“I never thought I couldn’t do something—I just did it.”
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Co-Founder, Custom Financial Mortgage Company
Favorite professors: Lenny Price and Paul Pitcoff.
Adelphi memories: Protesting the Vietnam War with fellow students, including a sit-in on the Long Island Expressway, and traveling the country with film department classmates to produce the documentary It Takes Away Their Faces. The film included visits to American Indian Reservations and the segregated South of the 1970s.
Advice to students: “I never thought I couldn’t do something—I just did it. Remember the three T’s: Things Take Time.”
Redefining Entrepreneurial Spirit
As a junior at Adelphi University, Eileen Shaw spent her year studying in Denmark. While she learned the language and adapted to a new culture, she spent many hours at the potter’s wheel, never guessing that she was laying the groundwork for the first of many future entrepreneurial ventures.
When she graduated from Adelphi in 1973 and returned home to Massachusetts, a pottery studio in Cambridge seemed like a natural next step.
“My mother was an entrepreneur,” she says. “There was never any doubt that I would go to college and then work hard to make my own dreams come true.”
Ms. Shaw has spent a lifetime overcoming obstacles with creativity and determination. (As an undergraduate student, she used to hitchhike to her internship at the Creedmor Psychiatric Hospital because she didn’t own a car.) When she closed her pottery studio, she returned to school to complete a master’s degree in counseling, but soon realized that she was drawn to enterprise.
A film minor at Adelphi, she once created a documentary about prison inmates she was teaching, Ms. Shaw started Unicorn Video Productions in the late 1970s. For more than a decade, she wrote, directed, and produced industrial training and educational films, always refining her business skills. At its height, Unicorn Productions had more than 20 employees and was contracted by the federal government reproduce specialty videos and films.
In the early 1990s she and her husband saw an opportunity to help small businesses take advantage of the rise of credit cards, and began selling and distributing card processing machines to fellow entrepreneurs throughout the East Coast. When competition from wholesalers forced them to reassess their position a few years later, she shifted easily into the emerging online marketplace.
“I’d been to so many baby and bridal showers, I just had this great idea,” she says. “I launched Bridal Shower Bingo, and it really caught on. The Knot became one of my biggest clients, until again the competition caught up to us and it was time to explore something new.”
Undaunted, the husband and wife team re-focused their efforts on the mortgage lending industry. This time, they brought their son and son-in-law into the business and set about educating themselves for a new set of challenges.
“We had no idea what we were doing in that first year,” she says. “We needed to identify a niche, and we were able to capitalize on our own experience as self-employed small business owners. Who better to service nontraditional mortgage needs?”
Today, Custom Financial Mortgage conducts business in three states and continues to find new opportunities even in the most unpredictable of marketplaces.
When she’s not looking into new business ideas, Ms. Shaw dedicates herself to helping other organizations prosper. She serves as the chairman of the board of Woodward School for Girls, a private girls’ school and her alma mater. She and her husband Richard live in North Marshfield, Massachusetts.
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