It’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, and we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of our favorite female entrepreneurs. We picked their brains on everything from the shifting entrepreneurial landscape to how entrepreneurship contributes to the greater good of our community. Read on to find out how these dynamic women are working each day to positively impact the world around them.
Heed: You’ve been an entrepreneur since day one in your career, and you’ve been in Chattanooga the whole time. Can you talk a bit about how the landscape has shifted and what you’re most excited about approaching 2020?
Jamey: Not only have I been an entrepreneur here in Chattanooga the whole time, I was born and raised here! It has been so much fun to watch our city evolve throughout the years and become what it is today — in my opinion, we simply live in one of the best cities and I feel blessed to be an entrepreneur in Chattanooga.
I remember the first business I started. Our family just so happened to join a church ’round about the same time we were in the grind of starting our business. When we walked to the front of the church to be announced, our minister asked what we did for a living. I told him what we were hoping to make a living at (because we were at $0 with income at this point), and then he quickly and sarcastically replied, “Huh, Good Luck with that one!” It was a little gut punch along with a gulp…. No, actually, it was a big gut check! I remember that feeling from 20 years ago so vividly today. Being a young entrepreneur in 1999 with our two young sons, no income, and seeing the look on the minister’s face, right then in that moment, I immediately questioned myself and whether or not our family should even move forward with it. There were many sleepless nights of worry and distress, wondering if we were about to lose what little we had and if our boys would suffer if it was a mistake. Literally, it felt like everyone we came across was risk-averse or hyper-conservative in regards to entrepreneurship. However, my husband, Brian, and I decided it would only be a failure if we didn’t try. We love the rocking chair theory and we still use that today when making many of our decisions.
Without doubt, the biggest changes I’ve seen are the acceptance, culture, and resources for entrepreneurs and start-ups today. Heck, we even have Startup Week in Chattanooga now! Many successful folks are willing to share resources, provide direction and mentorship, and help new entrepreneurs with their businesses. Our city’s evolution has been nothing short of amazing and I love it!
Heed: You made a shift from the corporate world to small business ownership a few years ago. Can you speak a bit about how the two compare, and any opportunities, advantages, or challenges you see that may help inform other women considering a similar career shift?
Elisha: While each structure has its own unique challenges, the total ownership aspect of entrepreneurship can be daunting. When in the corporate world, beyond the CEO, each employee has a responsibility to the shareholders. In my time as an entrepreneur, I am the sole shareholder of this corporation, and that can be heavy sometimes! Despite my previous corporate financial impact covering many more millions of dollars, now each of the dollars on the line are mine, and the significance of this investment can be translated into a mortgage payment.
The Glass Ceiling effect in corporate America is still firmly in place, and in that environment, I was mocked for having a goal of being CEO. I used entrepreneurship to create my own corporation, and I’m proud to have met my goal to become a CEO. Crafting my own role has allowed me the flexibility I need as a disabled individual, the time I need as a mother, and the financial ability to invest in the betterment of my community. I’m not waiting for a position to open up to be promoted. I am building the positions myself.
Heed: You started a business with your husband. Some people might call us crazy, but I think it’s so much fun. What are some of the unique benefits you are able to enjoy from working with your spouse?
Kathryn: There’s a level of trust, transparency, and candor that it seems impossible to achieve with anyone other than your spouse. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else, which makes it much easier to back each other up, hold each other accountable, and find opportunities where each of us shine. Plus, the business was born out of shared experiences that we cherish as individuals and as a couple, and that gives the whole thing an intangible, soulful quality that simply cannot be replicated or fabricated.
Alexis Willis, Director of Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Heed: You have the opportunity to see a LOT of what’s going on with entrepreneurship in our city. What stands out to you most about our female entrepreneurs, or what are you most impressed by?
Alexis: What stands out to me the most about our female entrepreneurs is that there aren’t enough of them! We have an opportunity to support women (and especially MOTHERS) better. The way we work and the needs we have as entrepreneurs are different. We are more likely to work remotely or at odd hours so flexibility is important. We probably won’t make a 7:30 a.m. “networking” breakfast but we will accomplish tasks… even if it means shooting an email or two at 3 a.m.
Heed: Anyone who knows you is aware that you have a penchant for contributing to the greater good. Could you speak a bit about how your role as an entrepreneur enables you to continue improving the lives of those around you?
Laurie: Being able to communicate in a second language completely changed my life, personally and professionally.
My whole purpose for starting a language school was to give the people in my home town something I didn’t have growing up here: a place where different languages were spoken and celebrated, and where anyone – regardless of age, background or reason for learning – could come and learn another language. Where professionals, families, retirees, and children have direct and easy access to acquire a skill that has life-changing effects.
Honestly, I never identified myself as an entrepreneur, but I just saw a need, demand and interest in my community for something that I was very passionate about, and I started a business to meet that need. And to me, that’s the beautiful thing about being an entrepreneur. Driven by something I wholeheartedly believe in, I have the privilege, and responsibility, of identifying the needs of those around me, in my industry, and discovering opportunities to meet those needs.
Heed: We are working together to bring the Female Founders’ CEOcial (which is conveniently happening TODAY!) to life. Can you speak a bit about why this was important to you and how you hope it can help improve the female founders’ community in Chattanooga?
Gabby: At the time you and I met I was feeling a bit secluded as a soloprenuer. I was reaching out to a ton of other business owners at that moment, specifically women, and I realized many of them hadn’t met or wanted to meet. At that time I was in a bit of a client drought, so I was looking for places to get connected too. Unfortunately, it takes a lot for me to go to several events a week chatting about my business. To be honest, I really just want to find one or two people I connect with naturally, head out, and meet with them one-on-one another day. I was having a hard time finding events that I either really wanted to attend or felt were valuable in the first place.
You and I discussed this, and we wanted to create a place where female founders felt like they could sit back with other like-minded women and be honest about where they were in their business and how they were feeling, rather than it be all about networking. That’s why it’s important to me: It’s important to have a place where female founders can feel safe to learn, grow, and connect without it having to be so clinical as handing out several business cards to 20 people and schmooze the night away. The goal is truly to make badass business friends you can feel comfortable asking the hard questions while also feeling like you can talk about your personal life with a glass of wine. If that leads to more business connections for the women participating, that’s a bonus!