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Success Stories

success-coachman.jpgEmpowering a Sisterhood of Successful DJs

It isn’t easy to build a thriving business in the entertainment industry, but Qiana Coachman-Strickland has been mastering it by balancing two worlds—real and virtual—throughout the pandemic. Also known as DJ Q-Boogie, Qiana has been deejaying full-time since August 2019—and she’s quickly become one of the most popular DJs in the Greater Hartford area. She has deejayed and hosted events including The State of Health Equity Among Boys and Men of Color Summit presented by the UConn Health Disparities Institute, and she earned the title of Sound Artist through a commissioned soundscape project for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. 

Empowering a Sisterhood of Successful DJs


Qiana Coachman-Strickland has found success as DJ Q-Boogie, and she’s paying it forward by helping other women in the industry.

It isn’t easy to build a thriving business in the entertainment industry, but Qiana Coachman-Strickland is mastering it by balancing two worlds—real and virtual—throughout the pandemic.

Also known as DJ Q-Boogie, Qiana has been deejaying full-time since August 2019—and she’s quickly become one of the most popular DJs in the Greater Hartford area. She has deejayed and hosted events including The State of Health Equity Among Boys and Men of Color Summit presented by the UConn Health Disparities Institute, and she earned the title of Sound Artist through a commissioned soundscape project for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

“My background is in insurance. I’d always worked in the insurance industry,” she said. “But I love music and dancing and making people happy, so about 14 years ago I started learning how to DJ while providing a platform for DJs to showcase their skills at the same time.”

As she worked her full-time job and honed her craft, Qiana began promoting and showcasing her DJ skills—and she was a hit. She got regular bookings for events, and for several years she kept up her DJ gigs while still working at her insurance job. Finally, in 2019, she was ready to leave that job and build her business as a full-time DJ.

Unfortunately, it was only a few short months later that the pandemic shut down all in-person events, a development that upended Qiana’s new business. But by connecting with Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center, she was able to make some new contacts and stay positive. “They offered a lot of different webinars in social media and marketing that were really helpful,” she recalled.

Qiana was also invited to join virtual panels like Women of Color in Business and Women on the Move, alongside other women business owners. She says opportunities like those helped her to stay inspired and empowered.

Now that in-person events are starting to pick up again, Qiana is positioned to thrive. Galas, weddings, fundraising events, and women’s empowerment events are all back in action, and attendees are ready to dance and enjoy the DJ Q-Boogie experience. “Live events are definitely coming back, so my business is doing well,” she said. “And I’m continuing to stay connected and get bookings for virtual events from clients around the world.”

Qiana has experienced first-hand how hard it can be for a woman to make it in the field of deejaying, so she has decided to expand her focus and develop tools to support and educate other women who want to be DJs. “When I first started learning how to DJ, there weren’t a lot of female DJs that I could turn to,” she said. “We have different experiences and situations from the male DJs, and we have to learn to handle things differently.”

She is in the process of building a platform especially designed to help female DJs, whether they are aspiring, new, or experienced. Qiana is the founder the Female DJ Association, an organization to empower and inspire women in the industry. “It’s a place to help them grow and build their skills as well as their businesses,” she said. “And I’ve also just started a podcast called ‘She’s the DJ’ where we interview female DJs and business owners, and we talk about their journeys, mindset, family, and of course, music.”

Through its Small Business Technical Assistance Program, the Center also connected Qiana with an expert who helps to design educational courses, so developing a course for female DJs is next on her agenda. She envisions all these pieces coming together to create a community of support and resources for women in the industry.

“I want to create a space where women will be comfortable asking questions,” she said. “I want to be able to help them with everything from branding to building their businesses to developing and improving their DJ skills. I want to be able to serve the female DJ community with anything that has to do with the business of deejaying.”

success-bossier-kelly.jpgBringing the Neighborhood Together

When Chantell Boissiere-Kelly and her husband sat down to talk about their dream of opening a business, they knew they wanted to find a way to serve their community in Hartford. So in 2018, Chantell and her husband opened Capital Ice Cream. They wanted to create a place where families, friends, and colleagues can gather and enjoy a little uninterrupted fun together. “Everybody is so distracted,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of that sacred time of just being together. So I feel so much joy when I see families, or just people in general, sitting and having conversations, enjoying each other’s company.”

Bringing the Neighborhood Together for a Scoop and a Smile


Chantell Boissiere-Kelly’s ice cream shop is a vibrant gathering place for her Hartford community.

When Chantell Boissiere-Kelly and her husband sat down to talk about their dream of opening a business, they knew they wanted to find a way to serve their community in Hartford. As both a teacher and a mother, Chantell looked for inspiration in family activities, and she considered the kinds of things that she and her family liked to do together. “I thought about the fact that we’d travel to another town to get ice cream, because there were really no local ice cream shops in our area,” she recalled. “When we had our children, I felt like I wanted to have something more in our community that we could be proud of. Ice cream is just something that makes people feel good!”

So in 2018, Chantell and her husband opened Capital Ice Cream. They wanted to create a place where families, friends, and colleagues can gather and enjoy a little uninterrupted fun together. “Everybody is so distracted,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of that sacred time of just being together. So I feel so much joy when I see families, or just people in general, sitting and having conversations, enjoying each other’s company.”

Shortly after she launched the business, Chantell came to the Entrepreneurial Center & Womens’ Business Center (EC-WBC) for some guidance, thanks to a referral from a friend in her church. She says they provided help in many aspects of managing her business. “We had a lot of conversations about pricing and profitability, and different ways that I could increase my revenue. We talked about marketing and events, and we started using social media. They are a resource for basically anything I need!”

Chantell’s joyful, colorful gathering place hit a major obstacle in 2020 when the pandemic hit. All of a sudden, bringing people together—one of the biggest goals at Capital Ice Cream—just wasn’t possible. Chantell and her husband had to pivot in their business strategy, so they moved to more online selling. They allowed people to order in advance and then safely pick up their ice cream outside the store. It was a difficult time, but Chantell says there were some bright spots. “People just wanted to get out and do something to enjoy themselves, so I saw a lot of kindness and a lot of patience,” she said. “And through being online, we reached people from other areas outside of Hartford, too. So we had people traveling from other parts of the state to visit us. That might not have happened prior to the pandemic.”

Even though they made the move to online ordering and were even able to reach some new customers, the pandemic was still a rough time for businesses like Capital Ice Cream. Thanks to assistance from the EC-WBC, they were able to access pandemic relief funds to help make up for the lost revenue, and now they are back and buzzing in their Frog Hollow community.

“I’m proud that we’ve not only been able to create something in our own community that’s a cool and happy place to be, but we’re also showing kids that it can be owned by somebody who looks like the people in the neighborhood,” she said. “That was important to my husband and me. So when I see people there having fun, and kids being silly, that brings me a lot of joy.”

Chantell is happy to have the EC-WBC on her team as her business grows. “I know that any time I have a question, I can call them and they’ll help me find the information or guide me to the right place,” she said. “I feel like I have my own team backing me up that wants to see me succeed, which is a beautiful thing. They completely have my back and want to see me win. They understand my vision and my passion, and they're there with me every step of the way, helping me figure out what the next best move is.”

troy-anthony.jpgReaching the Height of Fashion

Troy Anthony’s dream of being a fashion designer has taken him from city street corners to the runways of Paris and Milan. As the founder of Troy Anthony Fashion, he’s had to work hard, stay focused, and take risks in order to build the foundation of his unique and successful fashion line.

Reaching the Height of Fashion

Troy Anthony is a designer who’s getting attention in the fashion capitals of the world, and he hopes his story will inspire other creative spirits to dream big.

Troy Anthony’s dream of being a fashion designer has taken him from city street corners to the runways of Paris and Milan. As the founder of Troy Anthony Fashion, he’s had to work hard, stay focused, and take risks in order to build the foundation of his unique and successful fashion line.

Troy studied fashion design in college, and after he earned his bachelor’s degree, he got the opportunity to continue his studies in Milan, Italy. “Everybody was telling me I should go work for a big company, a big designer,” he recalled. “But I chose to go the entrepreneurial route. That’s just who I am. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit.”

He started out with a few friends, making clothes and selling them on street corners. His designs had to be simple, because he and his friends didn’t have a lot of money for fabric. They made up for that with creativity, using what they had to craft looks that reflected what was hot in fashion at the time—and their efforts were successful. “We were probably the only vendors at the time with a credit card machine on the street corner!”

From there, they set up shop in a flea market. That gave Troy more space and flexibility to show off his talents, and he built up a steady clientele. As time passed, though, his friends started to get married and pursue other aspects of their lives—but Troy was committed to the business. He continued to build his client base and his contacts in the fashion world, and it wasn’t long until he had the opportunity to participate in Hartford Fashion Week.

“That was a great success,” Troy said. “I got to meet and collaborate with a lot of other local designers and artists. I was really able to build up a name for myself. And that’s where I met the people from the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center.”

Troy credits the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center with being there for him through many stages of his business. He says Shelli McMillen and Jack Antonich provided valuable guidance that helped him set up the foundation of Troy Anthony Fashion. “They really helped me figure out how to develop a business plan, like a roadmap to follow so I don’t get lost.” More recently, Jeannette Dardenne has helped him secure media coverage.

Over the last couple of years, Troy Anthony Fashion has garnered worldwide attention. In 2021, Troy was invited to take part in Paris Fashion Week. The pandemic climate made him a little hesitant at first, but he realized that this was something he simply couldn’t pass up. “I just had a talk with myself. I told myself that I’m not going to get an opportunity like this every day. I had to jump on it. I had to put myself out there.”

So in early 2021, Troy debuted his Spring/Summer 2022 collection in Paris. He called that collection Angelic because he says the whole experience made him feel like his guardian angels were watching over him. The collection was well-received, and it put Troy Anthony Fashion on a new level of prominence and visibility.

When he returned home, local news outlets were eager to share his story of success on such a big stage. He appeared on television on a show called CT Live on NBC Connecticut. Troy says that was a great experience, because they highlighted his early struggles on his path to success. “As I was growing up, I stuttered and had a hard time expressing my ideas. I wanted to tell people about that, and how I found a way to use my voice to express myself.”

Being a role model is important to Troy, and sharing his personal story is one way to do that. “My goal is to inspire people like me who are dreamers. Whether you want to be in a creative field or a technical field, or you want to be an entrepreneur, my message to those folks is don’t allow people to pin you down or put you in a certain category. Go out there and pursue your dream.”

Troy’s reputation in the fashion world continues to grow. He was invited back to Paris Fashion week this year to showcase another collection, and this time he has added Milan Fashion Week, as well. The event in Milan is happening in late February, and then Paris Fashion Week will be in March. “I’ve got my work cut out for me!” he said.

Troy is quick to acknowledge the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center for its role in positioning his business for success. “They have given me so much guidance and a lot of good ideas,” he said. “We put together a business plan, and they helped me get all my paperwork in order. They’ve helped me to build my brand and market myself online, and when I wanted to renovate my store space, they helped me secure a couple of grants to finance that. There have been a few roadblocks along the way, but they’ve been there for me, and I’m really grateful.”

success-rodriguez.jpgIf you love what you do, why change?

The road to becoming an entrepreneur and business owner usually has a lot of twists and turns. Yahaira Rodriguez knows that well. She comes from a background in human services, holding an associate’s degree in the field and working in shelters and group homes for more than a dozen years. In 2018, she decided she wanted to do something different with her life—but it wasn’t exactly clear to her what that would be. She thought that would mean leaving human services work behind. However, the Women’s Business Center assisted her to create a business doing the work she enjoys, directly helping people with intellectual disabilities.

If you love what you do, why change?


Yahaira Rodriguez wanted to  become an entrepreneur and she thought that would mean leaving human services work behind. the Women's Business Center helped her create a business doing the work she enjoys.

The road to becoming an entrepreneur and business owner usually has a lot of twists and turns. Yahaira Rodriguez knows that well. She comes from a background in human services, holding an associate’s degree in the field and working in shelters and group homes for more than a dozen years. In 2018, though, she decided she wanted to do something different with her life—but it wasn’t exactly clear to her what that would be.

She initially wanted to open a jewelry store, and she turned to the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center to help her figure out how to get started. She remembers that Shelli McMillen and Lacey Banks McGill took the time to help her determine if that really was the best path forward. “They told me that jewelry stores were really common, and I should think about doing something else,” Yahaira recalled. “They told me something that really stuck with me. I should find something that would make a difference and that people would talk about.”

Yahaira took a step back and thought about that advice. She mulled it over for a couple of months, with Shelli reaching out to her periodically to see how the decision was coming. Finally, it became clear. “One day, I just said, ‘Shelli, I want to do what I’m doing right now.’ Helping people is my dream, and once I really started working on this business, everything came together. I was able to develop my own day program for people with intellectual disabilities.”

It’s understandable that Yahaira would come back to human services work once she took time to consider her options. She initially got into the field because of her experiences growing up with a brother who had special needs. “My mother adopted my brother at seven months old, and he has intellectual disabilities,” she said. “I saw there was a need in the community, and I saw a lot of discrimination and lack of services. I saw my mom struggling, so helping became my biggest dream.”

Yahaira was matched with mentor Elaine Thomas-Williams, who coached her in every aspect of getting the business off the ground. She started out by putting together a business plan, something that Yahaira says she really needed guidance on. She needed to get everything in place for the business, including funding to show financial stability, before she could take on the difficult process of getting licensed. “Elaine made it happen,” she said. “I needed everything. We worked together to come up with the business name, the tax ID number, and the right insurance. Then she helped me get the funding. She found a lender, and I’ve been working with them since last year.”

The pandemic shutdown slowed Yahaira’s progress, but finally it was time for her to complete her DDS (Department of Developmental Services) licensing. That process included an interview that she found challenging. “They denied me at first. I had some trouble with my expression in the interview, but I was nervous. Who isn’t going to get nervous, having 11 people interview you? You feel like you’re in a courtroom.” She appealed the denial decision, and with support from Elaine and Shelli, Yahaira won her case and got full approval for her business.

Only Smiles Adult Day Services LLC officially opened on January 3, with offices on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. As a DDS qualified human services agency, they work directly with people with intellectual disabilities. Yahaira is doing the work she loves, assisting with job coaching, recreation, nutrition, financial skills, and other life skills to help adults with intellectual challenges live full and productive lives.

A jewelry store might have been simpler to open, but in the end, Yahaira decided to take a more difficult route to truly fulfill her passion to help others. She says the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center deserves a lot of the credit for helping her make it over the hurdles along the way. “This business has been like a dream come true,” she said. “I’d never done a business plan, and I didn’t know anything about a website or all the business policies you need to have. I’m glad I followed their advice to find a business that makes a difference and gets people to talk about me. It was the right decision, and now everything is coming together.”

success-impaCTtraining.jpg

Having an Impact, from Basketball Training to Life Lessons

ImpaCT Training’s co-founders Steve Samuels and Chris Prescott began to build their winning partnership on the basketball court. They started out as rivals, playing for Windsor and Northwest Catholic high schools respectively, but they found themselves on the same team when they got to college. After college and professional stints on the courts, they decided to bring their focus local. Chris started ImpaCT Training by focusing on strength and conditioning training, and when Steve came on board, they decided to expand their vision and use their wide range of experience to help fulfill the bigger needs they saw in their community.

From Basketball Training to Life Lessons, Steve Samuels and Chris Prescott are having an Impact


Former college teammates put their professional sports experience to work training and mentoring young athletes

ImpaCT Training’s co-founders Steve Samuels and Chris Prescott began to build their winning partnership on the basketball court. They started out as rivals, playing for Windsor and Northwest Catholic high schools respectively, but they found themselves on the same team when they got to college. “We were able to win a conference championship as sophomores when we played for Saint Peter’s University,” said Steve. “That really helped to create a strong bond between us.”

After Saint Peter’s, both Steve and Chris got the opportunity to play professionally, with Steve heading to Canada and then Mexico, and Chris to Panama. After that, they both came back to Connecticut where their careers continued to run in parallel. They worked as substitute teachers, and they say that experience showed them how much the students needed mentors and other resources to help them develop necessary life skills.

Chris initially started ImpaCT Training by focusing on strength and conditioning training, and when Steve came on board, they decided to expand their vision and use their wide range of experience to help fulfill the bigger needs they saw in their community.

“We just hit the ground running,” Steve recalled. “We wanted to take our influence further, so we created a great platform called The League.” The League is a pro-am basketball league that allows young people to play alongside top talent from both the college and professional ranks. ImpaCT Training also hosted an event called “Splash Day” in early August at the XL Center in Hartford, where high school standouts had the chance to play in a major arena in front of their peers and families. With games featuring local high school and prep school students as well as nationally top-ranked high school players, the event was a huge success—garnering positive media coverage and boosting ImpaCT Training’s profile in the community.

With so many ideas for expansion of ImpaCT Training, including both nonprofit and for-profit divisions, Steve and Chris needed some guidance. “Lacey Banks McGill at the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center has helped tremendously,” Chris said. “She helped us with the structure, to sort out all the things we wanted to do, from fundraising to how to get other businesses involved and how to get the community involved. She showed us ways that we could be successful with basically no budget!” Steve and Chris also participated in the Center’s Small Business Technical Assistance Program, where they developed a website, searched for grant opportunities, and developed a daily operations plan. The Center’s substantial resources have been key in helping them build their program. At the beginning of the summer, they received a grant from the federally-funded "Innovation Grant" to run a mentoring program that drew from multiple school populations and was sited at one of the CREC schools.

In addition to the guidance they got through the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center (EC-WBC), they also participated in an entrepreneurship class with WBC Program Manager & Barney School of Business Professor Milena Erwin. A student team from the business school (which included some members of the University of Hartford’s men’s basketball team) worked with ImpaCT Training to strengthen their brand and understand their key differentiators. They also helped them clarify their target market and provided some strategic recommendations. As a former student athlete himself, Chris thought this was a great chance for the students to collaborate with ImpaCT’s management team. “I wish I'd had an opportunity to shadow some guys who'd played Division 1 and played professionally, and then turned that into a business,” he said. “I can't imagine where we'd be right now if I'd had that exposure back then.”

Chris says that the structure and planning they were working on became especially important when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. They had a mentorship program set up and ready to launch that month with a local school district, but then everything shut down. “We stepped back and said, okay, there is still a reason for us to exist,” Chris said. “We need to supply what the community needs.”

At that point, so many programs that were important to young people ceased operation. Sports, social support programs, and recreation centers were all gone. ImpaCT Training came up with a plan to organize leagues so that, as things began to open up, they were ready to go with outdoor locations. Chris recalled, “We were using the best, cleanest facilities so we could do what we needed to do as safely as possible. We were actually able to be really successful, just by doing a few things differently. We had sixteen teams active during the shutdown.”

“This is a mission for Chris and me,” added Steve. “We want to make sure that we guide these kids, to help them create a structure and be successful contributors to society. That means preparing them with life skills, career readiness, and helping them understand the importance of academics. We want them to see what success looks like, day in and day out.”

Steve and Chris still have plenty of ideas to implement, and they are eager to help young athletes in even more ways. In addition to basketball, they now offer football and soccer training. They also have recreational programs for all age groups as well as overall strength and conditioning training. They are looking forward to the time in the not-to-distant future when they’ll have their own facility and be able to hire a staff and create some jobs. “It’s been a real blessing, all the amazing things we’ve been able to accomplish in just three years,” Chris said. “We want to keep growing and helping the community. We have a few things we need to work out before we make the next big jump, but we’re the real deal.”

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