At an event that capped off Women’s History Month and celebrated the contributions of women to the business community and to the region’s economic landscape, six woman entrepreneurs told their stories. From left: Kirsten Beske, Melissa Boyles, Amanda Witman, Jadziah DeRosia, Melissa Hessney Masters, and Noelle VanHendrick.
Victoria Chertok/The Commons
At an event that capped off Women’s History Month and celebrated the contributions of women to the business community and to the region’s economic landscape, six woman entrepreneurs told their stories. From left: Kirsten Beske, Melissa Boyles, Amanda Witman, Jadziah DeRosia, Melissa Hessney Masters, and Noelle VanHendrick.

‘Honestly, we have some rock-star women entrepreneurs in this region’

Six women business owners reflect on their respective journeys, lessons, and triumphs

BRATTLEBORO-Building connection, sharing stories, and finding inspiration: such was the atmosphere at the Vermont Womenpreneurs Brattleboro Showcase on March 27.

During the evening, which marked the first time that the member-based organization in Burlington brought the event to southern Vermont, six women business owners spoke to an audience of 75 women and five men, reflecting on their respective businesses, origins, and most important lessons from their journeys.

Mieko Ozeki is co-founder of Vermont Womenpreneurs and owns Radiance Studios, a content strategy and event production company based in Burlington.

"The idea of it came in 2017 when I left my full-time job," Ozeki said. "I was in a negative space because I had a toxic boss and decided to go back to my side hustle and make it a full-time thing."

Vermont Womenpreneurs started the next year with a gathering of 15 people in the library in Burlington.

"Over time, I met my co-founder, Bethany Andrews Nichols, who said, 'We should do a science fair for businesses,'" Ozeki said.

It was a success.

"Our first showcase sold out - we had 90 people in the room, and we haven't looked back in six years!" Ozeki said.

Over two years, the Vermont Women's Fund conducted a survey to measure the impact of woman-owned businesses in the state, gleaning data from more than 3,400 of an estimated 10,000 woman-identified business owners and measuring their financial impact in the Green Mountain State.

That report concluded that these businesses "contribute $2.4 billion to Vermont's economy and generate almost 6,500 part-time and full-time jobs," according to a summary of the report from the Vermont Community Foundation.

The report also painted a picture of women often launching businesses out of need and bootstrapping them because of a lack of access to conventional business loans.

"Women play an irreplaceable role in Vermont's economy and historically they've been underserved, under-supported, and under-resourced," said Erin Scaggs of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, the program director of Gallery Walk.

"It's a big deal that organizations like [Vermont] Womenpreneurs and Vermont Women's Fund aim to change that," she added. "This was the first showcase event in southeastern Vermont, and honestly, we have some rock-star women entrepreneurs in this region."

Called to work with people

Kirsten Beske, of Brattleboro, one of the six business owners who talked about their enterprises at the VTW Showcase, owns AProPositive LLC, a consulting and training practice. She also offers coaching services under her own name.

Beske's company specializes in "helping mid-career women who are ready for a change to 1) redesign their lives, 2) love their work, and 3) live their purpose, without totally starting from scratch, going broke, or burning out," she said.

Her very personal story included overcoming major challenges in 2001, around the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Her marriage ended, and she found herself working as a litigation attorney for over a decade.

But Beske said she was unfulfilled.

"One of the things that I realized is that I no longer loved litigation," she said. "Pointless battles...for what?"

She said that she "did an inventory of my values and my purpose and decided that I was going to retire from my law practice. I felt very called to work with people."

She earned a master's degree in clinical psychology and for the next 10 years had a private practice that she described as making a difference in her clients' lives.

Then she started a new business coaching mid-career women in the middle of big career or life changes. She found an immediate need for her new company.

"I wanted to help [clients] get more joy in their lives and help them find their core of authenticity so they [could] grow," Beske said. "Once you get insight into your life, you never know what will come up."

She said she hopes "as women continue to expand their spheres of influence in visible positions of power and authority, it becomes more and more comfortable for women to expand into their fullest potential and contributions."

And, she said, "the world is a better place with more diverse representation of all kinds at the top."

A better way to birth

Melissa Boyles of Rise in Bloom, based in Wilmington, has spent the last 10 years traveling, studying, teaching yoga, and making a business blossom from her intuition.

She talked about how she gave birth in Europe with a midwife and how she left the experience with a vision of a more sacred, ceremonial way to bring life into the world and transition into mothering.

"The deep, dark feeling I had giving birth the first time was not normal, but it's been normalized," Boyles said. "It is not a reflection of what is truly possible when mother and baby are supported by the community."

"We are all born, and everyone has a birth story or two or three," said Boyles, whose journey as a business owner began when she watched her mother run her own organic farm. "These stories impact our entire lives. Research is very clear that [the span of time] from conception to three years of life is the most important and lays out the template for health, disease, attachment, and how do we relate to and care for our living home."

Untangling chaos

Consultant Amanda Witman knows what it takes to work on a huge project - she worked on the statewide Everyone Eats program during the pandemic.

"I helped run the $49 million Everyone Eats program here and across the state," she said. "It's amazing what can happen when people connect to create positive change."

Witman said that living here for 20 years and being a single parent - of four homeschooled and now-grown children - impacted her life in countless ways.

Formerly a high-level executive assistant in a Fortune 500 company for many years, Witman has organized many events in her career.

Since she was dealing with some serious health challenges, she wanted to fit work in when she was feeling well, so she started her own company in 2017.

"In my consulting work, I help people and businesses untangle chaos, and make decisions and move forward confidently," Witman said. "I help people get unstuck. I really love it!"

Witman, a singer, song leader, and instrumentalist, leads the monthly Brattleboro Pub Sing, the annual Northern Roots Festival, and other events centered around making music and harmony.

She talked about the importance of balance.

"My creative practice gives me a welcome break from brainy work that I do," she said.

When everything changed overnight

Jadziah DeRosia, owner of Camille's Experienced Clothing in Rutland (the only business not from Windham County represented at the event), opened with a disclaimer: "I am eight months pregnant and have a 1½-year-old at home, so my brain is mashed potatoes."

DeRosia said that she "never intended to own my own business."

"Five years ago, I was a biologist and worked for Vermont Fish and Wildlife on a radio telemetry study on the [Lake] Champlain watershed," she said. "Then, my mother-in-law told my husband and I [that] she wanted to retire and sell her used clothing store. She asked if we wanted to buy it. We said no."

In 2021, everything changed overnight when her mother-in-law told DeRosia and her husband that she had cancer.

"We bought a 19,000-square-foot building and the entire inventory of the building right then and there," she said.

Now, DeRosia and her husband run the largest consignment and vintage shop in the state.

"We fell into this business but the community has come around to embrace myself and my husband," she told the audience. "I serve all backgrounds at my shop; we have a $5 rack and a rack full of Armani dresses."

A local flower farm blooms

For Melissa Hessney Masters, owner of Tanglebloom in Brookline, it all started in 2010 when she was getting married and wanted to use local flowers. She couldn't find them anywhere!

Today, Tanglebloom - the first community-supported agriculture business for flowers in Vermont - operates an education center and experienced-based flower farm and offers on-farm activities like pick-your-own-peonies and farm stays.

"Did you know that 80% of flowers we buy in U.S. are imported? To change this, I became a wedding florist and marketed the importance of locally grown flowers as sustainably as possible," explained Hessney Masters, who launched the business in 2013.

But burnout became "a regular thing for me," she said, and "in March 2020 I lost 80% of my revenue almost immediately and had to restructure the business."

Hessney Masters was able to do that restructuring in a way that she "could work half as many hours to take better care of myself."

The farm stay became famous on Instagram, where Tanglebloom received great exposure. She hopes to expand on that success.

"We operate on less than 6 acres of nontraditional farm land, which means rocks," Hessney Masters told the audience.

"I'd like to help encourage the small farm industry to think outside the box," she said.

Restoring hope

Noelle VanHendrick - whose unconventional job title is "gal chief" of ZPOTS, a small pottery studio in Brookline - talked about being a women entrepreneur, being a human, and being a creature.

"I am a work in progress, and I distill everything down to four words: risk, trust, help, and hope," she said.

"When there is risk, there is stress," VanHendrick said, calling stress "a navigational tool" to pinpoint "where in my business body needs some rejuvenating." She called it "a sensation that sparks evolution" and that gives her direction, showing her "where to send those healing halos."

"Trust: We really need to trust the moment that we find ourselves in as women and as human beings," VanHendrick continued. "Visioning to the future - this is the moment of creation."

"Help: It's hard finding good help," she said. "We are lucky at ZPOTS to have an amazing crew of creatures I call family which includes Eric Hendrick, my husband."

"Hope: I woke up one morning and I was done with hope - I found it really doubtful. Humanity needs to evolve, so I went to the studio and declared that I was done with hope."

ZPOTS had been making and selling pottery labelled "A Bucket of Hope" and "A Cup of Hope." Hendricks removed them from the website.

She received messages and calls requesting the return of buckets and cups of hope to the website and inventory.

"I had several deep conversations with customers and family and found that hope is necessary - so we decided to reinstate hope," VanHendrick said with a laugh.

"Because as much love that we experience, there is as much despair and desperation and suffering," she added. "Hope is first rung on the ladder when you are sliding into depths of despair."

"I work in a paradigm of love - leading with my heart - and the rest of my body is unified," she said.

DBA, an event partner

Kate Trzaskos, executive director of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, was in attendance and told The Commons, "Building on the success of two She Means Business events in partnership with the Vermont Women's Fund last year, the DBA jumped at the opportunity to partner with Vermont Womenpreneurs to host a showcase in Brattleboro."

She observed that "there are so many strong woman business owners in our region, and convening them to share their stories is a powerful experience," and she hopes it is "the first of many such events."

"The DBA is committed to building an entrepreneurial pipeline for downtown as we build the future of Main Street with more representation of our diverse community," Trzaskos said. "This means more networking events, more skill building, and more resources for entrepreneurs."

This News item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.

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