Sheryl Hill

Don’t settle. Reach for you want, your full potential, in rewarding ways. Happiness comes from achieving those goals.


Sheryl Hill is the founder of Depart Smart, the only nonprofit working to advance consumer travel safety and protections, a Minnesota Cup award-winning semi-finalist. Sheryl is a world speaker, author of Walking on Sunshine, NRG a Divine Transformation – a spiritual memoir and USA Book News Award winning finalist. Sheryl is featured in People You Need to Know 2012. In addition to her work as founder of Depart Smart, she and husband Allen have been a host family to eight internationals: Sari of Finland, Sylvie of France, Caroline of Sweden, Gilly of South Africa, Nikita of Germany, Yusuke of Japan, Roberto of Chile and Joao of Brazil. They have one surviving son, Alec, who is graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Biomedical Engineering degree.

Where did the idea for Depart Smart come from?

Our 16-year-old son, Tyler, died a preventable death on a People to People trip to Japan. We learned students are more likely to die studying abroad (18/100K) than in car accidents in the USA (10/100K). We also learned that policy has not kept pace with globalization. No department of the USA has jurisdiction for travel and tourism consumer safety, even though more than 40M US citizens go abroad annually. We launched in 2007 as ClearCause Foundation and worked for years to advance thoughtful federal and state policy.

In 2016, students encouraged us to rebrand as Depart Smart and develop an engaging travel safety course, in fun and interactive gaming ways, to help people identify and avoid risks, get help and home with a personalized travel safety plan – because their parents needed it too. Hundreds of tragic stories became the genesis fo our rebrand.

Depart Smart benefitted as a MN Cup Social Entrepreneur semi-finalist the same year. Our business plan opened doors to industry sponsors such as Travel Leaders and AIG Travel who sponsored the development of Travel HEROES Safety Certification. Voile’ here we are! We make travel awesome in life-saving ways!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Exercise at 6:30a. The Chair of Depart Smart is Robin Kocina, COO of Media Relations. She is a strong leader with excellent business acumen. She is also the person who taught me how to build relationships with the media – as in “Media Relations.” She is building our team into a disciplined successful organization using principles of Traction by Gino Wickman. My team meets to discuss measurable objectives, scorecards, issues, and solutions. We are developing our Go to Market Strategic and Digital Marketing plans. On an average week, I have 1-3 publicity calls, 1-3 speaking engagements or presentations, and 1-3 networking meetings. We also work on fundraising, sponsorships, course improvements, customer service, and team building.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Similarly to creating an acrylic painting or authoring a book. I mindmap the big idea, research concepts, and other successes, surround myself with leaders and role models who share the dream, glean their coaching and advice and work to apply it to the best of our ability. It takes many hands to do the heavy lifting and celebrate the success.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

That a 501c3 is a tax ID, not a business model. Robin Kocina, Media Relations, taught me that just because we are a nonprofit does not mean we cannot have a self-sustaining future with fees for services. The concept that we don’t have to compete for donations or sponsorships but can earn our future as ‘the consumer-driven travel safety experts’ while we help people avoid harm and travel safely is the ultimate goal and reward. I can’t wait to become self-sustaining with millions of customers taking our eye-opening and empowering courses.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

We have to step outside of our comfort zone to overcome challenges. Plan your work and work your plan – with tenacity. Never give up. My team makes sure I avoid chasing shiny new objects – stay focused.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t settle. Reach for you want, your full potential, in rewarding ways. Happiness comes from achieving those goals.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

We have no competition. If you search for consumer travel safety – even using boolean searches on Google for “” you will not find any other organization anywhere who offers profound, comprehensive, personalized travel safety plans in consumer-driven ways. A delineator for Depart Smart is that we do not reap financial rewards for offering travel programs. We are dedicated to travel safety.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Ask your audience if your services meet or exceed their expectations. It takes time to build relationships and earn trust.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

We are still emerging. A strategy we are implementing is to serve clients excellently and then invite them to engage their clients and community – in a Firm of Endearment kind of way. We want companies who genuinely care about helping people travel safely. We are very proud to begin with Travel Leaders and AIG Travel insurance.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Funding. As a nonprofit, we don’t qualify for small business loans, and because we fall into a category most people don’t know they need until tragedy strikes – safe travel literacy – there isn’t a tidy priority in corporate giving that helps us align for grants. We have never won a grant. We had to rethink, rebrand, regroup and build a model of corporate engagement. We help business leaders build consumer loyalty by demonstrating their customers are more than transactions and they genuinely care about their safety and welfare.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

You are an expert at something. Build an online course to teach others your expertise. Use an open source like Moodle eLearning. (Depart Smart is a Moodle Case study!) Offer your expertise to the world in a well-thought-out online course for a reasonable price. The e-learning industry is booming well over $100B.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

$100 investment professional – I took a webinar on 6 Sigma Pricing by Navdeep Sodhi. It helped us price to our customer vs other online courses.

$100 investment personal – I bought a refurbished Apple Watch. Now I can answer my iPhone on my wrist, do quick responses to texts, get reminders, and track my health.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

We use Google Apps – email, docs, drive, calendar et al. Love the collaborative tools and many of the plug-in extensions like Expensify for expenses, Boomerang to schedule email delivery in the future, and most importantly Prosperworks – its a CRM that automatically inserts email contact details into a database to track communications, opportunities, tasks, sales, and more.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I purchased Lonny Kocina’s ‘The CEO’s Guide to Marketing‘ three times and gave it to our team so we would all understand the underlying principles of reach, teach and remind our market with the primary messages. We learned this, ‘Our brand is not what we say we are. It is what our consumers say we are when we are not in the room.’ The marketing book is powerfully simple for entrepreneurs to promote and sell their value.

What is your favorite quote?

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. Albert Einstein

Key Learnings:

  • Plan your work, work your plan, never give up, revise and try again. We’ve been at this for 7 years.
  • Surround yourself with leaders, role models, and mentors who genuinely care about your success and follow their lead.
  • Lifelong learning. We learn new ideas every day that makes our work more meaningful, easier and fun.


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