While starting a new business may seem daunting, there are resources available and some are geared toward women.
The Women’s Business Development Council, which has locations in Stamford, Derby and New London, is a nonprofit organization that helps women launch small businesses. Fran Pastore, chief executive officer, said that the council has been helping women all over the state for over 24 years.
“We do that with a combination of classroom training, coaching, counseling and mentoring,” Pastore said.
Pastore said that during the pandemic, the council’s clientele increased by over 600%.
“People, mostly women, were just at a loss with how to navigate the new environment ... WBDC stepped in and really became a lighthouse for these businesses,” Pastore said.
WBDC also launched an Equity Match grant program to help entrepreneurs have access to capital. Pastore said they started this program after finding out that of the 60,000 Connecticut businesses that received federal loans for COVID-19 relief, 78% were male-owned and 84% were white-owned.
The Women’s Business Center, which is a part of the University of Hartford’s School of Business, is funded through a grant from the United States Small Business Administration.
“Our mission is to support women and minority entrepreneurs,” said Milena Erwin, program manager. “We’re non-discriminative so we open our doors to everyone, but we have the specific focus on women and minorities.”
The Women’s Business Center offers training, advisement, technical assistance and networking.
“The things we focus on providing to the entrepreneurs we work with is the knowledge, the confidence to make it on their own and the connections to other resources,” Erwin said.
Here is a sampling of some area businesses owned by women. Leslie K Hair & Nails
Leslie Kogut, owner of Leslie K Hair & Nails in Meriden, opened her salon 16 ½ years ago.
“I knew the business, but not the business behind it,” Kogut said. “I am glad I did open my own salon … It is a lot more work, there’s no doubt about it. I don't think anybody realizes how much work goes on behind the scenes until you own one.”
After her children got older, Kogut started to have more time on her hands. Her boss wanted to sell, so she purchased the salon.
Since taking ownership, Kogut has been able to renovate the building and grow the business. Star Dance Academy
Chantel Martin’s studio, Miss Chantel’s Star Dance Academy in Meriden, is in its fourth year.
“Even right from the start, I knew that I didn’t want to start off slow, I wanted to be successful and give everything to our dancers that I could,” Martin said. “Even through this pandemic, it has been a little bit of a struggle, but we persevered.”
As a woman business owner, Martin hopes to be an example.
“Even in my plaza, it’s all men who are the business owners and I’m the one female,” she said. “A lot of people may look down on it, but there are a lot of people that are changing their opinions now because they can see that women can be in charge.” Words on Wood
Jackie Valentine, owner of Words on Wood in Wallingford, started her business in 2016 by accident.
“One of my daughters moved to China for a year to teach English and when she left I was just missing her and sad,” Valentine said. “I started to make signs just to keep my mind busy and people really liked them so I started selling them.
“People coming in and doing studio workshops or having private parties or fundraisers, that has become the biggest part of our business up until last March,” she added. “With the pandemic, we closed for a few months and we made some changes.”
For the past six months, studio events have taken place at Words on Wood on a smaller scale. Catherine & Company
In November, Catherine & Company celebrated 25 years in business. It started as a hair salon, but it has since expanded into a full day spa and hair salon.
“Most of my staff has been here with me over 20 years,” said owner Catherine Stowick. “We have a really awesome team, actually it’s more like family and it’s just really special.”
Before opening her own business in Meriden, Stowick was renting a chair in a hair salon.
“I just wanted to be my own boss,” she said.
Stowick opened a second location in Westbrook in September.
“Opening a second location during a pandemic, to me that’s huge,” Stowick said. “That says a lot. A lot of businesses closed and the fact that we were able to not only survive, but expand during the hardest time in history, to me, I’m very proud of that.” Higher Movements
Kirby Shields, owner and artistic director of Higher Movements, started out when she was 19. Her mother’s friend bought a house in Meriden with a dance studio and asked if Shields wanted it.
Shields’ studio was in that location for a year and grew to its current location on the opposite side of town. She has been running the studio for six years.
“Now that it’s happened, I am so grateful and I don’t take it lightly and I think especially one of the things that means the most to me, a lot of my clientele are women and girls, so I think it means a lot to me that I can be a role model to them,” Shields said.