Aisha McCain didn't set out to create a business. She was in recovery from a serious surgery and had a lot of time on her hands. She noticed what the hospital gave to her for her surgical drains was uncomfortable and was out in the open for all to see. So Aisha invented a garment to collect the surgical drains while also giving her dignity from the sight of having to watch it. After multiple surgeries and spending a lot of time in the hospital, she had more time on her hands.
Aisha said, "My doctor saw it while I was in the hospital. I wore it, and he was like, this is brilliant. Everybody that has surgery could use this. You need to get a patent. You need to do this. You need to do that. And so I was like, yeah, he's tripping, you know?" She had no idea where to start, but after watching a few episodes of Shark Tank, she thought, "I could do this."
At the time, she was on disability and didn't have a lot of income. She asked her brother to borrow some money, and she hired a patent attorney who didn't believe that it would be possible for her to receive a patent because of the simplicity of the designs. He said she was wasting her money. But that didn't stop her from creating Casual Recovery, that provides drain support garments for people in recovery from surgeries.
Aisha said, "Not really having experience in the business world. I think it made me fearless, you know, I was like, I'm going to get a patent. I'm going to ask my surgeon to do a study. I'm going to get FDA approval, and insurance will cover this, no problem."
Aisha received her patent 485 days later while in the ICU unit, having another surgery. She said, "I got my FDA registration, filled out an application for reimbursement code, got the reimbursement code, hired a corporate attorney. It gave me purpose through all these surgeries, so I just kept going."
The standard of care for post-surgical drains was a simple safety pin. There was no direct competition. Blood would be bubbling in and around the safety pin for months, creating an unpleasant experience for all patients. Since moving forward on her mission, the right people have come along. Her emergency room doctor became her chief medical officer.
Aisha never lost her faith. "I just started attracting the right people and just believing. I mean, there has been a hell of struggles and discouragements and things where I could've said, ah, this ain't going to work, but I'm just not discouraged that easily, you know?"
What's the biggest fear you had during your business journey?
Aisha has put a lot of money into creating Casual Recovery. Often it has come down to paying her office rent and going to the dentist. She has struggled with juggling her finances to make her business work. Aisha didn't have any fears. But because she was previously diagnosed with cancer, she feared that she wouldn't get to live to see her business through. However, now that Aisha knows more about business, there is always room for improvement; other than that, she has no fears.
What's the biggest risk you've taken in your life thus far?
"I've gambled a lot of money," said Aisha. Like most entrepreneurs juggling finances, she had to make tough decisions, such as choosing between dental care and putting money towards her business. Aisha also said, "The biggest risk I've taken is just the risk of believing, you know, not letting other people's opinions and what they have to say discourage my belief."
Tell us about a major setback in your business and how did you recover.
Much of Aisha's setbacks came from her physical state of being. When she started Casual Recovery, she had 14 surgeries. Part of her recovery was working on the business. It gave her something to do, which prevented her from falling prey to depression.
The next major setback was receiving funding. Despite having everything approved for her invention, such as insurance reimbursement, and FDA approval, she wasn't receiving the funding opportunities quickly enough to help her business scale and didn't know who to talk to. Aisha has six other patents pending and has created pediatric superheroes to support children in recovery. Another hurdle Aisha is working through is learning to be a good manager and managing people who need to receive compensation.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was Aisha's first pitch competition. She was extremely nervous because she didn't view herself as a public speaker. Pitching live, she could feel her hands shaking in front of the audience. Aisha said, "There were several times when I was like, I'm not going to do this. I'm just going to drop out because I can't memorize this, or I'm too nervous."
What kept her going was the support that she received. She said, "But BGV, the people that worked there were super encouraging, like, you got this, you could do it, that really helped a lot. Pitch practice helped a lot. It was super organized and very on point, as it should be." Aisha was excited to meet some of the partners at pitch practice, such as PIMCO. She said, "But also super excited to meet everyone in person. And more like I don't want to disappoint my community that has cheered for me, coached me, and been here for me for the last two years.
I've got to be on point. I need to have my stuff together. So I just said that pitch a thousand times until I finally memorized it. It was super magical. There was a lot of support there. It felt really pure, like genuine. My sisters flew out, and my god mom was there, so I had family support, so it was really cool. The energy was amazing. All the other ladies that were pitching were amazing too. They were supportive. It felt like a little sisterhood.
And many opportunities—I talked to PIMCO and PayPal afterward. The head of diversity and inclusivity and PayPal has kept in touch with me. I felt seen finally in a way that I wanted to be seen."
When asked about the crowdfunding portion and getting the votes, Aisha felt that was the easiest part for her. She believes if people believe in you and humanly connects with you, they'll vote for you. Aisha asked people who had some extra money and asked for their votes. She didn't wait until the last minute and consistently outreached before the competition. What made a huge difference was getting people involved with the process from the beginning so that they're just as excited as you are.
Aisha said, "I didn't know I was going to raise that much, truly. In the world, what we give out is what we give back, right? So if you're a good person and you're giving out good love and good vibes and energy, and you're supportive of people in their journeys of whatever it may be, then you're going to get that same support back."
Casual Recovery plans to use the funds for production to produce more garments and to pay salaries. However, Aisha intends to let the money sit in the bank first to apply for business credit. This shows that she knows how to secure funding and provides some validation for when she networks with more investors.
Her advice to those looking to pitch is, "Well, one thing that really helped me is I've been a member of this community for two years, so I've come to co-working. I've been at Pitch Practices and learned from all of the women in this ecosystem, right? So that helped to prepare me because I didn't even know what a pitch competition was two years ago.
I advise anybody that's thinking about pitching or joining a competition to join the community. Don't just come to the pitch competition, like join the community, get the community support, get that vibe and that love, so you're not just looking at it like, oh, I'm just coming to win some money.
Because I didn't look at it like, oh, I'm coming to win some money. I'm like, BGV has poured into me so much, and I have to show them that what they've poured into me really changed and helped me grow. Have your s*** together, practice, and learn about the community. Know your vision and be laser-focused.
And it's not about winning or losing, you know, it's about showcasing your business in front of an amazing audience. So you may not win first place, but you may make a deal. That's worth more than anything."
Support is not always given to women of color in business. When has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Aisha said, "Throughout this journey, especially trying to fundraise, it has really hurt me the most—like, this is crazy, it doesn't make sense, but why am I out here like begging when I actually have a viable bomba** business that could change the standard of care? It's medically insured, reimbursable, there's no reason—but I don't have the look or the conversation or the email skills or, you know, I'm not playing golf."
It's been hard for Aisha to watch her counterparts pitch nonviable businesses and receive funding twice what she would be given. Regardless of persevering through it all, she said, "Don't get me wrong, like I've cried about it, and I'm not a crier. I've just been ready to give up at some points. Bet on me. I'm a safe bet, man. Bet on me. Imagine if I did all this with nothing; what I could do if I had some money?"
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business?
Aisha has learned that it's important to work with people based on their skill sets and not based on the friendship that you have. If the people you decide to partner with don't have the skills necessary to move the business forward, then the business won't gain any momentum. She suggests, "Look outside of your ecosystem. There are people that want to work with you or may help you that are not in your personal ecosystem."
Aisha encourages entrepreneurs to believe in themselves and what they're creating. She said, "Like you have to believe what you're doing. If you're not a hundred percent, ten toes down about what you're doing, then it's a hobby. It's not entrepreneurship, 'cause entrepreneurship is every day, no matter how you feel."
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
Entrepreneurs need to be positive, so they don't allow people to discourage them. Following positivity is perseverance. Aisha said, "Like Omi says, entrepreneurship is a boxing ring. So if you're not ready to take a few blows, this ain't for you The BGV pitch competition opened doors for me that were not already open."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Like many entrepreneurs, Aisha enjoys the creative aspect of her business. She enjoys innovating and coming up with new solutions for problems that need to be solved. Aisha believes everyone is an inventor because everyone has ideas they've thought about and a few years later have watched that idea come to life. The difference is acting on that idea.
Aisha said, "So, just knowing that I can. And doing and creating is probably the best part. Then just knowing that I'm going to help people recover with dignity. Kids are going to be empowered by the superheroes. Creating and putting good out in the world."
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Aisha said, "Black and Brown women are fierce, and they are just naturally persevering creatures. Because I mean, it's not easy out here, you know, in this world. And that's not just fundraising; it's in medicine and getting doctors to believe you. And it's in so many aspects of being judged.
But, like the future and the next year, I don't know, but hopefully, the future will have people not just saying they want to help but actually helping. I think there are so many Black and Brown women founders that if they had the right ecosystem, the right team, and the right funding, that could really change the game."
We deal with so much in our lives. And so if we made it from there to here, like we're a safe bet, we're a safer bet than Fred because we're not going to have a nervous breakdown if something doesn't work well, s*** doesn't work out, we pivot, right? We have all mastered the art of the pivot and figuring things out.
So I hope that when we make it to a point where we can give back, we don't turn into those people. We invest in our communities and in people who persevere and scrappers and fighters who make something out of nothing. We know how to make something out of nothing.
So I don't know, hopefully, BGV gets more support, and they can help more. That's a trick question because I want to say all positive things about what I think the future holds. But I've seen what the present holds, so I don't know about the future. All I can do is just hope and pray we can all just try to support one another."
If you and I were meeting 3 years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Aisha hopes to continue her mission, especially with her life-saving asthma technology that honors her sister, who passed away from asthma. She trusts that a few years from now, her superheroes will be well known the same way children can identify Disney and Marvel characters, and kids love them just the same. Lastly, she hopes that Casual Recovery is financially stable.
Being a business owner is a tough job. How do you take care of yourself?
Aisha credits plant medicines that have supported her emotionally and physically. She uses meditation and prayer and writing poetry to work through some of her mental health challenges. Luckily Aisha has friends and go-to people when she's not feeling as strong that she can have a good cry with.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"Nothing's gonna stop me."
What book and podcast would you recommend?
Book: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Bible, The Quran, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
Podcast: Omi's podcast
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
Name one food item you have a hard time saying no to.
What's next for Casual Recovery?
Casual Recovery is doing a production run and will be laser-focused on fundraising. They will be networking, reaching out to people, and changing the standard of care for people in recovery.
Any last words…
Aisha said, "BGV rides for me. I mean, it's like you joined this organization of women, and you meet female entrepreneurs from all over the country in different stages of business with all kinds of businesses. You come, and you're like, what are you working on? Can I help you with something? Do you need anything? And you suddenly have an ecosystem of sisters. You know, it's the seniority of sisterhood that you can pick up the phone and call Dana, yo, I need help with this. Or, what do you think...I called Omi the other day. I'm about to do this pitch competition for Med Starter, and I'm nervous. How do I not be nervous? So it's the encouragement and the support."