Insights and Inspiration from Women Entrepreneurs
Becoming an entrepreneur requires belief in self, grit, and creativity in a challenging world. It’s not an easy feat and those that succeed have battle stories to share. This summer, Boston-based food radio fans had the chance to hear directly from women entrepreneurs about their journeys building creative and sustainable food businesses. As participants in the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream coaching program, these women have created strong foundations for their brands, had the chance to connect with a network of fellow entrepreneurs, and become community leaders.
Since 2008, Samuel Adams has supported its nonprofit lending partners in providing more than 3,600 loans totaling over $79 million to food and beverage entrepreneurs in 40 states across the country. Just as important, the program has provided business coaching and advising to more than 13,000 people. The businesses supported by this program have created or retained more than 9,000 jobs in their local communities.
But building a business is about more than just numbers. Louisa Kasdon, the host of Let’s Talk About Food, helped these entrepreneurs tell their stories, which were filled with humbling moments, honest insights, and inspiring achievements. They told of hard times (having to sell their homes, sleeping in their offices, hiding their cars so they weren’t repossessed) and celebrated their wins (crowdfunding $150,000, having the first article written about them, opening a brick and mortar). These stories are documented in two episodes of Let’s Talk About Food.
And after each woman told her tale, they returned to the stage together to reflect upon what resonated as they listened to one other. These moments were both emotional and encouraging and they can’t be found anywhere else:
Carlene O'Garro, CEO of Delectable Desires Pastries said: “Honestly, everything sounds familiar. Everyone has the same story; whether it's building out, getting contracts, having to sell things that you want but you no longer can have. My car would have been repossessed, but my parents had a garage. So my dad saved me and said, ‘well, they can't come on our property, so park the car down the back.’ Or I wouldn't have had a car. So, the struggles are all the same. I've been there time and again and gotten out of it. So when I hear some of these stories, I'm just like, I can't wait 'til they see the end of the tunnel because it's there. You just have to be patient.”
Alicia Haddad, CEO of Alicia's Spice Co. added: “It certainly takes a group of strong, independent women who have been through so much to get to where we are; [to] make it through a pandemic. I evolved [too]. I ended up selling plain spices during the pandemic. I was making house calls. I was dropping things on people's porches. I was making gift baskets like a ninja, that was my gig. But it got me through the pandemic. I was able to supplement the income of seasoning blends at farmer's markets. I was doing fairs and festivals and farmer's markets and everything for the first five years that I was in business. And then you have to reinvent the wheel; and if you don't find a way, then it won't happen. So you just don't give up.”
Emily Mellgard, CEO and Founder of Fieldstone Kombucha shared: “You get an idea, you have a passion, you want to go forward. And every time somebody throws a wall in front of you, you look at it and you're like, 'Well crap, another one.' And then you figure out a way to scale it, go around it, or knock it down, and you keep going. And then another one comes and you do it again and you do it again. And sometimes you look at it and you're like, 'Well, why can't life just be easy for for once?' And it'd be nice if it was. But all of those walls turn us into who we are and turn our businesses into something really strong and resilient. And it wouldn't be the same if it was easy, and we wouldn't appreciate it if it was easy. And when you get there, you just keep going because it's who you are. I'm still going to be making kombucha. That is always going to be part of who I am and what I do.”
Heather Yunger of Top Shelf Cookies chimed in next: “I think what resonated with me the most is just hearing how much our moms and grandmothers have an impact on us. The time that we spend with each other is so valuable. And I think when you take the time to impart something that you care about, you don't know what that passion is going to grow up to be. One of my grandmother's really good friends is one of my ‘cookie of the month’ subscribers, and every month she emails me and she goes, ‘I hope you know that Hazel is so proud of you.’ That makes me happy. That's what I want to be. It's a common story with women entrepreneurs, [you hear that] 'my mom, my grandmother, my aunt, somebody taught me this.' You know, I'm teaching my niece how to bake because I want her to take Top Shelf Cookies over. I need a break. [Laughs.] We can choose how to spend time and your time is impactful on others. Hearing it from you guys reminded me that's important.”
HamdAllah Modupẹ́ Olona, founder of Goodie Crunch, talks about how she related to each story she heard: “Heather's story, when she says she raised $150,000, that was why I was the first to clap for her, because I just did a crowdfunding. So, I won a state of Massachusetts grant recently, and the condition was that I raised and crowdfund, half of it, which I did successfully. I raised $20,000. It was hard. So when she said she raised $150,000, I almost fell off my chair. I really admired your courage.
And with Alicia, her story is really moving. Sell[ing] your house. I mean. [Alicia: I was all in]. That's a lot. It was really moving. And with your story, Carlene, the cake that slid on [the] wedding day. I've been in that kind of situation. I've been to a farmer's market. And I found out that I didn't put the date code on because I was rushing. I can relate to your solving a problem very quickly, you know. A very nice person had a date coder there in the farmer's market. So we we date coded it right there in the farmer's market.
[Emily,] you were talking about your job satisfaction; when you you didn't just want to sit down in front of the computer and just you didn't feel that was the job for you. You wanted to explore something else. I used to be a lead financial analyst. I studied accounting and finance. I had a job. But then when I lost my job, it made me think, you know, wait a minute. I can do something else, you know? And luckily, because I had goodie crunch, which is my grandmother's recipe, it was easier for me to make a change because I already had something in mind that I wanted to do. So when you're going in one direction, you're allowed to take a U-turn. And so I admire your courage to to explore something else. And that's what I'm doing, too.”