Friendship Turns Into Business Partnership
2 minute read

By Amanda Kuhnert

Longtime friends Deb Emerson and Emily Rinkema both had family members living with different forms of dementia and struggled to find meaningful ways to connect with them. After their loved ones passed away, Emily reached out to Deb with an idea to start a business that would help other people in the same situation. 

They envisioned creating sets of themed photo cards, featuring vivid, engaging images that people could use when visiting family members with memory loss. “One of the things my father-in-law would engage with was the family photo album,” Deb said. “It gave us something to talk about.” 

“We had coffee and the next thing you know; we had a prototype,” Deb said. Although they both had full-time jobs—Emily in education and Deb in the travel industry—they were excited to offer a simple way for people to connect with each other, despite cognitive challenges.

‘Play Without Rules’more than a tagline.

Emily’s father, who had lived with Lewy body dementia, loved playing cards, but eventually struggled to recall the rules. “We really wanted the cards and photos together, and the rules were something we needed to be flexible about,” Emily said. Instead of rules, they decided to offer suggestions for how the cards could be used—matching, sorting, organizing, etc.

“But ‘play without rules’ is more than a tagline,” Emily added. “We didn’t know the rules of business, so we looked for local support.” 

A few months after starting their company, (ho-dee-ay), Emily and Deb began working with business advisor Steve Densham at the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC). “Steve was very positive, upbeat, and encouraging,” Deb said. “He provided so many answers and additional resources pre-emptively and in response to our (often late night!) questions.”

Densham’s first homework assignment was for each of them to write down how they envisioned future growth for their company. Afterwards, when Deb and Emily compared notes, they realized they were on the same page. “We come back to the list we made for Steve all the time,” Emily said. “It’s nice that we have that as a center for ourselves.”

(ho-dee-ay) card sets can be purchased at, as well as at: Phoenix Books (Burlington, Essex & Rutland), Galaxy Bookshop (Hardwick), and Yankee Bookshop (Woodstock). Deb and Emily also will be selling their card sets on Nov. 25 at the CVU Craft Fair in Hinesburg and on Dec. 2 and 3 at the Champlain Valley Exposition Holiday Market in Essex.

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