Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price visited Solstice Strategy Partners where she received reiki treatment and learned about the startup’s innovative approach to blending leadership development, coaching, digital health, intuitive counseling, and energy healing.
The Tolland, CT-based startup was launched in 2013 by Co-Founders Delanea Davis and Rita Faith MacRae.
PRICE: What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always know you wanted to run your own business?
MacRAE: I wanted to be the President of the United States of America when I grew up. I was always reaching really high. Then I learned along the way, maybe I don’t want to be President, but I want to be in charge. That’s what sort of led me to wanting to own my own company. I want to be my own CEO. I want to be my own boss.
PRICE: What about you, Delanea?
DAVIS: I always loved the excitement of not knowing what each chapter of my life would look like. Picking one path and committing to it felt too predictable! I love waking up each day not knowing how the day will unfold. In our line of work, there is no telling where the day goes when the phone rings and it is client calling. The element of surprise has always been a must for me, along with the freedom to do the job creatively.
PRICE: Tell us a little about your backgrounds.
MacRAE: I always loved to work and I always loved to do a good job. I always loved psychology. I have a psychology major from Mount Holyoke. And I’ve been doing this my whole life—counseling people, just listening to them telling me their business. I have a soft spot for that.
PRICE: You give off that energy. You are a very nurturing individual.
MacRAE: Thank you. I just feel like there’s not as much compassion as I would like to see in the world. You have to start somewhere. So I try to be compassionate with myself and with anyone I meet. Who knows their story?
DAVIS: My background is in market research, business strategy, and mentoring/coaching others in their careers. I love examining business problems and professional challenges to find creative solutions for improving performance, regardless of the area.
PRICE: How did you develop the business concept for Solstice Strategy Partners?
MacRAE: I worked for the state for 15 years. I worked in the prison system as a counselor and I worked at the State of Connecticut Department of Social Services. I have a Master’s in Education. I love to teach. I’m also a nurse. I still have homecare patients.
But there was always something missing, something just wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t until I met Delanea at a mediumship workshop in 2013. I knew right away we were going to do business together. That was the first energetic messaging I got from her.
DAVIS: We had no idea at the time what that meant, but somehow knew together we would do something unique and very impactful.
MacRAE: After the workshop Delanea and I exchanged information and started hanging out together. I remember one night about three years ago we had all these cut up colored squares. We both took a bunch. She said: If we were going to own a business, what would you want to have in the business? We put each thought on a square. Before we knew it, we had an entire whiteboard full of words like “Personal Development,” “Work/Life Balance,” “Energy Healing,” and “Global Impact.”
Two years after we launched Solstice Strategy Partners, Delanea was cleaning and came across the board with we all of our colored squares. Everything we had written down on each square was here. When we wrote them all down, we didn’t know how it was all going to be here. We didn’t know what was going to transpire.
PRICE: That sort of leads into asking about the services you provide. How do they all tie together?
MacRAE: It’s funny because our first year of business everyone we talked to said: How do you all fit? They didn’t understand. I did personal counseling and energy healing while Delanea focused on business consulting.
For a year we kept things separate. She had her book of business and I had mine. I came from doing clinical counseling and I wanted to do spiritual counseling instead. I had received many different trainings for Masters in energy healings in many different modalities, which I loved. I ran workshops and groups but I wanted to up the ante.
Many days the two of us would be in the office together. Delanea would be seeing different business owners, executives, and CEOs who were strategizing about the next steps to take their business. She ended up doing a lot of counseling because she was hearing different things that were happening to the business owners—not just about their business, but at home, personal things. Eventually, she began directing the business owners to me.
Suddenly I was working with all of these people who were realizing their behavior at work was directly aligned with things that were happening in their personal lives. And it just created this model. Delanea and I realized: This is how we are connected.
DAVIS: We realized that as much as people attempt to compartmentalize their lives, everything interconnects. You have your life at work, your life at home, and your relationship with yourself. Most people neglect one or two areas. When this happens, you are sub-optimized. Balancing your energy across all three requires awareness and the desire to live life more peacefully and easily.
MacRAE: We started to create wellness programs and talks for CEOs, executives, and business owners. We wanted to work with the ones at the top and then work our way down. Not starting in reverse. That’s our model and that’s what we do. We go straight to the head because if they’re not on board and they don’t want to change the culture of the company and really take an honest look at what’s actually going on, then it doesn’t matter what we do with the employees and middle-management.
We found great success in starting from the top and working our way down. Because once we work with someone, they have their own experience and they have their own epiphanies. They are speaking from that voice and no longer focusing on just being in charge and running their company. We are changing the paradigm of how businesses are run and how successful businesses can be run.
PRICE: How are you building a customer base?
MacRAE: Most the business has been word-of-mouth—and we love that. That’s the best marketing that we can ever have, for someone to have their own positive experience. Even if they don’t know how it works. They know they feel better after they’ve worked with us.
Part of our motto is: No matter when you come in or why you come in, you will feel better when you leave from here. Whatever the reason. Whether you feel more confident or you feel more at ease.
PRICE: Rita Faith, with regard to the energy healing, do you do that with every client?
MacRAE: Yes, everyone. There some form of energy healing that happens every time somebody comes into our space, from the moment they walk in. Sometimes they don’t even notice it.
PRICE: How many clients do you have?
DAVIS: Collectively, we have worked with more than 100 individuals and businesses since we’ve started. We see some clients regularly. Most work with us for a few months, then resurface and reach out when they need us down the road. Our door is always open. We consider our clients like members of our extended family. You can always come home.
PRICE: And where is your client base?
MacRAE: Most of our clients are in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. We’re just starting to expand beyond our area to other states.
Another arm of Solstice is we offer what we call our “success coaching program. We love coaching. There’s a little bit of everything involved, which is what we do anyway. You have that personal connection on an ongoing basis, which is how you really create change.
For example, we did a one-day training for a group of 27 executives and employees. We talked about business, spiritual practices, culture, and triangulation. We created a study for their leadership team, highlighting the things they wanted to talk about. A lot of it was around communication. They also wanted to talk about innovative ideas and how to generate them, and how to keep people excited about their jobs.
PRICE: Speaking of someone being excited about their job. Let’s talk about your connection with Nerac President and CEO Kevin Bouley.
MacRAE: Our bookkeeper Jan Rubino knows Kevin very well. She told us: I really need to introduce you. He has this amazing company and he’s helping develop all these different innovation companies.
So, Kevin was on our radar, but we weren’t sure how meeting him would benefit Solstice. Once we were about a year into the company, we sort of went down this tech track. We hadn’t done anything with technology up until that point. But Delanea and I were having a white boarding session about where we saw the future of Solstice. We kept asking ourselves: How can we serve more people faster and at a broader range? We know we want to go global, but we didn’t know how to get there. We knew only providing in-house services, it would take a long time for us to go global.
DAVIS: Once we began attending Kevin’s XCellR8 “Shark Tank” meetings, we were immediately inspired. Hearing so many passionate entrepreneurs and a sea of brilliant business leaders giving advice expanded our thinking. We would leave these meetings full of excitement and a belief that just about anything is possible.
MacRAE: So, we started talking about technology and how we could be innovative. We decided to do an app, thinking we could provide meditations or have some sort of program that people could log into.
It was then we met with Kevin to talk about how we could bridge the gap with technology and energy medicine and Eastern and Western protocols. He has helped us to formulate how to actually make this into something. These are big-scale ideas, how do we actually make it into something tangible? How do we prove its efficacy? How do we go about doing this?
DAVIS: We decided to bring reiki to life in an audio-visual way, targeting specific disease states. After a lot of research, we agreed that obesity and pain management were two disease states that need addressing in our country.
Coincidentally, Holyoke Medical Center just launched a new weight loss surgery practice led by very visionary, innovative doctor named Ionnis Raftopolous. He saw the immediate value in our concept, and believes our app can improve patient compliance to doctor advice and accelerate healing time after surgery. We next met with Holyoke Medical’s CEO, Spiros Hatiras, who expressed his interest in ways to manage pain without a reliance on opiates. It is our hope that Holyoke will become our clinical testing site later this year. Those conversations are still underway.
MacRAE: For the software build, we are working with a company in East Hartford that specializes in virtual reality. Now we need to find different grants to fund the program. We’ve done our own personal round. We’ve done the friends and family around, that’s gotten us to this point.
PRICE: Have you done any other funding?
MacRAE: We’ve gone to Connecticut Innovations and explored the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Small Business Express Program. It is time to re-engage them as we have made a lot of progress since we spoke with them last. We want to do all that we can do ourselves and exhaust that before we take more from Connecticut or take a loan.
PRICE: So why Connecticut? Why Tolland?
MacRAE: We love Tolland. The fact that Nerac is here is just awesome. We didn’t know that going in.
Right now there’s no business that does what we do anywhere in our 15- to 20-mile radius. That’s a really big selling point for us. We’ve built relationships with a lot of wonderful local businesses here in Tolland, too, including the yoga studio and the natural foods market.
PRICE: So it’s small businesses helping small businesses and building a community.
MacRAE: It really is. Big time. That’s been very helpful. And it’s nice to work with other small businesses and for them to call us. That happens because we’ve built these relationships.
PRICE: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a startup?
DAVIS: There is no proxy for firsthand experience. You really have to be “in it,” in your own business, to know what it takes day in and day out. You learn lessons the hard way. While mentors and journal articles help, you really have to experience and learn by doing.
Right now, we are learning everything we can about raising capital. As one mentor put it, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs.” We’ve had dozens of exploratory conversations and soft pitches. We walk away from every one smarter. We’ve talked to angels, venture capital groups, Fortune 100s… We are grateful for people like Kevin Bouley who continue to cheer us on and say, “Keep going!”
PRICE: Aside from Nerac and Connecticut Innovations, any other local resources you’ve tapped into?
MacRAE: The Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Hartford was pivotal and so key to us. Every month they had so many different classes. Some of were bare bones, fundamental classes that helped address questions like: Do I really want to do this?
Entrepreneurship is not for the meek. There is so much to figure out. For instance, getting out of that steady paycheck and determining how that rhythm works. You don’t really know when you’re going to be paid or you may have to create a new way of being paid, and how does that work?
It was validating to hear: This is normal. These are things that other business owners deal with. It’s not something you’re doing wrong. This is the new rhythm you have to get into.
It’s a whole different kind of thinking you have to create without ever having done that before. Just that alone it was very helpful, being able to talk to different business owners in a layman’s kind of way. If you don’t really know what you don’t know, or don’t know what you need, that makes it very difficult to make a plan.
PRICE: How do you define entrepreneurship in one word?
DAVIS: Man-versus-self! Every day, you need to shoot out of your own personal cannon and keep going, keep believing. Having a community of other business owners to lean on is key because no one can support an entrepreneur like other entrepreneurs who have been through the highs and lows.
MacRAE: I would say courage. It doesn’t matter what kind of business, it doesn’t matter how do you decide you want to lay it out, it’s having the courage to know you can do it. Even taking the leap you already had to have the courage. Just do it. Because if you fall flat on your face, you can just get up.
PRICE: You have a sign on your wall here that reads, “When you begin to ask why, say why not?”
MacRAE: Exactly. Why not me? Why not this? Why not now?
To learn more about Solstice Strategy Partners, visit www.solsticestrategypartners.com.