and to get some marketing help, which I am still working on.”

As she’s learned to stop spreading herself too thin, she eliminated storefront space in Canton and New Philadelphia and has become more selective regarding her participation in community events. Instead she is focusing her resources on selling through wholesalers and a redesigned e-commerce site that she recently launched.

“I recognized that I need to think bigger if I am going to grow,” she said.

For now, Abraham continues to tutor children in grades 2nd through 8th,  as she positions Smile Inside for success.

“I have two incredible mentors, Jess Taylor and Natalie Ringeis from Love the Green Life, who are graduates of the MORTAR program. They’ve been great. They lift me up when I need it, which is gold,” she said. “There are a lot of incredible programs here in Akron. I encourage other aspiring entrepreneurs to find out what’s available. Ask questions. Be part of groups.”

She also encourages entrepreneurs to pace themselves as they grow.

“It’s not necessarily about thinking big. Think about yourself and your family. Take care of your physical and mental health. Know and respect your capabilities, and be smart about where you invest your time. For me, one big wholesale deal could fund me for a couple months, so I need to work smarter, not harder,” she said.

To learn more about Smile Inside, please visit

To learn more about MORTAR at Bounce, please

About the author:

Jill Wodtley, APR, is a freelance writer and owner of Fine Point Public Relations and Advertising. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, she develops and implements marketing communications, public relations and advertising initiatives for a variety of clients, ranging from health care and social service agencies to industrial/manufacturing firms.