On Monday, Sept. 23, the Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility partnered with the Jack M. Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship to host a Women’s Entrepreneurship Panel Discussion. The event took place in the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center with Manning Women in Business’ newly elected president, Kanya Derisme, leading the discussion. In attendance were Susu Wong of Tomo360, Lianna Kushi of Entrepreneurship for All (E for All), Karen Vasso of Neighbor’s Acre, HamdAllah Olona of GoodieKrunch and Kinsey Rosene of Crose Nest Collective. During the discussion, they spoke with the many aspiring businesswomen of the UMass Lowell community about their motivations, challenges, and triumphs as female entrepreneurs.
“It kind of became apparent to me that the things that were really successful for my business were the things that came from my heart,” said Rosene, owner of Crose Nest Collective. Rosene’s business is an herbal boutique located at Mill No. 5 in downtown Lowell where customers can concoct their own unique products from face masks to tea bags. Her business started with her love for herbalism and grew because of her desire to create a space where others like her could explore and create. “I thought that if I wanted it, then surely other people wanted it.”
Similarly, Vasso of Neighbor’s Acre took something she enjoyed and quickly found a way to turn it into a success.
“I started my business sort of as a hobby. I didn’t know it was [going to] fly and I didn’t expect to fall in love with it the way that I did,” said Vasso as she explained her enthusiasm for growing microgreens in her own home. Neighbor’s Acre grew from the ground up with just a few seeds, some water and a passion for sharing sustainable produce with the people in her community. Lowell and Chelmsford residents can find Vasso selling her microgreens in local farmer’s markets with her eight-year-old daughter who plays an important role as Neighbor’s Acre’s other microgreens expert. When Vasso talked about the process of expanding her business, she credited E for All for enabling her and other entrepreneurs, like Rosene, to expand their businesses and to tell their stories authentically and unapologetically.
Shining a light on the hardships of the entrepreneurial hustle, Kushi of E for All said, “To start your own business is this really brave and scary act.” With this, Kushi opened the discussion to the loneliness and lack of support systems many people experience when starting up their own businesses.
“You are kind of out there on your own. You’re your own cheerleader and you’re your own boss,” said Rosene about her own daily challenges from running a business.
The world of entrepreneurship can often be a lonely one which is why Kushi took the opportunity to inform UMass Lowell’s aspiring entrepreneurs of E for All’s goal to provide opportunities, resources and support for those who want to turn their passion into a business.
“Our hope is that we work with a group of businesses at a time,” said Kushi. By working with several businesses at a time, E for All aims to foster lasting partnerships, reliable support systems and to create an atmosphere of community among the businesses they work with.
“We turn dreams into businesses,” said Kushi about the non-profit organization. Located on 175 Cabot St. in downtown Lowell, anyone with dreams of starting or growing a business are encouraged to apply.
Olona, creator of GoodieKrunch, admitted that she did not know about E for All when she first started branding her gluten free coconut snacks.
“I didn’t know there was such a program,” said Olona. It was only after a referral to E for All that Olona was able to significantly improve the branding of her product.
Companies like E for All and Wong’s Tomo360 work to help businesses connect with and market to consumers better. Wong explained that being small business owners themselves, Tomo360 can sympathize with the unique challenges that small businesses face.
As an entrepreneur, it can become hard to find ways of managing the ever-changing environment and maintaining a work-life balance. When asked about how they all handle balancing their lives, they all broke into laughter. Kushi confessed that balance is nearly impossible to have when pursuing your passion. Instead, she and the other women prefer to think of it as “work-life harmonization,” meaning they find a good ratio between their family life and business life. Vasso added that taking care of her basic needs, such as meditation and allowing herself to dream during quiet times, is crucial in her work-life harmonization as a female entrepreneur.
“Entrepreneur[s], at the very heart of ourselves, we’re dreamers,” Vasso said.