Building a valuable business

Like all but the most confident entrepreneurs, Kathryn From used to question whether her company was really worth much. She doesn’t doubt her business anymore.

When From bought into Toronto-based Bravado Designs Inc. in 1997, the maker of nursing lingerie was struggling and mired in debt. She figured she could fix the firm and leave within three to five years: “My goal was always to grow and sell the business.”

The turnaround happened, but her departure didn’t. There were offers, but the timing didn’t seem right. That changed in 2006, after From became the majority shareholder. A series of financing crises led her all over North America to find money, which exhausted her and got her thinking about how to fund expansion in the long term.

From didn’t want to take on more debt or sell equity to a numbers-driven investor. Instead, she desired a strategic partner with an interest in growing the business. Enter Switzerland’s Medela AG, a giant in breastfeeding gear, which acquired Bravado for an undisclosed sum last March.

“This was no fire sale,” says From. During 18 months of negotiations, the entrepreneur was resolute in her demands, including the caveat that Bravado continue operating in a stand-alone fashion. All of From’s conditions were met. She continues to run the business as its managing director, and is pushing through lucrative doors opened by its new parent.

Although From appreciates the monetary rewards of the sale, she says the greatest gift is the external validation that comes with it. “My passion is building and running a good business,” says From. “The sale has given me a sense of satisfaction that we’ve built something of value.

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