WISE Women's Business Center
Supporting women entrepreneurs as they dream, launch, and grow their businesses in CNY.
Why work with WISE WBC?
Get one-on-one support from our expert business counselors
Learn and grow from our programming and online courses
Connect and network with other local women business owners
WISE Client Spotlight
Diana Jaramillo, Kin Architecture
When Diana Jaramillo looked around at the many entrepreneurs she met at a WISE symposium, she thought, "These people are amazing. But that's not me." However, a couple of years later, with her daughter starting school and her full-time job unable to provide the flexibility she needed, she felt stuck and decided to turn to consider other options.
Diana walked into the WISE office and spoke with Alex, who suggested she enroll in the EXITO! Program. She did, and almost immediately after the 8-week program finished, gave her two-week notice. In 2017, she launched Kin Studio, an architecture studio taking on both residential and commercial projects with a focus on diversity, equity, and sustainability. Through WISE events and networking, she realized "there are a lot of people doing this hybrid model, working full-time and running their own business. This idea was inspiring. It's not easy, but I set up my business so that it works in balance with my life."
Kin Architecture has grown 100% year-over-year three years running, and Diana has collaborated with even more drafters, designers, and consultants. While the pandemic has impacted her studio, she's still growing and feels more committed than ever. "This studio will always be a part of my life - now that I've created this dream, I could never give it up."
Kawther (Kathy) al-Edwan, BulBul restaurant
Kathy, owner of BulBul restaurant in Liverpool, first learned about WISE when she attended a networking dinner. "It was eye-opening. I got to meet a lot of women around here doing different, fabulous things. We got to talk about many topics, including business things, and it felt like a very safe, secure experience. And on top of that, it was fun."
Since then, Kathy has attended several trainings and seminars. With COVID-19, her restaurant was hit hard and she turned to the center for guidance. Lacey, a business counselor, pointed her towards CenterState CEO, where Kathy eventually received a $5k stabilization grant that helped her diversify her supply lines for spices crucial to BulBul's dishes. Kathy says that while "nothing is certain, and things are not back to normal," she's focused on reaching new customers through marketing and trying to retain as many employees as possible.
About the center, Kathy says, "I've had great experiences. Everyone is very reachable, and there are so many resources and people to provide guidance, especially for startups."
Donna Glassberg - OrangeHousing.com
Donna Glassberg founded OrangeHousing.com in 1997 as a way for area students to find housing, and her business is still going strong 23 years on. Part of what's fueled her on-going success is her ability to tap local resources, including WISE WBC, and her commitment to self-development.
From the EXITO! Program, Donna learned how to overcome her aversion to sales by reframing it as communicating with potential customers about how she can meet their needs. Other recent virtual sessions have taught her how to leverage social media to promote her business. One-on-one meetings with Barb, one of WISE's three business counselors, have helped Donna become confident in asking for what she needs and requesting help. "As a solopreneur, I feel like I have to do everything myself. As I zig and zag around new challenges, it's helpful to have someone to listen and give me guidance about how I’m moving forward."
Beyond training programs and counseling, though, what Donna values most from WISE is the connection to other local women business owners. "It's not just networking -- it's a family of women with common interests. We look out for each other, make suggestions. It makes me feel like I’m not alone. WISE has been extremely beneficial to me while I continue to run my business during Covid."
Jacqueline Cappello and Crystal Allen - Your Kind Kitchen
Jacqueline Cappello and Crystal Allen found in each other kindred souls when they started a cooking group for developmentally disabled adults; both women care deeply about nutrition and environmental impact. When Jacqueline was laid off because of the pandemic, she began writing about these topics and quickly started hearing from readers. "I got an overwhelming number of people who said 'This is cool, but I don't know how to cook. Can you please just do this for me?"
Jacqueline and Crystal started to take the idea seriously. They ran the numbers, then talked with one of WISE's business counselors, Barb. "We said hey, we have passion and purpose and the resources to do it, but is this a good idea? She thought that it was."
Further conversations with Barb helped the pair refine their idea. "Crystal and I know how to cook for a lot of people, and how to talk about our passion, but we have zero business background. Barb helped us lay the groundwork of our business structure and helped with planning," Jacqueline says. That combo of passion and planning has paid off -- Your Kind Kitchen, a plant-based, zero-waste meal delivery service, is on track to launch in January 2021.
Me'Shae Rolling - Executive Director of UMEA
When she relocated to CNY in 2007, Me'Shae Brooks-Rolling became the Director of Special Events & Public Relations at The Burton Blatt Institute and later the Director of Special Events and Conferences at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, both at Syracuse University. Soon after she relocated to Syracuse, Me'Shae also founded Just the Basics Financial Literacy.
Me'Shae has been a WISE client for over 10 years, attending networking events, training programs, and business counseling. Her twin passions of event organizing and financial literacy have persisted throughout her growth as an entrepreneur, and, now, in addition to her financial literacy company, Me'Shae is also a successful franchisee of EventPrep, Inc. She's also become an established leader in our community, sitting on the boards of numerous local organizations and recently named Executive Director of the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance.
Her twin passions of event organizing and financial literacy have persisted throughout her growth as an entrepreneur; and now, in addition to her financial literacy company, Me'Shae is also a successful franchisee of EventPrep, Inc.
Me'Shae has also come full circle with WISE Women's Business Center - she's an active member of the advisory board and serves as a trainer on financial literacy topics. "It gives me an enormous sense of gratitude to be able to give back to the organizations that have supported me."
Kerry Heckman - Knitty Gritty Yarns
Kerry Heckman, owner of Knitty Gritty Yarns, decided to leave her career in higher education to build something of her own. She spent a year researching, finding resources, and honing her business idea, and, in doing so, came across WISE WBC. Through one-on-one business counseling, Kerry created a business plan that, when she shopped it around to banks, said it was one of the best they'd ever seen.
Since she opened the doors to Knitty Gritty Yarns in 2017, Kerry has continued working with her business counselor. "Having someone with experience looking at my plans and giving me critical feedback was really important in my process."
The Syracuse crafting community has also played a big part in Knitty Gritty Yarn's success. "When I started the shop, I wanted it to be a center for the community, a place for people to meet and also give back to the city," Kerry says. "People really showed up for that, embracing me and all my flaws." During the pandemic, the crafting crowd has continued to show up for Knitty Gritty Yarn. Some of her customers call to check in on her, volunteer their time, and even offer extra financial support. "They want to make sure that when this is all over, the shop is still here."
Seema Sureshkumar - Anjani Dance Academy
Seema Sureshkumar works at Syracuse University as a database administrator, and, on the side, runs a dance academy which is highly technical in its own way. Indian dance has a curriculum just like traditional school, and, every year, dance students take an exam and must pass before moving on to the next level. Many students study for 10 years or more.
Seema herself learned Indian dance for over 17 years, including while studying for her Masters' degree. When she felt overwhelmed, it was her father who urged her to continue and taught her how to manage her time. That's why she named her business, Anjani Dance Company, after him. "When people come to learn from me, they're also learning from my father. They get his blessing."
While Anjani Dance Academy is thriving today, Seema didn't intend to ever be a small business owner. After a performance a few years ago, though, she started getting calls. "The Indian community here in Syracuse is huge. Many people didn't have time to learn when they were younger and studying, so they want to get back into it now, or want their kids to learn," Seema explained. "They wouldn't leave me alone. What was I supposed to say?"
After years of resisting, Seema eventually embraced the idea and opened the academy in January of 2019. Reflecting on her passion, Seema left me with this: “I find teaching dance to be an ideal mechanism to instill confidence and a sense of purpose amongst the young. For adults, practicing dance is an outlet for relaxation and rejuvenation. Overall, our activities help build a sense of community rooted in the universal values of love, devotion, and beauty."
Claire McKenney - Right Mind Syracuse
Claire McKenney, an artist with a gift for connecting people through creative projects, decided to go it on her own after a few years working with PaintNite, based in Boston. "I always told people who said they weren't creative that they just hadn't found their thing yet. I started thinking about how to offer a bigger variety of those creative projects."
And that's exactly what Claire's new business offers - a variety of creative, hands-on crafts. After meeting with her WISE counselor, Maria, and doing deep research through the SBA and NYS, Claire launched Right Mind Syracuse in September 2019. It began with in-person workshops at bars and restaurants, and by March, business was good. However, the pandemic forced Claire and her team to change their approach.
"Probably the biggest thing Maria taught me was to always look to what's next." Claire credits that lesson as part of the reason Right Mind has been able to successfully adapt. Starting in March, they offered DIY kits for people to do at home, as well as virtual workshops. As summer came around, Right Mind began hosting socially distanced outdoor events. Now, as cases rise once again, Claire and her team are transitioning back to virtual workshops. "That's another thing Maria always said - don't stop hosting the events yourself," Claire reflected. "I do still host them, even with everything else going on. That's my favorite part -- connecting with people."
Eileen Collins - Admin on Call
When she was living in Virginia, Eileen Collins helped an entrepreneur friend organize her paperwork and create systems to stay on top of it. Eileen did such a good job that her friend encouraged her to start a business out of it. She did, and Admin-On-Call was born in 1999. Working nights and weekends to help support her sister's Consignment Boutique, Eileen eventually stepped into her business full time when she moved to Syracuse and left her corporate job in 2012.
"The first year was challenging for me. I learned a lot through failures - it was all trial and error," Eileen said. "I almost went back to a full time job." Instead, she made a determined effort to leverage local resources, including SBDC, WISE, and WOC (Women's Opportunity Center). Of her first meeting with WISE's former director Joanne Lenweaver, Eileen recalls, "The welcome that she gave me- you would think she knew me for a long time. She introduced me to everyone, and everyone made me feel so welcome. That was it from there, full steam ahead." Eileen went on to do 1:1 business counseling, networking events, and training programs - even attending some courses twice to make sure she absorbed it all.
This dedication to self-development and relationship-building has served her well. Admin-On-Call is going into its 8th year, and Eileen received the WOC's Woman of the Year Award for 2020. She still learns from many local agencies, and also gives back by giving presentations and participating in WOC's mentoring program. "I like to be a resource for people who are coming up this path I've been on," Eileen reflected.
Jackie Terribile, The Small Town Stylist
Before moving to Syracuse over 20 years ago, Jackie Terribile worked in NYC in marketing and publishing, and later as an assistant fashion stylist. When she relocated to CNY, she took a job in marketing, but her love of fashion was as strong as ever. "Friends and co-workers used to ask for my help in styling outfits and helping them shop, and they were willing to pay me for my time. I realized 'Wow, I could make a living out of this.'"
After building up a client base through word-of-mouth referrals, Jackie eventually quit her job and founded The Small Town Stylist. At its core, Jackie's business helps professional women craft their unique image and brand through deliberate fashion choices. Services include curating outfits from pieces already owned, personalized shopping, and a closet cleanse. Thankfully, these experiences translated well to a virtual platform, and The Small Town Stylist has been able to expand its geographic base since the pivot online.
Jackie, who's relocating to South Carolina, said one of the most valuable things she gained from work with WISE was the ability to connect with other professional women. Some became clients, and many became trusted peers. "I learned early on that the #1 most important thing is to build and maintain relationships, especially in a small town like Syracuse."
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