ECU grad and entrepreneur shifts focus to help local medical community

A recent East Carolina University graduate and small business owner has started making face shields to help the local medical community during the COVID-19 crisis.

Taylor Walden owns Simple and Sentimental, a Greenville-based online and storefront operation that creates unique, personalized gifts. Before the pandemic, its operation was running smoothly.

“We were in the process of acquiring new suppliers to get our product costs down and planning out the rest of the year,” said Walden, who earned a business administration degree in 2019.  “We were shipping out 50 orders per day.”

Now three employees are working from home under Greenville’s Stop the Spread order, while Walden and her husband, Nick, are running the company’s daily operations.

“Today, we literally do a happy dance if we get an online order,” says Walden. “Weddings are being canceled and postponed. Brides are not looking to buy wedding decor, bridesmaid gifts or anything else for their wedding because the outlook is so uncertain.”

What is certain is the Waldens’ commitment to give back to the community they call home. In a Facebook group of laser engravers, group members were sharing plans for producing personal protective equipment. On March 25, Simple and Sentimental began producing face shields for Greenville-area hospitals.

They started a GoFundMe account, and for every $8 raised, they can produce one face shield.

Taylor Walden uses Simple and Sentimental’s laser engraver to create parts for face shields the company is producing.

Taylor, left, and Nick, wanted to do something to help. After joining a Facebook group of laser engravers, they decided to produce face shields for health care workers.

Taylor, left, and Nick Walden of Simple and Sentimental raised enough funds to produce 295 face shields.

“So far, we have raised funds to make 295 face shields,” said Walden. “We have manufactured 116 face shields. We are currently waiting on more supplies to arrive so we can keep making them and sending them out.”

Walden, the inaugural winner of the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge, the signature business pitch competition of the Miller School of Entrepreneurship, called Miller School instructor David Mayo after she had the idea to create the face shields.

“I reached out for advice on how to move forward,” said Walden. “He (Mayo) gave me the idea of crowdfunding instead of directly reaching out to hospitals to fund the materials. I would have never thought of that on my own. I’m glad that even as an alumna, I’m still part of the Miller School family and can reach out for help when I need it.”

For now, Walden keeps a positive spirit for her company and her employees. “The pandemic has shown me how important it is to stay positive and maintain a ‘the show must go on’ mentality,” said Walden. “My heart breaks for those who have passed away or fallen ill to COVID-19. However, during this crisis, I still have to move my business forward.”

“Our community … will get through this,” she said.