Her big dreams, pride in American-made products and passion for supporting our troops have helped sew a money-making business partnership

BISMARCK, ND  — On April 5, 2004, University of Mary freshmen Lisa (Dobbs) Bradley (Columbus, MT), and Lori (Petoske) Yunker (Midland, SD), wowed a panel of five judges with their can-do spirit, business plan and entrepreneurial idea of Distex. They won first place after presenting their feminine hygiene disposable product at University of Mary’s popular Entrepreneurship Fair, or E-Fair — part of the Harold Schafer Emerging Leaders Academy at the Gary Tharaldson School of Business. A daylong event where students, some in teams, would have a short amount of time to pitch their product and business plan to judges — successful local business men and women that volunteered their time, wisdom and constructive feedback as to why ideas would fail or succeed. At stake, $2,000 in cash prizes, trophies and a priceless chance at further mentorship from the judges.

“The University of Mary and E-Fair gave me the opportunity to try my hand at business in a real-life scenario and I discovered I truly enjoyed it,” commented Bradley, who was traveling to her retail shop in North Carolina.

Many competing students referred to it as the “firing squad” — an opportunity for judges to shoot holes into an idea or concept before it could move on to the next step, but more importantly, an experience of a lifetime for the students to battle test their product and toughen their skin, so to speak, during presentation.

“Their help was invaluable, but they also told us they were not helping us for personal benefit,” said Bradley. “They wanted to offer advice and mentorship because when they were young, they had mentors that encouraged and inspired them. The only thing asked in return was that we do the same in the future.”

R.Riveter cofounders Cameron Cruse (left) and Lisa Bradley (right) show one of their handbags in their shop.

R.Riveter cofounders Cameron Cruse (left) and Lisa Bradley (right) show one of their handbags in their shop.

Now, 12 years later, Lisa (Dobbs) Bradley is putting that experience into practice and reliving it on a much larger scale with the hit reality TV show called “Shark Tank.” Bradley and her new business partner and cofounder, Cameron Cruse, hope to convince business moguls Mark Cuban, Lori Grenier, Kevin O’Leary, Daymond John, and Robert Herjavec that their company, R. Riveter, is worthy of a Shark investment on “Shark Tank,” airing this Friday, Feb 5, 2016, at 8 p.m., (CT) on ABC.    

“Being 18 and getting in front of a panel of very successful business leaders at the time was just as intimidating as the self-made millionaires on Shark Tank—minus the intimidation of being on national television,” added Bradley. “You could say the E-Fair experience started prepping me for the Tank”.

Riveter is a throwback to the courageous and spirited days of Rosie the Riveter during World War II. Their rriveter.comwebsite tells the story of how Bradley and Cruse, both military spouses, armed themselves with a big idea and one small sewing machine. Their mission began in Cruse’s attic making stylish handbags and totes out of recycled army tent canvas and surplus uniforms and blankets. The business has grown to equip around a dozen fellow military spouses, or “riveters,” with materials wherever they may be stationed across the country — allowing them to support their husband’s military career. Each bag comes complete with a dog tag and yellow “support the troops” ribbon.

One of the variety of handmade handbags made by R.Riveter cofounded by University of Mary alumna Lisa Bradley

One of the variety of handmade handbags made by R.Riveter cofounded by University of Mary alumna Lisa Bradley

“As military spouses, my cofounder and I had the opportunity to learn first-hand that frequent moves were a way of life,” said Bradley. “Even with a great college education, it is difficult for military spouses to pursue or maintain a single career path. Cameron and I knew we wanted to empower those women, who were constantly on the move, by providing them with a way to carry their job with them. Our riveters are military spouses, coast to coast, who handcraft parts of our handbags from their homes and then ship them to our shop in Southern Pines, NC, for assembly. The goal has always been to help as many military spouses as we could. So any chance we had to grow our business we were going to take, even if there were risks involved.”

Taking risks, helping others pursue the American dream of starting their own business and finding an entrepreneurial passion or cause continue to be hallmarks of the Gary Tharaldson School of Business today. Lessons Bradley took to heart at Mary and continue with her to this day.

One of the variety of handmade handbags made by R.Riveter cofounded by University of Mary alumna Lisa Bradley

One of the variety of handmade handbags made by R.Riveter cofounded by University of Mary alumna Lisa Bradley

“R.Riveter has always dreamed of expanding west, to help more military spouses across the country,” explained Bradley. “We are really trying to change the face of at-home work, whether a military spouse or not. We are one of the few companies that allow you to set your own hours, work at home, and be ensured an opportunity to earn an income.”