CarolAnn Bauer is an Encore Entrepreneur in every sense. The 67 year-old is the winner of three entrepreneurial awards in the Asheville area.
Most notably, Bauer is the inventor of the first and only underwear for plus-size women and the owner of Dry Apron, LLC, the company that manufactures them.
Dry Apron's "no sweat underwear" is made of the same high-end wicking fabric used in athletic wear. The unique, patented design of these undergarments helps prevent intertrigo, a common, sometimes painful skin infection that can occur where folds of skin overlap and trap sweat.
Ms. Bauer had many milestones in her long journey to where she is today. There was the moment in 2016 when she decided she was the person to do something about the skin condition that plagued her and other women for years.
Bauer was long used to making her own clothes and even her own plus-size patterns. After hours and hours at her sewing machine experimenting with fabrics and designs, she finally got it right.
Bauer will always remember the day when her business agent showed her the official email from the U.S. government granting her a utility patent for her invention.
She recalls the first order from a “real” customer, not a friend or family member. “You can’t imagine how gratifying it was to know that someone was willing to pay money for my idea,” she said.
Then it was time to find serious funding for her invention. Even though she had been a 25-year activist for plus-size people, she said the idea of speaking in front of a crowd of strangers was "downright terrifying."
"Who do you think you are, believing you can run with the big dogs?” she would ask herself when her confidence flagged.
The Moment of Truth
Her moment of truth came in May 2019. As Bauer tells it, “I had heard about the Venture Asheville MicroGrants, and I thought it would be good practice on applying for funds. I applied, as did 98 other worthy start-up entrepreneurs; then I put it out of my mind. I had done my part and had no thoughts of anything going any farther.
About a week later, I received the email that I was one of the ten finalists for the five available grants. I was invited to do a 60-second pitch in front of 100 people. This gave ten of us a chance to show our stuff. I had my pitch timed out. I had my prompt cards. I was ready for those precious 60 seconds.
It was amazing. I ended up talking for over eight minutes. Everyone was listening and reacting, wanting to hear what I had to say. It was such a mind-blowing time. And then my name was called as one of the recipients. I was awarded $5,000 and it was astonishing!
Who would have believed that an overweight old woman from a poor family who didn’t go to a real college, never owned a new car, and always shopped at thrift stores and yard sales was being recognized and trusted with a significant amount of money. They were investing in me and my idea,” Bauer recalls.
With that seed money, Bauer perfected her design, beta-tested it, and contracted with a small local company to make the garments. Currently, she is working hard to get the word out about her product, knowing how much it will help other women who suffer from intertrigo.
Looking to starting a business? AARP has tools and resources that can help you start your own business -- from writing a business plan to figuring out how to get start-up funding. Learn more.