Roughly 30 New Haveners did not have to go far on Tuesday night to seek advice on starting a business. Successful local female business leaders shared stories at the New Haven Free Public Library about starting businesses in and around the Elm City.
The panel featured discussion on the personnel support and resources available for women interested in starting their own companies. It was hosted by the Community Fund for Women & Girls, the Yale Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking, All Our Kin, New Haven Free Public Library and the Collaboratory New Haven.
“Your work is going to speak for yourself, so launch it, if you believe in yourself, others will believe in you,” said Chardonnee Wright, the owner of Woman, I Am; a faith-based nonprofit. “It more so has to do with your confidence in knowing ‘I’m gonna step up in a leap of faith,’ regardless if anyone tries to look down on me.”
Conversation throughout the event focused on support. Launch Consulting, LLC owner Kia Levey said she misses having co-workers and office parties at times, but noted that she values the various organizations she collaborates with, and chooses these groups after deep consideration. Elm City Coach owner Marannie Rawls said joining one support center, Business Network International, has been especially beneficial. She said the network meets every week and helps her learn from people who are more advanced in their business careers.
Owner of Small Kitchen Big Taste Karen Lenahan said she found it difficult to carve out time for networking. To make networking more manageable, Lenahan started a blog, The Well, to support women on their journies.
“There is a commonality in women who are passionate about something, who have an entrepreneurial spirit, need that connection — because it can be lonely,” Lenahan said.
Many of the panelists said they were still coping with the challenges of expanding their organizations.
They also advised the audience on the resources available to people starting businesses. All the panelists agreed that the best way to start a business is to aim the product at friends, and then build a larger network out of a smaller community. The entrepreneurs added that they found spiritual resources, life coaches and mentors essential to their success.
Lenahan said she used some government resources, such as the Connecticut Community Investment Organization, to help with funding, but that she had to do a lot of problem solving when building her catering company. She added that the best resource she had was her passion for cooking.
“I can look up how to get my licensing, and I can pay for the health department to come and inspect my kitchen,” Lenahan said. “The biggest help to me … was my passion from when I was a little kid of coming back to food. It was a lot of figuring out as I went.”
Tuesday night’s panel was part of the Collaboratory’s event series that showcases the stories of New Haven entrepreneurs. Previously, the organization has hosted “Faith in Entrepreneurship” and “Youth in Entrepreneurship” panels, according to Collaboratory co-founder Margaret Lee.
Lee said the goal of the program is to change the conversation about what constitutes an entrepreneur and to help aspiring entrepreneurs gain confidence by hearing from individuals who are successful in their fields.
“Often times, when we see the individuals leading the rooms around innovation and entrepreneurship, they’re white, male and highly educated individuals,” said the other co-founder of the Collaboratory, Caroline Smith. “We wanted to display who are the incredible individuals in New Haven who are building organizations that are making impacts in the neighborhoods they know and love.”
The Collaboratory hosts a speaker series to complement its main project, an incubator program that provides funding, mentorship, education and connections to local entrepreneurs. Smith said that 73 percent of the entrepreneurs participating in the program were people of color and 51 percent were women. She added that this fact highlights the need for focused programs like Tuesday night’s event.
Cass Walker, the program director of the Yale Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking and the event’s moderator, said the speaker series is a good way to build a community for women who are considering starting their own businesses or organizations.
“We find that a lot of women that are thinking about entering the field of entrepreneurship want to meet other women, create networks, hear other women’s stories to hear the challenges and opportunities that they’ve faced and overcome,” Walker said.
Isabel Bysiewicz | firstname.lastname@example.org