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This Mom of Twins Started a $450 Million Business. Her Motivation Will Shock and Inspire You

Parents who want to be entrepreneurs can be paralyzed by fear. Here are inspiring stories of people who turned that on its head.

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 08 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

This one's for all the parents out there--especially the ones who want to become entrepreneurs.

Because when you have kids, and you then want to start something of your own, there are two schools of thought you hear all the time. The first is the "too risky" school, that says you don't have the luxury anymore of taking chances. You're financially responsible for your children. The danger of failure is just too great.

The second school is the "too risky not to do it" one. The idea here is that if you're the type of person who will never be happy if you don't start a business--well, you won't be if you don't. Then, your relationship with your children will suffer as a result. Plus, you owe it to them to provide a worthy example.

There's actually a third situation however--one that we're suddenly hearing a bit more about. It's the circumstance that a small minority of entrepreneurs face when they start companies because their children's very health and livelihood depends on it.

In short, they need the money, or the miracle, for their kids to thrive--or even literally to survive. Sometimes it works. And sometimes it pays off all around.

Starting a company because your child's life depends on it

Take the story of Gail Federici, for example, who co-founded John Frieda Professional Haircare and sold it for $450 million. Go back to the interviews she gave before they sold the company--at least one that I found--and the fear she talks about is the one most entrepreneurs know: the fear that the company won't work out.

"We've never felt we were on Easy Street," she told an interviewer in 1999, three years before the sale, adding, "I'm just a worrier. If something can go wrong, it will, so just be prepared."

But as she said recently, she had another much more serious fear and motivation during the time she and her partner, the eponymous John Frieda, were building their business. It's that her child's life depended on the company's success.

"I had twins that were 3 years old. One of them had congenital heart disease," which would ultimately require open heart surgery and other expensive treatments, she told Inc.com in a video. "One hundred percent, I think my drive came from knowing that my daughter was going to require a lot of care over the years."

Trying to find a cure for your kids

In Frederici's case, there was a silver lining, if we can say that--meaning that at least there seems to have been a treatment plan for her daughter (albeit a brutal and expensive one).

But The Wall Street Journal recently reported on an even more heartbreaking scenario: Parents in biomedical and pharmaceutical industries who started companies because there were no cures for their children's medical conditions.

Among those profiled: parents of a 14-year-old son who had muscular dystrophy, and who started a company working on treatments, and the parents of a 6-year-old boy with a fatal genetic condition, Sanfilippo syndrome, who started a company that was invested in trying to find a cure.

An even more difficult aspect of those businesses arises, when the companies discover other, more promising and profitable treatments for other conditions, and have to decide whether to pursue the original cause, or their duties to shareholders.

Use fear as a tailwind

All of this highlights a few things: starting with the rough idea that it's normal for people in an advanced society to have to dream of starting incredibly successful entities to save their children's lives. (There's also the fact that the way to become truly wealthy in America is to become an entrepreneur and accumulate it for yourself.)

But it's also about facing the fears that hold you back, especially as a parent. Because while we hope of course that you're never a parent who has to worry about a child's medical condition, there will always be something to be concerned about.

As Frederici puts it, the trick is owning that worry, rather than letting it own you.

"That fear is the tailwind that pushed me forward," she told Inc.com. "I think you have to use the fear in a way that works for you, instead of holding you back."