From the time she was a college student more than 30 years ago, Cheryl Saucier knew she wanted to spend her career supporting people with vision impairments in living active and fulfilling lives.
"This technology and these services change lives, they give independence, they mitigate depression and isolation, and I have the privilege of being part of that," Saucier says. "I fell in love with the idea of providing access to people with disabilities, specifically people with vision impairments, in a college environment."
But Saucier, who founded Mountain View Low Vision Services in 2019, never expected to end up an entrepreneur, and says she was pleasantly surprised when she won the Rising Star award at the annual Chattanooga Startup Week awards event in October.
"I didn't know what I didn't know, and I sought assistance and was open to coaching and other resources," she says.
Among those resources was the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, and Saucier made a serious commitment to learning the ropes of business ownership, says Lynn Chesnutt, managing director for the district in Chattanooga
"Cheryl was one of our best clients at recognizing when she needed help and taking advice to help her business grow," Chesnutt says.
Mountain View Low Vision Services offers a wide array of technologies and therapies to help people with low vision, and serves clients including residents of senior living and assisted living facilities, government agencies, and individuals ranging from athletes to academics, Saucier says.
"Someone with zero sight can travel independently, write a paper, read a paper, access the internet, cook by themselves," she says. "I really love shining the light on this whole community of people with vision loss that are all around us. There is so much we can do to make them be seen and give them opportunities to have a seat at the table at school, at home, at work and at play."
By the time she launched her business, Saucier had built a long career as a certified low vision therapist. She earned a bachelor's degree in business and then a master's degree in student development at Mississippi State University, and went on to get clinical experience in Baltimore, Maryland, and continuing education at Johns Hopkins University.
The birth of her triplet daughters, now 22, changed her plans for a while, she says.
"They were premature, so I took an extensive maternity leave – like a decade," Saucier laughs.
But after she arrived in Chattanooga in 2012 to live closer to family, she was ready to step back into the workforce. Saucier took a role at Signal Centers, helping to develop the Chattanooga Area Low Vision Network. She eventually went to work with Heather McBryar, an optometrist, in her Hixson practice, before she got the itch to launch her own business.
"I said, 'Let's try this – let's try to start a business,'" Saucier says. "It's a lot more work than I thought it would be, but I don't mind that at all."
* Business: Mountain View Low Vision Services, online at mvlvs.com
* Family: Triplet daughters who are 22 years old
The effort was off to a promising start when the pandemic hit and sent things temporarily sideways, Saucier says.
"At the end of my first year, I ended up in the black," she says. During 2020, pandemic rescue funds including the Paycheck Protection Program kept her going, Saucier says.
"That kept me afloat for a couple of really quiet months, but the [government] agency business kept on and actually grew," she says. "In 2020, I had twice the business of 2019. I think I really am going to make it."
As the business grows, she hopes to create jobs for people with vision impairments, Saucier adds.
"I try to carry through the idea that I cannot and should not speak for you, but I want to understand you and grow this business with you," she says. "I want people with vision loss to have a seat at the table, and as my business grows I want to be part of the solution and employ people with vision loss as an example."