Diary of a Startup Goddess: Marisa Sergi, CEO of RedHead Wine
Originally published June 22, 2020
“Success” is a word that has countless meanings and exerts an individualized emotive. More often than not, success in the business world is part of the machismo culture. However, when a woman steps into that world, she defies expectation, overcomes obstacles, and shatters the patriarchy.
For a woman, the struggles of creating her own business may seem amplified and tiresome, inducing a sense of hopelessness. ink.mdc created this blog series, “Diary of a Startup Goddess”, because just one story can uplift any woman from such disillusionment. We’ve invited businesswomen, who have broken the glass ceiling who have redefined entrepreneurship, to tell their story because we want to encourage other women to pursue their passions. Join us each month for one of these incredible stories! If you are a startup goddess and want to share your story, email us and let us know.
Marisa Sergi, CEO of RedHead Wine, shares her inspiring story with us as a young entrepreneur.
Brooke German (BG): Why did you decide to start your company, RedHead Wine?
Marisa Sergi (MS): I have always had a passion for wine, creativity, and thinking outside the box. During my undergraduate studies at Cornell University, I had to complete a capstone project to graduate from the viticulture and enology program. Typically, most students conduct traditional research, focusing on fermentation or vineyard management. I knew I wanted to do something a little different, so I asked if I could create a wine and design a label, with hopes to document the process from start to finish. The project proposal was approved, and I was off to the races. I developed the idea of RedHead in 2012 and brought it to the market in 2013. The written aspects of my project got me involved in business plan competitions, where I realized that RedHead Wine could become more than just a project. The idea soon became a brand I wanted to pursue full time, and I am so glad to have had this opportunity, which led me to now own a company that I enjoy building.
BG: What was it like being a CEO at the age of 23?
MS: Being in charge of your destiny, especially when it comes to work, is challenging, yet empowering. It has helped shape me into the person I am today because it allowed me to find my voice and fulfill all of my deepest passions and ideas without having to be rejected by other hierarchies. Being a CEO means that you are in charge of writing your own story, but through something, you can share with others. It’s great to experiment with various ideas when it comes to new products, marketing, events, and meeting new people throughout the journey. The best part of owning a company, regardless of age, is the vast diversity of people you meet because of community involvement, networking, and being in stores that sell the wines.
BG: Do you feel that being a woman made things different or harder for you?
MS: It’s hard to say because I like to look at obstacles as challenges I can overcome. I can say I have been judged because I am a woman and not taken as seriously as my male counterparts. Still, it is equally important to use these moments and showcase that regardless of gender, I add value because I am educated and have a lot to offer. I look to improve any situation or project I am involved in. I have hope that my outlook on specific conditions can help pave the way for women who find themselves in similar jobs.
BG: What are some hardships you encountered during your first year?
MS: The biggest challenge I faced was not understanding how to utilize my time. I felt like I had a long laundry list of items to complete; I just wanted to go for it. But, I learned that certain things needed prioritization over others, and I learned how to best use my time to move the company forward.
BG: Did you have support starting your business? If so, what did it mean to you? If not, do you have advice for others who don’t have support?
MS: I had a lot of support, but I also had certain people who did negate my dreams, goals, and will to pursue the venture. It is essential to surround yourself with as much positivity as possible and ignore/cut out people who aren’t there to bring you up. It was challenging to have people who were mean and unsupportive. If you don’t look past it, their words and actions can discourage you. The best advice I can give is networking events or utilizing social media to connect with others who have similar interests and goals. You will find your tribe!
BG: How do you feel our society can create an extensive support system (for all female entrepreneurs, content creators, and business owners) where inclusivity and representation are valued?
MS: Society has already created an extensive support system for this: social media. Yes, we need to be more progressive and put more pressure on certain groups or organizations to be more inclusive. A few short decades ago, the internet did not exist, and many minorities felt even more excluded and alone. There are a multitude of diverse groups online that you can join to find support, give a helping hand, and inspire others to pave the way for change and opportunities. If you do not feel comfortable chatting or networking with groups, social media allows you to reach out to individuals to find that support that you may identify with or want mentorship from. The more we stick together, the louder our voices are heard to champion change!
Marisa Sergi ’15’, 26, a third-generation winemaker, is one of the forces behind L’uva Bella / RedHead Wine. After earning a B.S in winemaking from Cornell University and moving to California to work for the largest winery in the U.S., she moved back to Ohio to launch RedHead. Just a few years later, RedHead Wine can now be found state-wide in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and soon to be in Kentucky. Due to the success of the brand, she acquired the family winery, L’uva Bella, where Marisa develops and executes multiple brands. This has earned L’uva Bella the title of one of Ohio’s fastest growing wine companies and being recognized by the world’s largest retailer as a “Lead Supplier.”
Marisa is not only passionate about wine, but also the entrepreneurial spirit. Over the past few years, Marisa has spoken to over 50,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and continues to mentor students as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Cornell. (Bio courtesy of Cornell).
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Brooke German is a graduate of Youngstown State University, and she holds a bachelor's degree in professional and technical writing.
Brooke is ink.'s editor-in-chief. Not only does she love editing, she has the experience to back it! Her editing projects include articles, websites, brochures, books, and more.
In her spare time, you can find Brooke reading—usually two books at one time.