Creating Built Environments & Sustaining Communities
Natalie and Hermann of Lifecare Design help define and sustain communities. They specialize in designing Net-Zero buildings where the energy produced is equal to or less than the energy needed, keeping these structures off the power grid and saving money.
A Hartford architectural firm weathered a tough economy with tools and training from the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center
by Cheryl Rice
Photo by Shana Sureck Photography
Natalie Sweeney is an artist at heart. A native of Connecticut, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the University of Houston and then moved to southwest France to work as an architectural archivist and illustrator. She spent eight years there illustrating historical Romanesque architecture—a somewhat unusual foundation for the more conventional architecture career she would pursue later on.
She returned to Connecticut in 2000, where she met Hermann Cortes-Barrios, owner of the architectural firm Lifecare Design. Lifecare Design focuses on creating built environments that define and sustain communities. The firm completed major projects in the healthcare space for clients including Danbury Hospital before transitioning to focus on restoration. Recently, they designed the Parkville Market in Hartford, a former transit hub now under restoration to become a public gathering hall with shops, restaurants, and more. It is slated to open later this year. In addition to exciting projects like Parkville Market, they specialize in designing Net-Zero buildings. In these sustainably-built structures (including single/multi-family homes and municipal/commercial buildings), the energy produced is equal to or less than the energy needed, keeping these structures off the power grid and saving money. Natalie and Hermann incorporate solar panels into the designs to produce energy while reducing overall power needs by implementing energy-efficient building materials/techniques.
When they first met, Hermann wanted Natalie to come to work for him as a project manager. Although she didn’t really have much experience in traditional construction at that point, she decided to give it a shot. “I worked really hard,” she recalled. “I put in the effort and the time and eventually I earned a partnership in the firm.”
Lifecare Design did well in the early 2000’s. They had a steady stream of new business, experiencing enviable growth, and they were even selected to serve as “on-call” architects for the state of Connecticut. At the time, the company was headquartered in Ridgefield, but as their work with the state continued to increase, they considered making a move. When they were given the opportunity in 2006 to work as on-call architects for the city of Hartford as well, they decided that the capital city was where they needed to be. A client suggested a space on Park Street that turned out to be exactly what they were looking for and Hartford has been the home of Lifecare Design ever since.
Their new space helped them secure even more projects and the business was solid. Then came the economic downturn of 2008. “We grew and grew until the recession hit,” Natalie said. “Then we abruptly stopped growing.”
Given the economic challenges at the time, particularly in real estate development, the partners knew they needed to get the word out about their firm in order to build their business. “We were always chasing projects and working on projects. We didn’t have time to market the business and we were behind with all the technological forms of marketing,” Natalie said.
She learned about the programs offered by the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center and thought it sounded like a great way to become well-versed in new methods of business management. She took a business overview seminar and was immediately impressed with all the information and resources that were available to her at a low cost.
She then went on to participate in the Hartford Small Business Technical Assistance Program (HSBTAP), which she says helped her see her business from a different perspective. “We were trained to design projects and we approach our work as artists,” she said, “The workshops helped us see the business as a business and gave us the tools to work ‘on’ the business and not just ‘in’ it. You don’t learn that at architecture school!”
Natalie learned a range of skills in HSBTAP. “They covered financing, legal and marketing, including things like Google analytics and social media,” she recalled, “They even came out to our site to meet with us personally.”
Natalie is quick to credit the Center staff with helping Lifecare Design solidify its marketing plan. “Our small business advisor, Lacey Banks McGill was great at counseling us and a number of other people came to the office to help us with specific tasks,” she said, “I took part in the Women’s Business Roundtable monthly meetings, which is a great way to discuss different issues and network with other women business owners.”
Natalie encourages all entrepreneurs, particularly those who are in artistic fields, to seek out resources like the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center. “When you have a passion for something and you love what you do, you don’t always have all the information you need to turn that into a business,” she emphasized, “Find these workshops and learn about all the things you need to do.”
The Center provided Lifecare Design with valuable knowledge and tools at a critical point in the firm’s history. They needed to master business skills and get a firm marketing plan in place in order to make it through the rough economic times and the Center provided those tools. “I learned important information from day one—legal, financial, marketing, social, all of it. It’s an amazing resource for anyone who wants to start or grow a business.”
Making the Cut as Her Own Boss
After ten years working in top salons across the area, Alix decided it was time to take all that knowledge and break out on her own. She trusted her vision and she was confident that she had developed a roadmap for success.
This stylist learned from experience—and then found the support she needed to be her own boss
by Cheryl Rice
Photo by Shana Sureck Photography
From the time she first started working in hair salons, Alix Hryniewicki had a gut feeling that she was destined to have her own salon. She had studied criminal justice, but in her heart, she really wanted to do hair. So she returned to school, this time to study cosmetology, and for the next decade gained experience working for salons, always observing how the business aspect worked. She found herself learning not only from the successes, but from the challenges she witnessed.
Early on, she worked with a salon owner who seemed to struggle with the day-to-day duties involved in running a business. “Honestly, she seemed kind of miserable,” she recalled. Alix also worked for big corporate salons, but they had many of the same obstacles. “Seeing how other people ran salons really opened my eyes and I learned a lot,” she said.
After ten years working in top salons across the area, Alix decided it was time to take all that knowledge and break out on her own. She trusted her vision and she was confident that she had developed a roadmap for success. She had seen things done well and she had seen some mistakes. Through that experience, Alix learned that building lasting relationships would be the foundation of her new venture.
A friend told Alix that she could find the resources she needed to get her new salon off the ground at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center. She was matched with small business advisor Elaine Thomas Williams, who helped her start off on the right foot. “Elaine was amazing,” Alix said, “She guided me through creating a business plan and she helped me research locations to figure out the best place for my salon.”
Elaine also assisted Alix in getting the funding she needed through HEDCO’s small business loan program. With the financial backing to go with her solid business plan, Alix officially opened InK Hair Bar in Farmington in the summer of 2018.
The name of her salon has particular significance for Alix. “InK” (with a capital “K”) is named for her two daughters, Iliana and K’leigh. The salon is located right in the center of Farmington, which Alix says has been ideal both for serving her existing clientele and for developing her new business.
“For a first year, I really couldn’t have asked for much more,” she said happily. Alix reports that she has stayed busy with building a new clientele and positive word-of-mouth has been her biggest asset. Her ultimate goal would be to add stylists to her Farmington location and possibly even expand to a bigger space.
While Alix came to this business with a lot of knowledge of salons, both the upside and the downside, the nitty gritty of launching a business was not something she had studied. That’s why she is so grateful to have had the resources of the Center available to her, right from the first free business workshop she attended. “I was not a money person,” she emphasized, “Elaine was so helpful and she showed me how to understand profit and loss. I had so many questions!”
Alix says she is now a cheerleader for the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center, often referring friends and colleagues and encouraging them to take advantage of the free and low-cost support services. “I think it’s great. I talk about it all the time,” she said, “They’re available whenever you need to talk to them, and that’s been so important for InK. I couldn’t do it without them!”
FLYY-ing High with Wellness and Positivity
Sistah Anyango Yaa Asantewaa, as her traditional African name suggests, is both a healer and a warrior. She brings a unique combination of personal energies to her work and the result is an enterprise that has helped hundreds of women on their journey towards self-care.
A one-time dancer combines her love of music and movement with a message of empowerment
by Cheryl Rice
Photo by Jade Soto Photography
Sistah Anyango Yaa Asantewaa, as her traditional African name suggests, is both a healer and a warrior. She brings a unique combination of personal energies to her work and the result is an enterprise that has helped hundreds of women on their journey towards self-care. “My commitment is to help people heal body, mind, heart, and spirit,” she said about her business, FLYY Fitness Healing and the Arts. “Women are so busy today. I don’t say we have a lot on our plate. We don’t have a plate—we have a platter!”
“FLYY” is an acronym for “Freedom to Love the You in You,” and it encompasses a style of holistic healing that is rooted in Sistah Anyango’s love of dance and movement. She had the spirit of a dancer from birth and in her youth she studied and performed a variety of dance styles, including ballet, jazz, and traditional African and Caribbean folk dancing.
In 2007, she began teaching Zumba, an exercise fitness program based on Colombian dancing and within a year she knew she wanted to open her own traveling studio. That studio became FLYY Fitness, which grew steadily over the ensuing years as Sistah Anyango’s personal mission evolved.
“Self-care is an energy that is a requirement for holistic health,” she explained, “I wanted FLYY Fitness to be a place where women could hold an energy of self-care, to make their body, mind, heart, and spirit whole.” She began to refer to the people in her classes as “self-healers,” not clients or customers.
As she made the shift from a fitness business to a more all-encompassing holistic health enterprise, she knew she needed to re-brand and rethink her business model. That is what prompted her to reach out to the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center.
“Elaine Thomas Williams was doing a small business workshop at the Center and I had heard such great things about them,” Sistah Anyango said, “I’m a life-long student anyway. I’m always interested in learning.”
Through Elaine and her workshop, Sistah Anyango was referred to small business advisor Lacey Banks McGill and the Women’s Business Roundtable program. Over the course of a year, she met with women who were building all types of businesses and she learned about the many resources available for entrepreneurs who want to grow and expand. She developed a business plan for her new “FLYY Fitness Healing and the Arts” concept and re-brand, and in 2018 she qualified for financing through Hartford’s HEDCO program.
With that financing, Sistah Anyango has been able to bring her new brand to market with a vibrant Facebook presence and marketing videos. “I learned the difference between micro- and macro-marketing and I created both kinds of videos,” she said. “I’ve already gotten more than 7,000 views! It’s phenomenal. So much more than I expected.”
Her next step will be building out a website to match the vision she has for her business. She is working with Shelli McMillen at the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center to help pull together the resources to make that happen. “I want my website to be experiential. I want to be able to offer a lot of the same experiences virtually that people have in my classes,” she said.
Right now, there are two aspects to Sistah Anyango’s practice. On Saturday mornings, she gathers a group of “self-healers” for an in-person class in West Hartford, which includes a session of Zumba fitness, bookended by affirmation circles, where the participants connect and share in a supportive and accepting atmosphere. During the week, she takes her talents on the road to places like health centers, community centers, and public schools, where she conducts “power hours” with instruction in movement and mindfulness.
Sistah Anyango believes that the Center has played a key part in her evolving business. “Oh my goodness, it is such a wealth of information, insight, and support,” she said enthusiastically, “I have referred several small businesses to them. We don’t often receive that kind of support.”
She had particular praise for the staff at the Center who helped her along the way. “They are 100 percent committed to helping you. They just work and work and work with you until you reach your goal. Elaine was not going to stop until I got funding!”
Sistah Anyango has created two vision boards to help her set FLYY Fitness Healing and the Arts on the right path. She said the process helped her see that this year is going to be about pursuing her passion, getting out of her comfort zone, and manifesting her dreams—some of the same things she helps other women do.
“I know I’m still emerging with FLYY and it’s been an awesome ride. I’ll be manifesting magic!”
Right Help + Right Time = Booming Accounting Business
Melody’s family came to the United States from Vietnam when she was nine years old, so she has a special appreciation for the opportunities available in this country. Her parents fled the oppressive communist regime of the early 1980s, and although she was just a child, she remembers what a frightening time it was.
A Hartford tax accountant has increased her number of clients many times over, thanks to help from the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center
by Cheryl RiceWhen you think of tax accountants, you might think of people who are steady, fixed, and predictable. But Melody Do, founder and owner of Kara Enterprise LLC, is more of a restless spirit. “I’m the type of person who kept changing her major in college,” she said with a laugh. “I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Even after college, Melody said there was one year in which she changed jobs six times. Nothing was resonating with her. Nothing seemed to fit.
Photo by Shana Sureck Photography
She always had an affinity for numbers and, as a result, she often worked in finance in one capacity or another. She remembers the day when her future started to become clear. “I was in my thirties and I was driving,” she recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘What is it that I want to do with my life?’ Then I saw a sign advertising a Jackson Hewitt tax class.” She decided to sign up to learn more about tax accounting and found that it was a great fit for her interests and talents. She even went back to college to earn a degree in accounting. That was 15 years ago and it put her on the path she is still on today: as an entrepreneur and independent tax advisor with a booming consultancy of her own.
Melody’s family came to the United States from Vietnam when she was nine years old, so she has a special appreciation for the opportunities available in this country. Her parents fled the oppressive communist regime of the early 1980s, and although she was just a child, she remembers what a frightening time it was. “That was a terrible place to be, a terrible place,” she recalled. Because her parents took the risk and brought the family out of those perilous circumstances, Melody has had the chance to follow her dreams ever since.
As an independent accountant, Melody has focused her practice on small businesses like restaurants, salons, and automotive repair shops. For business owners like these, who rarely can afford to keep a full-time bookkeeper on staff, she is able to provide a full range of accounting, reporting, and tax preparation services. Her portfolio of clients (called her “book”) was steady for several years, but like any other business owner, she wanted to see it grow. Thanks to a grant from the city of Hartford, she was able to take part in a business development program with the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center, a program that she credits with more than tripling her book.
Melody emphasized that it was the marketing lessons she learned that helped more than anything. “Before the program, I had done a lot of mail pieces for advertising. It just didn’t work,” she said. To bring her marketing to the next level, the Center suggested that she focus on online channels like Facebook and Google Ads.
“They sent people to my office to help me one-on-one,” she said. “They took pictures, and even helped me set up a website. It was the right place, the right time, and the right people to build my business.”
Melody credits getting “out there” in front of people with taking Kara Enterprise to an entirely new stage of success. Her online marketing has opened her up to a whole new client base and a steady stream of referrals has built up her book even more. She expects to double her business again this year on top of the 300 percent growth she has already experienced. “You have to fight for it and work really hard,” she said. “but the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center is there for you when you need partners to help.”
It’s the partnership with the Center that Melody feels is most important and that partnership is still ongoing. She says Shelli McMillen, Program Manager for the Hartford Small Business Technical Assistance Program, has been especially helpful in steering her in the right direction. “Shelli made me feel so special,” she emphasized, “She sent me the help I needed to get me on Facebook and build my website and she still sends me referrals.”
When asked to give advice to other entrepreneurs like herself, Melody emphasized the importance of education. “I thought I knew everything, but I didn’t,” she laughed. No matter what an entrepreneur needs, from business planning to marketing support to help with securing financing, Melody says that the Center provides the kind of partnership that business owners need in order to be successful—and much of it is available free of charge.
“I’m still so excited!” she said about working with the Center. “They are such wonderful partners, and I’m so glad I found them!”
From Her Living Room to a Brick-and-Mortar Store
Gleyann Fontanez originally trained as a social worker, but when she started selling women’s fashions right from her living room on the side, she knew that was the right path. Although it was a big financial risk, she decided to open a storefront in Hartford, Latinas Fashion.
Retail entrepreneur grows her stylish brand from her living room
by Cheryl Rice
Photo by Shana Sureck Photography
When Gleyann Fontanez came to the United States as a teenager, she didn’t speak English. Raised in Juncos, Puerto Rico, she knew she had a lot to learn if she was going to succeed in her new home. She graduated from Bulkeley High School in Hartford and went on to attend Capital Community College—all while mastering a new language and learning to adjust to a new culture. Her real dream, however, was to open a clothing business to serve the members of her adopted community in Connecticut.
She originally trained as a social worker and she started selling women’s fashions right from her living room on the side. She knew she was on the right path. “I love business, and I love to help people,” Gleyann said. Although it was a big financial risk, she decided to open a storefront in Hartford, Latinas Fashion, and it wasn’t long before she found significant help in reaching her dream.
In late 2016, Gleyann was selected as one of the small business owners in her Parkville community to receive a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) award. Since 2012, a portion of her neighborhood has been designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as an NRSA, which falls under the Federal Community Development Block Grant program. Although it was not a huge amount of money, the award is referred to as a “micro-grant”, it was enough to help her gain some marketing traction and feel secure in growing her business. “I am so very blessed,” she said. “They helped me get a website and take pictures, and I was featured in Connecticut Magazine.” The grant allowed Gleyann to leave social work and focus full-time on her new store.
Another benefit of the program was that Gleyann was referred to the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center for additional business training. “I met Shelli McMillen and she told me everything about how the Center works and what they could do to help me.” Shelli McMillen is the Center’s Program Manager for Marketing and Technical Assistance. She worked with Gleyann to help her take advantage of the Hartford Small Business Technical Assistance Program (HSBTAP).
HSBTAP expands on the Center’s counseling and training offerings to provide additional assistance to motivated business owners in the startup and expansion phase. Qualifying Hartford small businesses and startups benefit from one-on-one time with business advisors and technical experts, as well as small group seminars. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all plan for program participants. A full assessment is conducted, goals are set, a commitment contract is signed, and small business owners begin work on a customized blueprint to move their company ahead.
Professional assistance covers a broad range of topics, including marketing strategy, website improvement, business plan development, financial management, legal issues, operations, hiring, and contracts. Participants in the program increase their knowledge and confidence level and report better outcomes on their path to success.
Gleyann combined the skills she learned at the Center with her inherent love of working with people and providing great customer service and top-quality merchandise, and it has been a formula for business success.
“I have a lot of regular customers, some who come in every week,” she said. “It’s a small shop, but we have a lot of love!” Her store specializes in fashions from Colombia, but Gleyann says that her customers come from all walks of life. “It’s a great diversity of race, and I like that,” she added.
Gleyann’s dream includes a vision for bettering her community at large and growing her business is a key part of that. “My main goal is to create jobs in Connecticut,” she said. “I want to help people like me, immigrants who might not speak English yet. Creating jobs for them is so important.” According to her company’s mission statement, she is committed to continuing to expand, becoming a national and international company, and an industry leader.
Gleyann credits Shelli and the rest of the staff at the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center for giving her guidance when she needed it most. The resources, many of them free, helped her as a new entrepreneur and she believes they can help others, too. “You can be successful in the United States, and you can have what you want,” she emphasized. “Even if you don’t know the language, just keep working and fight for your dream!”
Fostering an Environment of Innovation
Kimberly Ewalt, CEO of Charter Oak Environmental Services, credits the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center with helping her over the years, from the first business workshops she took to the integral role it plays today.
Kim Ewalt: Winner of the SBA's 2019 CT Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year award
Customer-focused problem solving is the key to two decades of success for this CT environmental services firm
by Cheryl Rice
Photo by Shana Sureck Photography
“I’ve always loved being innovative,” says Kimberly Ewalt, CEO of Charter Oak Environmental Services. “I like looking at all aspects of a business and figuring out what I can bring that can make a positive impact.”
That kind of thinking is vital both for her business and for her individual customers. Charter Oak tackles a wide range of environmental projects such as assessment, investigation and remediation, and non-hazardous and hazardous material transportation and disposal. It’s a field that is constantly changing and implementing new technologies, and with Ewalt at the helm, Charter Oak is establishing itself as a leader in the ever-evolving world of environmental consulting services.
Ewalt started her career in public accounting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although she minored in Environmental Studies, she hadn’t considered a career in the field until her colleague Mark Franson approached her about starting an environmental consulting and engineering firm in Connecticut. “It was a great opportunity. From my experience in public accounting, I was familiar with working with municipalities and quasi-governmental entities, so that was a good fit,” she said. They started the firm in 1997, and in 2012, Ewalt became the sole owner. Franson, an environmental engineer and LEP (Licensed Environmental Professional), is still with the company and heads up the technical side.
Ewalt credits the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center with helping her over the years, from the first business workshops she took to the integral role it plays today. She is quick to recognize several programs that played a part in her success—particularly the Small Contractor Development Program that the Center runs in conjunction with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC). “Shelli McMillen, the Center's Marketing & Technical Assistance Program Manager, and Michael Jefferson, MDC Supplier Diversity Manager, are hands-on advocates for women-owned and minority-owned businesses,” Ewalt said. “It’s through their efforts that Charter Oak has met some of the prime contractors that we perform work for today. It’s an invaluable resource.”
She also found the Center’s TD Bank Business Leadership Series to be both personally and professionally rewarding. “It’s a fantastic program, with great speakers and resources,” she recalled. “It was a great forum for me. It made me think about how I want to lead and what is important for my business. I learned to focus on becoming a more effective leader while holding true to my core business values.”
Ewalt says that the Center’s Leadership series helped her to develop a major initiative within her company. The “Charter Oak Friday” program gives each employee one day off in any month that doesn’t already have a scheduled holiday. These days are intended to allow the employees to focus on personal fulfillment, growth, and rejuvenation, which positions them to contribute at a higher level as team members and develop as individuals as well.
Other Center programs have played a part in Ewalt’s success, too. “The annual CT Business Matchmaker event has been a great opportunity to meet people in both the capacity of working for them and utilizing their skills and abilities on Charter Oak projects,” she said. “And the Diverse Supplier Development Academy (DSDA) challenged me to assess ways in which I can strategically position the company for growth. That was the launch point for me—taking a fresh look at the business and where it can go in the next twenty years.” She specifically credits the DSDA with giving her a new perspective on her business, allowing her to step outside the day-to-day and focus on Charter Oak as opposed to working in it.
With over 20 years in business, Charter Oak Environmental Services is booming. They just opened an office in Boston and they are expanding their market to cover the entire New England geographical area as well as New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The addition of transportation and disposal services in the fall of 2016 added value for many of their customers by simplifying the whole process of environmental management.
“It’s a pretty exciting time,” Ewalt observed. “Adding transportation and disposal opened up a whole new opportunity for us in this region. And we are working with an innovative new technology that is allowing us to streamline workflow both internally and for our stakeholders.”
Ewalt anticipates that the growth and expansion at Charter Oak will result in new job creation, as well. She expects to be looking for additional transporters, hydrogeologists, engineers, field staff, and project managers. “We intend to become a leader in the innovation side of environmental services,” she said. “We will always look for ways in which we can develop innovative solutions to grow our business.”
Dental Care for Dogs and Cats
Dental issues are the number one health problem for dogs and cats, but many veterinarians struggle to fit dental care into their already busy practices. Dr. Jean Herrman recognized this gap presented a perfect business opportunity.
Connecticut practice fills a void by focusing on dental care for animals
by Cheryl Rice
Photo by Shana Sureck Photography
You might not realize it, but dental issues are the number one health problem for companion animals like dogs and cats. Almost 70 percent of them experience some form of periodontal disease by the age of three, and that can lead to serious health and pain issues for them the same way that it can for people. That’s the challenge that Dr. Jean Herrman takes on at Companion Animal Dental Services in Bolton.
“Most veterinarians don’t get much in the way of dental training,” she said. “Then they are expected to go into practice and perform dentistry.”
Because so many veterinarians struggle to fit dental care, which can be expensive and time consuming, into their already busy practices, many of them are looking for solutions that will provide better options for their patients’ dental care needs. Dr. Herrman has worked to fill that need since her earliest days of caring for animals.
She attended veterinary school at U.C. Davis, where her curriculum included dental training. “Not many people had that at that time,” she recalled. After graduation, she worked for eight of her fourteen general practice years in a veterinary practice where she focused on dental care.
Most practices simply don’t have the luxury of keeping a veterinarian dedicated to dentistry on staff full-time, but it became clear to Dr. Herrman that focusing on these needs was allowing the practice to provide better outcomes for their patients. Dental care was no longer just an afterthought. Her success in this specialty sparked her first idea for a business.
Dr. Herrman began to offer her services as a travelling dental provider for veterinarians. While the idea was popular, setting herself up as a business was not something she knew much about. “You don’t learn much about business in veterinary school,” she laughed. “I needed to do a business plan and I didn’t know how to begin.”
She began with a call to the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center. After sitting in on a complimentary new business seminar, she signed up for a full course on starting a business. The course, along with one-on-one appointments with her small business advisor, Milena Erwin, helped her to construct a business plan to guide her and she was off.
Over the next several years, she built the “travelling dental provider” concept into a thriving practice. Veterinarians were eager to offer her specialty services to their patients and her business model allowed her to charge fees that were accessible to most pet owners.
In 2016, she was ready for the next phase—her own practice location. She secured the location in Bolton and then slowly began to transition away from travelling. She now works full-time from her office and her business has continued to accelerate rapidly. She stays booked up at least a month in advance.
“It’s always been my goal to make these vital services accessible and to provide better services to more clients,” she said. “This dentistry-focused practice allows us to provide more attention to detail, keep good records for each of our patients, and have all the right equipment on-hand.”
More pet owners are starting to recognize the importance of proper dental care for their animals and the demands on Dr. Herrman’s time are increasing. She has become a trusted provider for many area vets who regularly send her referrals. She is now getting ready to take the next step, a larger location with possibly two or three new hires. She also wants to own, rather than rent, her practice location. So she plans to return to the Women’s Business Center for advice.
“The Women’s Business Center gave me confidence,” she said. “I loved meeting the people and being exposed to all kinds of businesses in the business planning course. I also met many of my professional business contacts there and have utilized their services to grow my own business. The staff has also kept in contact with me and has provided unsolicited and much appreciated guidance. I’ll go back to them to help me grow and develop the next phase of my business plan.”
Helping to meet the widespread need for focused animal dental care has become an all-encompassing passion for Dr. Herrman. She works regularly with rescue organizations to help with dental treatments and she has volunteered with Protectors of Animals as the triage vet for homeless animals in the Hartford area. She has also travelled to the Gulf of Mexico to aid a team studying the long-term health effects of a devastating oil spill on their population of dolphins.
She has seen first-hand how proper dental care can help alleviate suffering and improve health in companion animals, and she wants to spread the word. “That’s my vision,” she said. “To provide quality dental care in a low-stress, attentive way, focused on the pets. And to educate pet owners about how much proper dental care can enhance their animals’ lives.”
Healthy, Natural Foods Fuel Big Dreams
After being laid off from a job she loved, Josephine Joiner started stress eating and gaining weight. When she realized the toll all this was taking on her body and mind, she turned to healthy foods to try to feel better. She started looking for ways to turn her love of good food into a career.
Healthy, Natural Foods Fuel Big Dreams for This Entrepreneur
by Cheryl Rice
Photo by Shana Sureck Photography
Just a few short years ago, Josephine Joiner was in a bad place. She’d been laid off from a job she loved, working in marketing with a popular fast-casual food chain. That job had allowed her to do many things that made her feel fulfilled—working in different stores, restructuring their takeout procedures and training employees to deliver exceptional customer service. She enjoyed that job and she was good at it, but then it was gone. “Losing that job was a defining moment for me,” she said, “A major depression set in.”
Joiner says those were some rough months. While she was trying to figure out what to do next, she was stress eating and gaining weight. When she realized the toll all this was taking on her body and mind, she turned to healthy foods to try to feel better. “I started making salads and smoothies and working out. I just wanted to be happy.”
Meanwhile, she was looking for ways to turn her love of good food into a career. A native of New Orleans, Joiner’s first dream was to open a real creole restaurant. She connected with an authentic creole chef in Connecticut, but that plan never got off the ground. Then one day, she found herself in a smoothie bar in Hartford—and she loved it. “I thought, ‘I can do this!’” she recalled with a smile. Rather than see her as a competitor, the owner of the juice bar was happy to help her get her dream started. He gave her some insight about the business and even shared some recipes.
She then started researching the nuts-and-bolts of the juice bar business. “I’m the research queen!” she laughed. “I found out it was so much more feasible than a restaurant. It involves about half the costs.”
It was at this point that she reconnected with the University of Hartford's Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center. She’d first taken a business planning class nearly five years earlier when she was looking at starting a clothing line. She was matched with small business advisor and attorney Lacey Banks McGill, who helped her figure out how her ideas could make money. Banks McGill taught Joiner how to break down costs and forecast profit. “Now I can do that with any product I sell. I know how much I’ll make,” said Joiner.
The Center also helped her get a HEDCO loan to get started. She researched locations, trying to balance good traffic and visibility with a reasonable cost. She found the right spot on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. “There are good plans for this area,” she said. “I like that there are long-term tenants here and the traffic is good.” From April to September of 2016, she secured the loan, found the location, and worked on renovating it. She also had to get the necessary health inspection. The day after she got health department approval, she opened her doors.
Joiner has big plans, both short- and long-term, but she remembers Lacey Bank McGill’s advice. “She told me to use my first year to learn the business and understand my costs better, so I did that and spent as little as possible.” She has established numerous loyal customers who stop in regularly and she’s growing her brand with an active presence on Facebook and Instagram. She also has had a cart at the Dunkin Donuts Park for Yard Goats games.
This is only the beginning for Juicy J Juice Bar. Next up, Joiner is looking to add more food items to her menu, like sandwiches and wraps, and then get on GrubHub and UberEATS. She also is making “local and organic” a top priority. She wants her produce to be straight from the farm and her dream is to establish close relationships with Connecticut farmers. “I’d like to see pictures of the farmers we work with on our walls,” she said.
Joiner already has a vision for a worldwide Juicy J franchise. Her research showed that healthy fast food is a trend that’s growing in Europe and Asia as well as here, and with smart investment and good planning, Juicy J can help lead the way.
She’s building a foundation for that now. She is planning on hiring and expanding her outreach with young people to teach them the importance of fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. Serving the community and her customers is a theme she returns to often. “You have to have standards as a company,” she said. “I want my employees to reflect our dedication to service and good health. That’s the only way we’ll grow.”