Marisa Sergi is a third-generation winemaker and one of the forces behind L’uva Bella Winery. 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 one of her brands, RedHead Wine, now known as Red’s Wine. A few years later all her wines can be found in Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, DC and soon to be NC + SC. Due to the success of the Red’s brand, she acquired her family winery, L’uva Bella in 2020, 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.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Marisa Sergi: Entrepreneurship allows an individual to turn their passion into a potentially profitable business while expressing their individualism and creativity while doing so. This all happens when the person believes in their self, regardless of the circumstances, and push onward to think outside the box.
How did your company come to be?
MS: I originally created a brand called RedHead, now re-branded as “red,” during my time as undergrad. The brand was used as my capstone project to see if I could make a wine and bring it to the retail market. During this journey, I received positive feedback from industry professionals through pitch competitions. This allowed me to have a realization that my brand had a real chance at surviving a competitive market. This experience lead to my business partner and I acquiring the winery that produced Red in May 2020. I am currently the Chief Growth Officer at L’uva Bella Winery running our distribution and retail business, where we sell the Red Brand today.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
MS: I am fortunate to say that my business, L’uva Bella Winery, has not changed because of COVID-19. We are lucky to have retained all our employees in our winemaking facility and have been able to hire more positions in a community that has been hit hard by the pandemic.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
MS: I’d say my proudest moment so far was the day my business partner and I closed on the acquisition of L’uva Bella Winery in May 2020. We worked incredibly hard to make it happen, but also have goal to turn L’uva Bella nto a CPG company focusing on making modern wines for the everyday consumer. With this in mind, we ultimately want LB to be a place where our employees can enjoy their work, prosper and support our surrounding communities with more high paying jobs as we progress in this journey.
For my darkest moment, I’d say when a company we worked with in the past abused their power because they saw me as a young woman in the Industry. I was extremely hurt and disappointed in their sexiest and un-ethical practices but decided to stand up for myself and find a new partnership to replace them. What hurt the most is that I looked up to several leaders, who ultimately let me down. It is so important to have strength to stand up for what you believe in and know your worth, in a professional and or personal situation.
How is your company changing the landscape?
MS: We have changed a lot in the last ten months. We have re-branded two of the three core brands we sell at LB. We have invested an incredible amount of time and resources in our company culture to harbor our employees success, enjoyment at work and building a community within our organization.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
MS: Hindsight is 2020 – of course I have regrets or wish I knew certain things, but I would not change a thing because with every struggle, I have learned a lot and each experience makes me a better and more agile businesswoman.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
MS: Without a doubt, the best advice I can give is, “The answer is always ‘no’ if you do not ask.” If you embrace that statement, you can take fear out of trying something new or rejection. If you do not ask, you are already rejecting yourself – so you may as well just go for it and see what happens!
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
MS: I lean heavily on my business partner, Evan. He is an incredible problem solver and communicator. When I feel that I need extra support and clarity, he is my go-to!
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
MS: Success, to me, is being able to wake up every day and enjoy what you are doing. It is so important to be true to yourself and not carry out a moment, day or life for others. I found that the moment I started embracing who I really was and wanted, really great things began to happen. I encourage all to find success through something small, such as trying new things, or stop living for others and start living for yourself.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
MS: No, it has not. I have found little ways to find “success” in my life by just staying positive and leading my days with an attitude that I am going to do my best, no matter what the circumstances are. Of course, the pandemic has offered incalculable challenges, heart ache and much more for many, but I try to focus on the little moments that add to my happiness, or others happiness and well-being. Success is often defined as large milestones or accomplishments, but the moment you focus on what success can mean, beyond societies expectations, you can find your own joy and success.
What is it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
MS: I have a great business partner, Evan. We focus on making sure we communicate very often and clearly. It Is very important to have a defined roadmap for all individuals involved to follow and understand. I have found if there are moments the “lines blur” there can be confusion and even have mistakes be made. Overall, communication is key and understanding what communication style works best for each person involved.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
MS: I honestly do not have a routine. I do have habits that help harbor a clear mind, such as drinking a glass of water before I have any caffeine, or making sure I eat breakfast, but I do not feel the need to have a strict routine.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
MS: My employees keep me motivated. The harder I work and find ways to scale L’uva Bella, the more opportunities, resources, and things I can do to support my team.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
MS: [I want] to be remembered as someone who always put others first and did right by all.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
MS: I don’t necessarily have words of wisdom, but I always try to find a silver lining in any situation or put things in to perspective. Any situation can *usually* be worse and I shift my focus on what positive things are going on rather than the negative.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
MS: I have had many wonderful mentors. I do feel I had a lot of support through my university and community.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
MS: I had a wonderful mentor; he is a professor at Youngstown State University. He invested an incredible amount of time and energy into me that has impacted my life significantly. His mentorship inspired me to become an entrepreneur-in-residence at Cornell University – I have been an EIR since 2017 and it is great to pay it forward.
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