In celebration of its 21st year, the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center (EC-WBC) hosted “Women on the Move: 21 Years of Building, Evolving & Achieving Together” on October 28.

EC-WBC Program Manager Milena Erwin moderated a panel, asking thought-provoking questions to a panel of women business owners, whose responses were inspiring and encouraging.

Beauty Entourage Founder Ashley Stone, Catherine’s Heart Counseling Services LLC Clinical Director Shanda Comeaux, The Bolder Company Founding Partner Ellen Feldman Ornato, and Q the Beats Enterprises CEO Qiana Coachman (aka DJ Q Boogie) shared some of their challenges, successes, and lessons.

Embracing Opportunities

In terms of evolution, COVID-19 had an underlying current in much of the conversation. The Bolder Company changed its entire business model, Ellen noted. “We had to look at what opportunity is in front of us right now,” she said. “There was an opportunity to reboot and think about how to scale.”

Beauty Entourage also pivoted by expanding its service offerings. “The silver lining to COVID-19 is it’s helped push my creativity,” says Ashley. The business launched a mobile hair salon in a box truck. In addition, Beauty Entourage was able to kick an expansion plan into gear in the south and, though she’s from Connecticut, Ashley is currently working out of Texas.

Like many others, Catherine’s Heart Counseling Services pivoted from face-to-face to virtual. Shanda spoke about how that enabled the business to service more people at once because they didn’t have to limit people within a physical space.

DJ Q Boogie admitted that when the pandemic cancelled her upcoming events, she momentarily second guessed whether she’d made the right decision to leave corporate and pursue full-time DJing. She quickly realized, “Yes! This is where I need to be.” Qiana began streaming on Facebook Live and quickly gained interest. Since then, she’s been DJing Zoom events locally and internationally.

Tapping into Local Resources

All the female entrepreneurs touched on the importance of utilizing resources, such as the EC-WBC. Ellen pointed out how resources like the EC-WBC helped direct women and minority-owned business to support opportunities to help during COVID-19.

In her line of work, Shanda found online support groups helped her stay connected.

Ashley has relied on mentors from the Small Business Association and SCORE to provide guidance during the pandemic. “As an entrepreneur, you’re going through so much, it’s easy to feel isolated,” she said. “It’s important to rely on outside resources, connect with other small business owners, and keep yourself grounded.”

Advice for Others

When it comes to advice for others, Shanda noted the importance of perspective and having a positive outlook. She uses what she calls a “daily attitude check in.”

As someone who partnered with her best friend to launch her business, Ellen advised having a trusted sounding board, whether you have a business partner or a team. She also stressed the need to work as much on your business as you do in your business.

Ashley has launched several businesses and had several pieces of advice. When starting out, she does a lot of research for company names, domain names, and trademarks. She also sets long-term goals. “I always think big,” she said. Her other piece of advice: “Entrepreneurs focus on success. I realized I need to focus on losses and challenges to learn from them.”

Qiana’s advice is to surround yourself with the right people who believe in you and motivate you.

In closing, Milena underscored that having good people and resources are key to taking the entrepreneurial journey.