#INSPIRING
Women in Entrepreneurship

March 25, 2019

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photography submitted

CHARACTER TRAIT: INSPIRING

DEFINITION: Fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

March is Women’s History Month, and it’s a great time to celebrate some of the thousands of women who are making history as entrepreneurs and leaders in St. Joseph. Their grit, inventiveness, and savvy continue to shape so many unique stories. These women and their successes are also fueled by an uncommon inventory of local resources and connections that…to put it simply…means stuff is getting done.

Throughout the year, events and opportunities in St. Joseph point to a thriving environment for women in business. The Small Business Development Center and St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce host the monthly Women’s Leadership Group, with topics ranging from global women’s issues to new business technology tools. The Small Business Development Center is, in fact, one of the area hubs for women developing their businesses. Professional business consulting, assistance with business plans, and market research are readily available at no charge – along with specific assistance with becoming a certified woman-owned business, and referrals to the organization’s sister agency, the Kansas-City based Women’s Business Center. The annual YWCA Women of Excellence Luncheon honors women across business, volunteerism and other key areas to a 1,000-plus sold-out crowd. The list of opportunities in St. Joseph goes on and on…

Rebecca Lobina, Director of the Small Business Development Center, says these resources and others help local women overcome gender-based hurdles. “There’s a collective environment here in St. Joseph and Northwest Missouri geared toward empowering women to reach their full potential as leaders,” says Lobina. “Overall, we have seen a great deal of organic growth surrounding entrepreneurial support in general. Everything from Cup of Joe weekly events, to monthly First Saturdays downtown, to the The Big Muddy Mini Maker Faire … these and other initiatives have all grown from a desire of business owners wanting to help other business owners.”

Lobina also explains that as the economy continues to prosper, so does entrepreneurship. “They are interconnected. Today, I see women having more professional opportunities than ever in our history. This is a positive trend that is expected to continue.”

Annette Weeks, Director of Center for Entrepreneurship, Missouri Western State University Craig School of Business and Technology, agrees. “Women are natural collaborators, and we have so many women entrepreneurs in our community who are very supportive and encouraging to each other,” she says. Through Weeks’ leadership at the Center for Entrepreneurship, many women have received help with their next steps toward planning, training and connecting at no cost.

The first step, says Weeks, is to connect to the resources that are already near. “We have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs in all stages of business, and really, it’s the business of making dreams come true.” She adds that now is the best time to start. “Not only is the community positively embracing new business, but as small businesses are created, so are jobs and unique elements that make our community special.”

What do the entrepreneurs have to say? Several share their thoughts, below, on what makes St. Joseph an “uncommon” setting for success. Read on for some local inspiration:

Sara Markt: SMart Architecture & Design

“Being a St. Joseph native, it was natural for me to come back home for work. I was fortunate to have a job that fostered my career growth in my 20 years with the company to the point where I’m able to now start my own firm. Support from the Center for Entrepreneurship, the Small Business Development Center, and contacts I have made through the Chamber have given me all the tools I need to get my company off to a good start.

There is a tremendous amount of support for local business in our community, but especially for women in business as both owners and employees. There are monthly meetings for networking and education, and, even better, there are a large number of strong female leaders willing to support each other and to mentor emerging leaders. Women in business are encouraged and celebrated in St. Joseph.”

Lura Landis: Lura Landis Photography

“I love our community. I’ve always felt supported here.

I’ve made some great relationships, including the Chamber of Commerce, Annette Weeks with the MWSU School of Business and I’m on the steering committee for Cup of Joe. Of course, social media plays a huge part in letting clients know about my business. In addition, I feel like being downtown gives my business an added appeal. The downtown community is very good about supporting each other.

My advice would be to learn how to make your business profitable first and foremost. Take some classes, read some books about entrepreneurship, and talk with others about their successes and struggles. Always set new goals for yourself.”

Amy Ozenberger-Vohl: Gypsy’s Jewelry and Gifts

“Follow your dream! Because you’ll never know until you try. As my husband told me, ‘I don’t want to hear would of, should of, until I die.’ He’s a wise man. Who knows what your dreams will bring. And you’ll never know until you try! At the same time, be aware of your competition as you pursue your dreams.”

Jennifer Martin: Managing Partner, Little Caesars of St. Joseph

“I’m fortunate enough to be in a unique position of managing teenagers and I have to say, these kids are smart; they’re hard-working and efficient. Every day by their actions, I am reassured that the future of St. Joseph is bright.

As a woman who is a manager, I think I am uniquely suited to form positive relationships with my employees. I like to learn about them and their families and their goals for the future. Because the vast majority of my employees are young with limited work experience, I strive to be empathetic and open minded. I want them to feel like they can be their true selves at work. I want to provide an opportunity for them to grow not only in their positions, but in their lives.

I’ve lived in more than eight different cities, and St. Joe is the biggest small-town that I’ve ever lived in — and that makes it a great place to be in business. Our customers are loyal; everybody knows someone who knows you — and when you do right by them, they will tell everyone else they know. I enjoy seeing familiar faces come in and hearing about their lives. It’s our job to make part of their day a little easier and more enjoyable. When we do that well, they definitely let us know.

My best advice to new female managers is to just own it. Nobody is a bigger expert on the job that you do than you. Be confident, be creative and use your uniqueness to your advantage.”

(Note: Martin was selected as a member of the Little Caesars President’s Council, a group of top-performing leaders from across the nation who meet for brand innovation in Detroit three times per year.)

Amber Rodriquez: Amber Rodriquez Beauty

“What’s great about the city of St. Joseph is that it’s really more like a small town with a lot of people. In the world of free second-day shipping and self-checkouts, women here in St. Joseph can seize the opportunity to offer highly personalized customer service. (This is something customers can’t get from shopping platforms like Amazon).

At the same time, having a significant online presence is essential success for any business. People want to quickly find reviews and online catalogs of what our businesses have to offer. Post relevant information daily on all social media platforms, while always keeping your dream guest in mind.

My advice to fellow female entrepreneurs is to find your target audience and solve their problem. Not every single person is your perfect customer and that’s ok. Really think about who your dream guest is, and try to appeal to that person in every aspect of your business. Once you do this, all the right people will start to find you.

Each person who walks into your business, whether brick and mortar or online, needs to feel like a special invited guest. Think outside the box and offer things they won’t find anywhere else. I would also add that collaboration with other local businesses is a great way to expand your customer base.”

Casey A. Wallerstedt: Mod Podge Boutique and Design Studio

“My customers appreciate the one on one personal attention that they receive shopping locally. It gives them a sense of community and pride, and a unique experience shopping in their hometown of St. Joseph. Support from the community, loyal customers, and the collaboration of activities promoting downtown has also helped me succeed with my goals. My advice would be to stay the course. Be patient and be a leader.”

Susan Campbell: President/Founder, SJC Marketing

“Over the course of the 13 years SJC Marketing has been in business, I have seen a considerable expansion of women in business. We still have a long way to go, but women are introducing new innovations, new businesses and new leadership like never before. St. Joseph is evolving and much of our success is women-led.

There is an incredible level of support in this city from individuals in all industries. I have received considerable investments of time, advice, guidance and more from individuals who were ready and willing to champion my success. Plus, the size of our town makes it very easy to interact and engage with individuals through several different channels so the network you develop is supportive, interdependent and extremely connected.

We have grown to our current level because we were willing to take risks, while preserving our Midwestern approach to doing business. We stand by the quality of the services we deliver, we donate our time and talents where we believe they will make a difference and we live out our passions through the work that we do.”

Wow. Talk about uncommon character…and intelligence. And a can-do attitude. Because of women in business like those featured in this article we are all moving forward, together.

Are you a woman in business in St. Joseph? What makes our city special to your success? Send us an email and let us know your story of Uncommon Character.

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