Guilaine Menefee, CEO and President of Menefee Associates Consulting, LLC, used her background in project management and consulting to launch her own consulting company.
“After about five years in the consulting world, I started becoming more passionate and loving what I was doing,” recalls Guilaine. “It was a nice energy for me and I realized I would love to do this myself.”
She studied for her Master’s in Business Administration at the Stern School of Business (NYU) worked with mentors, did a fair amount of networking, and landed at the Axis901 co-working space.
“Getting my Masters was a necessary step,” says Guilaine. “I was comfortable with being a consultant. I also had experience doing project management, but I didn’t know how to run a business on my own. I knew I had to learn how and I knew I had to do that through an MBA.”
Guilaine studied for her Master’s from 2011 to 2013, began working on her business plan just before she graduated, and then launched her startup right after. Since then, her startup, which services Connecticut-based clients, has grown to a staff of 10 employees, including interns.
TAPPING INTO CONNECTICUT’S ENTREPRENEURIAL ECOSYSTEM
Guilaine says she took advantage of a myriad of startup resources throughout Connecticut, including the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center. “They have some awesome workshops,” she notes.
SCORE was another useful resource for Guilaine. There, she found much-needed sales and marketing mentors. “I met two mentors from the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce who have been a tremendous help,” she says. “They were able to help me think about my company from a sales and marketing perspective.
Guilaine also relied on the Connecticut Procurement Technical Assistance Program (CT PTAP), which she learned about through a workshop at the Entrepreneurial Center. “CT PTAP helped me understand how to do business with the government,” she explains.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING
In addition to utilizing local entrepreneur resources, Guilaine also places a lot of importance on networking.
“Ever since I’ve been an entrepreneur, I’ve had more random strangers who—just because my common bond with them is being an entrepreneur—were willing to either help me out, or say: I can’t help you with that but I know someone who can,” she notes. “The amount of people I connect with on a different level is one of the best feelings I’ve had my life. It’s been overwhelming to have such a great support network.”
Networking also introduced Guilaine to the idea of setting up her startup in a co-working space. She became aware of Axis901 through a client she was advising, who was a member.
At the time, Guilaine recalls, she was starting to do more networking and increasing her business opportunities.
“I was having more and more meetings at Starbucks,” she laughs. “I wanted to have a space where I could professionally facilitate these conversations. When I visited Axis901 to meet with my client, I remember looking around and thinking: This is a really cool space. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming when I walked in,” she adds.
“My client told me about the eclectic group of entrepreneurs who were working out of the space and how it’s helped him make some connections,” Guilaine says. “I thought: That absolutely makes sense. Not only was the space cost-effective, but I understand that value in connecting with others.”
Guilaine has also made many connections throughout the community. She sits on the board of several local community organizations.
“I tend to affiliate myself with organizations that are in what I call my ‘natural community,’” she says. “So is the organization about being a woman? Being African-American? Being a professional? Being a mom?”
Her widespread interests are one of her strongest assets.
“One of the organizations I’m a part of is the Black Business Alliance, they’re a new not-for-profit organization that was originally founded in New Haven,” Guilaine explains.
“The executive director asked me to be on the board a couple months after we met. I was sold after he talked to me about the need for helping other business owners and getting more business owners into Connecticut—especially diverse business owners, which is the primary mission of the organization,” she notes.
“I’m also the president of the National Black MBA Association, Greater Hartford Chapter. Their mission is to help serve and develop the minority professional community within the Greater Hartford area. The organization has is a high school development program. We also put on professional development events for entrepreneurs and other business professionals.”
She adds, “I’ve been serving on the board for the past few years. After I obtained my MBA I joined the organization right away. I got elected president last January.”
HELPING STARTUPS START AND GROW
Guilaine is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and business owners start and grow their companies.
“From networking and working with a lot of entrepreneurs, I’ve found that a relatively unknown piece of the pie for most new entrepreneurs is really knowing how to start off well,” she notes.
Guilaine recognizes that most entrepreneurs are very passionate about the product or service they’re providing. However, she says, “A lot of business owners may not have a lot of the background as to what it takes to run a company. They know their product, they know service, they know that industry, but it’s different to run a company. You have to understand all of that to do well and have a sustainable model.”
This is where Guilaine really taps into her consulting background. “Consulting teaches you how to apply methodology and objectivity to a problem and then fix it. It’s a very unique niche I’ve had to practice and master with so many projects,” she explains.
“I can use those skills in a very agnostic way with any business owner and still apply the same logic, in terms of going in there and understanding the industry and market they are in. So I can talk their talk, but I’m still giving them advice about how they should think about their company,” she adds.
“I want to see other entrepreneurs succeed in the community. I want to be a part of helping somebody else fulfill their dreams or to grow and to ultimately be able to accomplish their passions,” Guilaine says.
EDUCATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Education is another one of Guilaine’s passions—and an integral part of her consulting practice.
“Education is a big deal for me. Without it, you really can’t succeed in life regardless of what you do. Even prodigies who may have become multi-billionaires eventually have to invest back into understanding their industry. It all goes back to education,” she points out.
“With my business, I’ve asked myself: How can I take the skills I’ve been given use them in a way that is long-lasting and impactful to the community?”
She adds, “I get a lot of fulfillment from my education consulting practice. I’m able to use the same mindset, perspective, and skills I have fine-tuned in the business world and I truly can apply them in the education space.”
Working within the education space provides Guilaine with a similar type of purpose she gets from working with startups.
“With education, you’re dealing with an industry that usually doesn’t have all the resources available to them. With startups, if I can help someone else be successful that’s very fulfilling for me. And that’s one of the rewards I get from being able to sit down with another business owner and help them develop a sustainable model,” she explains.
“It’s important that the work I do makes a positive impact,” Guilaine emphasizes. “I find that fulfillment in these two distinct consulting practices I am undertaking.”