One of the most important resources women have to excel in small business is each other. Through mentorship and advocacy, successful women entrepreneurs can support and encourage the careers of other women pursuing their own business. There is overwhelming evidence that mentorship improves women’s leadership opportunities, yet almost half the women entrepreneurs in a study by the Kauffman Foundation stated that a lack of available mentors was a major challenge for them in starting their own business.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we interviewed a few of our successful women business owner clients to learn more about how others inspired them and helped them grow. Their stories provide inspiration to all women and show the importance of mentorship and support in creating a successful business.
Aspiro Renovations and Design
Halina came to New York City from Belarus and started her own environmentally-conscious contracting company in 2013. Aspiro Renovations has since been featured in The New York Times and numerous real estate and home improvement blogs. Halina is a great advocate of women-to-women mentorship and is a member of the National Association of Professional Women. As Halina says, “Women cheering on women is truly inspiring and refreshing!”
Did you have any women role models or mentors that supported you and motivated you to start your own business?
Barbara Corcoran [co-founder of The Corcoran Group and business investor] is certainly one of my role models. Her work ethic and never-complain-attitude motivates me every day. In my second year [in business] I was lucky enough to meet Christina Grinnell [a business executive, consultant and mentor] who used to own a construction firm. She has been my mentor and supporter ever since.
How do you help and support other female entrepreneurs as they pursue their goals?
I support women-owned businesses and inevitably would choose a woman architect or subcontractor if there is such a choice. I have not worked in the field long enough to provide guidance on how to succeed, but can certainly guide others on how to start. I make myself available without exception to any woman who explores an option of going on her own. Guidance and encouragement is hard to come by, and it means the world to those who are just starting.
What are some of your goals going forward?
Growing is my purpose. I am ready and open to opportunities and would like to apply myself in real estate development one day.
Ada Azarya was inspired to start Cioccolada in 2011 while learning about holistic health and the benefits of the cacao plant. Cioccolada offers organic, vegan, and kosher chocolate that emphasizes the nutritional and wellness benefits of its origins. Ada’s New York City-based shop is the exclusive chocolatier of numerous hotels and restaurants, including the Cosmopolitan, The Mark by Jean-Georges and Black Barn.
Where did your love of chocolate begin, and what gave you the push to start your own chocolate-making business?
It’s been a journey, I have to say – my first love for chocolate started when I was a little girl. It kind of came back to me in my 20s, when I wanted to have my own business. I really had no experience, I knew nothing about chocolate – I had gotten laid off from my job and moved back to Miami, did some soul searching and that’s when the idea was born!
I didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs and I never had any food or restaurant experience. I really had to start from scratch. I wanted to create something that was healthy, beautiful, and delicious. The most important ingredients are the passion, inspiration, and encouragement from friends and family.
Do you have any female role models or mentors that supported you and motivated you to start your own business?
I did have women role models in my life – they helped me to become the person that I am and to have faith that it could happen. One of my mentors worked with me in another business — she was a real inspiration and helped put me on the spiritual path of believing in myself, having faith and persevering. I had other mentors who helped me along the way, too. When you have your own business, there are a lot of ups and downs – you really need to have thick skin. I’m a sensitive person and it’s hard to always have the drive and perseverance, but those mentors helped me jump over that hump.
How have you helped to “pay-it-forward” to inspire other female entrepreneurs?
I haven’t mentored anyone yet but it’s something that I always wanted to do. I try to always inspire others to do what they came into this world to do by helping them bring their passions to the surface. There’s nothing more fulfilling in a career than when you’re doing something with passion. Of course, we have other sources in this life that make us happy (family, children, love), but when we do something that really resonates with our souls, it feels like you’re in a flow.
What are some of your goals going forward?
In the next year I would really like my company to be where I envisioned it to be. I want people to be able to taste something made with love and passion, and bring people joy without feeling guilt. A lot of people don’t know the health benefits of cacao — it helps your mood and makes you feel euphoric, and I’d like to be able to spread that knowledge to children and adults. In terms of my production loads, I would like to see a larger factory production and more employees to help the process.
Christina Badia moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States in 2010 to pursue her love of hair dressing. With more than 20 years of styling experience, Cristina branched out and started her own business to be able to use her creativity and offer a wider array of services. Salon Cristina has now been serving the Capital Region community since 2011. Salon Cristina partnered with Fantastic Sams in January 2017 to expand its brand and recently opened a second location in the Capital Region early this year.
How did you get started with your own salon?
Hair styling has been my passion for my entire life. I had a salon in the Dominican Republic for many years. When I first came to the United States, I opened a small salon in a very small community in New York. I realized that I needed more stability so I started working at a salon chain like the ones you see in malls and Walmart. They offered restricted services with few opportunities to work with textured hair, so I couldn’t pursue what I really wanted to do. I eventually found my own location in Schenectady, NY. It was a small space with about five salon chairs, but within a year demand became so popular that I outgrew the space. It took about four years to find the space that I am at now, but I finally have a good location and I can pursue my passion freely.
Did you have any women role models or mentors that helped and supported you in starting your own business?
I come from a family of hairdressers. A lot of my female relatives work in salons so I’ve been watching them do hair since I was little. I’m inspired by their work every day. They made me realize that it is my passion, and I think it’s a great profession to go into.
What are some of your goals going forward?
I just opened a new location in Clifton Park, NY, and I’m in the process of renovating that and getting it ready. I like to keep in mind that goals are fluid. My salon is part of a national chain, and it’s my goal to stay in the top 10 of earners nationally. I’d also like to establish myself as a viable employer who offers benefits to her employees that you wouldn’t normally see in this industry. As far as long-term goals, I’d love to get into a position where other people can operate the day-to-day tasks so my husband and I can slow down our work load while still keeping the business creative, inclusive and successful.
What advice would you give to a woman (or anyone) who is looking to start their own business?
I’d definitely say not to rush into anything. In the haircare world, I see a lot of people graduate beauty school and immediately want to open their own businesses. I think it’s important to make sure it’s really your passion first because you’re going to be doing it all day long, and that’s true for any industry. I’d also say to make sure you surround yourself with people you trust and people you enjoy being around and working with because that can really make or break a business.
Tell Us Your Story
Women business owners support each other’s success when they work together and lift one another up. As you work to start or grow your business, EGF can help you through the process. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can work together.