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Finding that need in fifth grade

Angela Stephens found her calling thanks to repeated phone calls from her son's school.

Sometimes the brightest children struggle in school. They forget their homework. They complete an assignment but can’t find it. They lose their notes, books or required paperwork. Or they just simply don’t excel in a classroom. 

In many cases, it’s about lacking executive functioning skills. And to be successful in many areas of school and work, we depend on those executive functioning skills to get the job done.

For a lot of kids – and adults – the lack of executive functioning skills can commonly be seen paired with ADHD.

When Angela Stephens, now founder and CEO of RE-FOCUS THE CREATIVE OFFICE, began getting constant phone calls from her son’s school when he was in 5th grade, she did what most parents would do. She sought solutions. 

“My phone begins ringing every day, and I’m having to leave work,” she said. The calls indicated her son was having difficulty with his behavior in class but also that he was falling behind in his schoolwork.  “We tried behavioral therapy, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication.”

When traditional methods were not working, she realized she had to start looking through his eyes to see what he was struggling with.

During the morning “getting ready” routine, Stephens decided to take a step back and watch her son. Once she looked at the tasks from his perspective, it was a light bulb moment for her.

“It changed my whole perception of what he was struggling with. I looked in his backpack and realized it was like a sea of black.”

All of the contents, while perfectly labeled and organized, were black.

When teachers would ask for an assignment, “It was overwhelming to him when he looked in a black backpack. He couldn’t find what he needed on demand, so he just didn’t turn in the work.”

Developing a solution

Stephens knew she wanted to make his life simpler. One way she could address the root of the issue was through the incorporation of color. She began using red for art, yellow for history, blue for math – and that’s the first step to her company.

Along with her son, who she credits as a co-founder, she developed a whole line of items that aid in organization, focus and calm. We’re talking calendars (different than others), planners, organizers, password books, anxiety journals, pill boxes, pads of paper and other tools. There is a reason behind every single product.

“Our products are not just for the person with ADHD, but for anyone who wants to focus better.”

They’ve conducted four years of research and used high-quality and durable products so that they aid the user – not frustrate them. The company has a 4.9 rating out of 4,500 reviews consistently for five years on Amazon.

This means they think non-stop about the user:

  • Incorporating versions to meet the needs of anyone. This includes 11 versions of password books, with variations like; small, large, left-handed and Executive Faux Leather.
  • Using spiral bound instead of twin wire, which can rip more easily.
  • Color-coding tabs and products to make them easily identifiable.
  • Featuring scratch-resistant and non-bendable covers.
  • Relying on heavier paper.

“I’m a flipper and I’m going through paper all the time,” she said. “I wanted to create something that if you throw it in your backpack, it’s going to hold up the whole year.”

Certification and credibility

Now, as a woman-owned business, certified with WBENC, WOSB, SBA, Disability: IN DOBE and ACDBE, Stephens has so much to be proud of. But she’s quick to give credit to those that helped her along the way and provided direction, including her global team that works with her.

One of those is Allen Waldo, an APEX Accelerators counselor. He helped guide her through some of the government contracting and certification processes, and opened up pathways with the Missouri Small Business Development Center at MSU and efactory.

“It’s tough sometimes, to know what you need to know. But it’s my job as a CEO to find out the resources that we have,” she said. “I’m so blown away by efactory and wish I’d known about it 30 years ago when I started my first business.”

RE-FOCUS has had some wild successes for a small business. They were finalists on Shark Tank with their initial product but were eliminated because the producers felt Stephens needed to have a wider product line.

Now, with 36 products available on Amazon, Walmart, Wayfair,, in over 200 Staples stores, CVS, Michaels, Oriental Trading, Newegg, college and university bookstores and RE-FOCUS’ own e-commerce website, Stephens has been featured in the Good Morning America’s Steals and Deals, Tamron Hall show, and recently interviewed by the WBENC Women Who Own It Podcast.

For Stephens, it has all been possible due to a deep-seeded drive and positivity that keeps her going. And she’s proud that it’s all headquartered in Missouri. 

“I really want to put Springfield, Missouri, on the map and the state of Missouri as a place where innovation is developed from the start. We may not be a Bass Pro today but hopes one day they will be.”

In fact, Stephens has interviewed many executives in Missouri on her podcast, including: Waldo; David Agee with Husch Blackwell; Jon Gold with Reynolds and Gold Law; Dr. Sara Bauer who owns 417Smiles; Brian Upton, Director of Counseling Services at Evangel University; and Nicholas Inman, Director/Founder of Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival.

“I think I’ve struggled with ADHD my whole life, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 45. But it’s the reason I have three businesses,” she said. “You could say it’s an inability to focus, but I think it gives me the ability to move and think quickly and create.”