Courtesy Debra Cohen
Courtesy Debra Cohen
Summertime is here, and for many of us, that means we'll be taking some vacation -- a little down time to let our minds decompress from the usual worries of work, housekeeping, and the like. It's at times like those that a person, perhaps sitting outdoors, sipping a relaxing beverage, might start thinking about some outside-the-box ideas -- pondering some what-ifs.

To help inspire you to work on your own million-dollar ideas, for the next three days, we offer you three stories of unusual entrepreneurship -- true tales you probably haven't come across before. First up: David Mintz and his sweet solution to an ancient problem. On Wednesday, we began with David Mintz, who made millions by taking the "cream" out of ice cream. Next up, young Rhys Davies, who turned MySpace into a cash cow with the help of a bit of graphical flair. On Thursday, we met young Rhys Davies, who turned MySpace into a cash cow with the help of a bit of graphical flair. And now, allow us to introduce Debra Cohen, who wants to introduce you to a contractor you can trust.
Debra Cohen
Courtesy Debra Cohen
A Pregnant Squirrel Leads to Inspiration

Debra Cohen of Hewlett, N.Y., might have the strangest story yet. In 1997, as a stay-at-home mother of one, she got the idea for her contractor-referral business ... after discovering a pregnant squirrel in her attic.

Cohen and her husband struggled to find a contractor to deal with the problem. "No matter who we hired, the squirrel came back," she says.

"After hiring three different contractors who couldn't solve our problem, I got a recommendation from our local hardware store -- an experienced pest control professional who explained that pregnant squirrels will always return to the place they gave birth last, and the only way to keep them away was to take them over a body of water because squirrels can't swim!" says Cohen.

"I was so grateful to have found a contractor that I could trust, that I offered to refer him to local homeowners and he said he'd pay me a commission for any new jobs."

Soon, with a $5,000 loan, Cohen was running Home Remedies of NY, a business based on referring reliable contractors to homeowners. It took six months for her business to turn a profit. Until then, "I took a part-time job at a local decorating store and my husband took on a few extra jobs to make ends meet," she says. "We lived very frugally -- one car, no dinners out, no extras."

Cohen has gone on to help others launch similar referral networks in other states, and says her business has grossed $4 million to date. The Homeowner Referral Network been lauded in The New York Times and Good Housekeeping.

But the going wasn't always easy. "I was hesitant to tell anyone about my business when I first came up with the idea because I was afraid I would fail and didn't want everyone to know. I did share my idea with a few people (including my father!) who couldn't understand the concept and were a bit negative. My husband, however, was my biggest cheerleader and supported me every step of the way."

Cohen now says the experience has taught her the importance of paying attention to signs. As she puts it, "Most great business ideas are born out of personal necessity and if you pay attention to your day-to-day life, you'll start to notice services and products that can make life easier and that may serve as inspiration for a great business idea."



Got a crazy business story, DailyFinance reader? Share it in the comments section below.

Catherine Baab-Muguira is a contributing writer to The Motley Fool.

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10 Comments

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albert

How can a company like Mass Mutual Life Insurance issue checks to an AGENT that forged my name for Loan Requests, is beyond me.

July 07 2013 at 9:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to albert's comment
setanta54s_back

better clear that crap up really really FAST
before you wind up losing a home to foreclosure
DUE TO SOMEONE ELSE getting a quick 50=85K loan for NONEXISTENT work
and USING YOUR HOME AS THEEEEEEEE COLLATERAL=
and you not ever KNOWING ABOUT THE LOAN/

and YES IT CAN HAPPEN
and DID.

a lien placed on the residence for 55Gs
total FRAUD as their so called inspector stated conversion of a 1 family to 2
and the PROBLEM with THAT remains that the HOME WAS ALREADY A 2 and deeded etc as a 2 family---and this info readily and EASILY AVAILABLE online for muni taxation etc etc
BUT THE MONEY WENT OUT
and the house wound up foreclosed
etc

straighten it out ASAP
as the freekin atty generals,banks ,MORTGAGE industry couldn't care any less..

July 07 2013 at 11:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
raddison4x

That idiot Maxine Waters (D) in California (an Obama goon) said she was going to foce the businesses to pay for the entitlements and said " I will tax them til they go out of business".

WHAT???? Are you kidding me??? Democrats just are morons. They are distroying this country.

July 06 2013 at 10:19 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to raddison4x's comment
setanta54s_back

and EXACTLY HOW DO THESE KOMRADS remain seated ?
are the voters THIS STUPID ?

July 07 2013 at 11:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
sdodge4574

Go for it Debra.. I applaud your courage and determination.

July 06 2013 at 8:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
beniehill

You can work as hard as you can, put all the money you have in your business while Obama believes you didn't build it, the government and he did the building.
I guess you might as well go on welfare instead of building a business.

July 06 2013 at 1:32 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to beniehill's comment
setanta54s_back

move to a free state and FREE STATE as free from dimOcrappic strangleholds.
there's still SOME AROUND
that WELCOME INDIVIDUALS with brains and ideas for THEIR ECONOMY
and these states do NOT HAVE HIGH TAXATION EITHER.

simply MOVE
and YES IT IS EASY to MOVE.

July 07 2013 at 11:26 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
maryweinstein

Sounds like Angie'sList...

July 06 2013 at 1:12 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
dubricus

She's *grossed* $4 million since 1997. That's $4 million in the past 16 years... and it's *gross*... not *net*. If she's gotten rich, the business must have no expenses.

July 06 2013 at 11:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dubricus's comment
zerryl8897

Thus type of business should have very low overhead percentage wise.

July 06 2013 at 11:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
zerryl8897

If there is anyone that wants to bank roll a business similar to this only a better idea let me know. It took me 15 years, and working the home improvement business for 25 years to hatch my idea. Much more than 4 million in 16 years potential. I am very serious here.

July 06 2013 at 10:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to zerryl8897's comment
alstayl7

Dear Zerry:

I am interested in potentially partnering with you.

alstayl7@aol.com

July 06 2013 at 7:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply