Why I Risked it all to be a Founder

Sheri Atwood and her daughter Janicya

Just a few years ago, I was vice president at a Fortune 500 company, traveling the world and quickly moving up in my career. I was also a single mother and a divorcee. I had a comfortable savings plan and enough money to provide a very comfortable life for my daughter and I. I also had a burning desire to do something that would make a difference in the world and build a company where each and every employee was rewarded for the results they delivered not the political games they played. And then I got the worse news a parent could get – I was told my daughter had to have brain surgery and she had to have it immediately. And it was at that time that I realized how much time and energy I was spending away from my daughter. It took an event like that to force me to think about my goals in life and I realized, if I was going to spend time and energy away from my daughter, I wanted to focus on something I felt could really make a difference in the world.

As a child of divorce, my siblings and I were constantly put in the middle and forced to witness the conflicts that occurred between my parents – especially when it came to money. I also witnessed firsthand my mother’s struggle to raise three children on her own – without a formal education. She used her street smarts to figure out a way to support us. I became the only one in my family to go to college and was also determined to get an MBA. I managed to finish 10 days before my daughter was born, while working a full time job. My mother always showed the only way to accomplish anything in life was through a lot of hard work, determination and never saying you couldn’t do something. She also instilled a sense of searching for better ways to solve problems – and to try not to repeat the mistakes of my past. After my daughter was born I faced my own divorce and swore I would never put my daughter through the conflicts my parents put us through.

My divorce was amicable. In fact, I did it myself and it cost us a total of $350. Yet, even in the most amicable situation I constantly struggled with sharing my daughter’s expense with her father. It was at that point, I realized there had to be a better way, not only for myself put also for the nearly 300 million parents globally that were struggling with this same issue.  

Managing my daughter’s expenses with my ex was became a weekly dreaded routine where we’d have to track one another down for payments and reminders of upcoming bills. My ex and I had agreed on a child support arrangement, but the other expenses (child care, medical expenses, extracurricular activities, etc.) that aren’t clearly defined by our agreement were creating a lot of tension and impacting our ability to effectively co-parent my daughter. I looked for a solution, and to my surprise, there was nothing on the market that addressed this huge, conflict ridden, costly and time consuming issue. I spoke with numerous parents, who like us, took no issue in paying their child support each month but found the logistics of the process and the payments difficult. 

My daughter’s surgery was the moment where I decided I was going to take the jump to solve the problem I had been struggling with for so many years. So, I took the huge risk and created a startup of my own – Ittavi (an acronym for “it takes a village”) and focused on our first product SupportPay, the first-ever automated child support payment platform built specifically for parents to manage payments and share expenses.

With SupportPay, parents have a private, secure and fully automated payment platform to standardize the child support billing and payment process. The software does all the calculations, tracking and reminders for you, so you don’t have to worry or fight about it. Parents can submit expenses, store receipts, and make payments to each other, or directly to other third-party recipients, to pay for items such as medical care, education, child care or extra-curricular activities. Payments are managed through several online payment gateways all without ever having to track down missing checks or share bank details with your ex.

Using SupportPay all the money-related issues or questions are contained in the system – eliminating the need to discuss these things during visits and drop-offs with your children. SupportPay also archives all transactions to create a full certified record – which can be used for court or tax purposes. Parents can use the system to pay and track alimony and family support, and easily download a record at the end of the year – making tax season much less daunting. Now parents could stop arguing over money and using that energy on what matters most – raising happy, healthy children.

I’m thrilled to have taken SupportPay by Ittavi this far. It’s not easy being a female entrepreneur in the tech start-up space, and even more difficult being a middle-aged woman in this industry. I’m forging a new road in a space that hasn’t seen any change or innovation, and that has made many skeptical. I am not the young, male, Ivy League educated founder most investors are used to seeing in Silicon Valley. But I am an experienced, female professional determined to solve a real problem that impacts so many people in this world. It is that determination and drive that has gotten me through the rejection, the lack of a salary and the bumps in the road – and has kept me focused on the reason I started this in the first place – to build a company that could make a difference in the world.

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