- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

MOLINE, Ill. (AP) - Mary Paoli’s interest in natural, nontoxic products was sparked in 2010 when she was living in Bozeman, Mont. She signed up for a community education class on making natural cleaning products, and from there, she did a lot of reading and researching, and started making home cleaners and skin-care products for herself.

Her friends were interested in the products and wanted the recipes, but she noticed that they then rarely made the concoctions.

“This opened my eyes to the possibility that there may be time-strapped people who would like these products if they didn’t have to make them themselves,” Ms. Paoli says, “so I developed Whoa Nelli to make it convenient for people to get effective, natural products.”

Now, Ms. Paoli, 39, whips up her home-cleaning products and personal-care concoctions at her Moline home, and spends her Saturdays at the Freight House Farmers’ Market in Davenport “in the open air, surrounded by happy people, music, flowers and fresh food,” she says.

But that’s not the way her workplace always has been. After graduating with an English degree from Santa Clara University in the San Francisco Bay area during the dot-com boom, Ms. Paoli worked in public relations at several large tech companies.

“I didn’t define communications as a career aspiration as I was growing up, but looking back at the things that I spent time doing, it’s pretty clear that I was on that path without realizing it,” Ms. Paoli says.

But, about four years into her work, “the dot-com bubble burst. Companies were laying off 10,000 or more people in a day, and as a casualty of the dot-com bust myself, I decided that I wanted a career where I had a more active role in shaping my fate.”

It would take another 13 years before she would start Whoa Nelli, she says, “but the experience stuck with me and was part of (my) motivation to start a business.”

The Elko, Nev., native returned to her home state, this time to Reno, where she met her husband, Matt Fockler. He was accepted into a doctorate program at Montana State University in 2008, so she found herself packing for another move - this time to Bozeman, Mont.

There, Ms. Paoli managed public relations for West Paw Design, a sustainable pet products manufacturer.

“It was an education to be inside an organization that lived up to a high standard of sustainability,” Ms. Paoli says. “It was valuable and inspiring to personally see a model of an environmentally-friendly company that was thriving.”

When her husband was hired as a geography professor at Augustana College in Rock Island last August, the couple relocated to the Quad-Cities. Ms. Paoli started researching and working up a business plan, and rolled out her first line of products in April.

Now, she’s the self-proclaimed “one-horse wonder” of Whoa Nelli. In addition to selling at the farmers’ market, she also sells her products through the Quad Cities Food Hub.

“I’ve been contemplating this move for a few years so it feels exciting to be taking action,” Ms. Paoli says. “I am still doing many of the things I did as a PR practitioner,” such as developing plans, communicating, marketing, managing budgets and tracking outcomes, she says, “so it doesn’t feel like a complete departure. But I’ve definitely had a chance to dive into new areas and am learning a lot.”

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Online: The (Moline) Dispatch, https://bit.ly/1tWfOoq

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Information from: The Dispatch, https://www.qconline.com

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