Businesswomen Share Stories of ‘Breaking Boundaries’

WARREN, Ohio – Women entrepreneurs who’ve been running their business for less than a year to those who have more than 30 years of experience were highlighted at “Breaking Boundaries: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future.”

The Youngstown Business Incubator’s Women in Entrepreneurship program held the event Wednesday night at Leo’s Banquet Center to celebrate women-owned businesses and honor three local women — Diane Sauer, president of Diane Sauer Chevrolet; Patsy Kouvas, vice chairwoman of the board at AVI Food Systems; and Andrea Wood, publisher of The Business Journal — who have broken boundaries throughout their careers.

“If we are really going to turn the Mahoning Valley around fully and create the kind of economic-social climate that we all want to have, we have to have that vibrant economy that is based on diversity and equal opportunity for everybody,” said Barb Ewing, CEO of the YBI. “So much of that can be accomplished through entrepreneurship and through supporting women and minority-owned businesses.”

Graduates of Women in Entrepreneurship, or WE Program, showcased their products at the Breaking Boundaries event. One of the businesses, Dough House Cookies, sells cookies of all flavors, from chocolate chip to peanut butter and jelly to Nutella chocolate chip.

Owner TaRee Avery has faced many obstacles being a minority woman in business. But, she said, being around other successful women in the WE Program has helped her out. She graduated the program this summer and has since moved her business into the Canfield Library.

“Being my own boss and having the opportunity to grow that, and push that beyond what it is, is really exciting for me,” she said.

As part of the last WE Program’s graduation ceremony Nov. 15, fourteen women took part in a pitch competition, presenting their business and mission to a panel of judges. Stacy McDivitt was the $5,000 grant winner of the program. McDivitt, one of the vendors at the event, owns McDivitt Family Maple LLC in Southington. She started the business, which produces gourmet maple syrups and products infused with the syrup, in 2016 after her son was diagnosed with autism, to help pay for different therapies he may need.

“The hardest thing for me is being a mother in business. Taking care of my kids and balancing it all is the biggest obstacle,” she said. “But the WE Program was an institutional tool for getting launched.”

Currently McDivitt sells her products at farmers markets and her next step is getting onto store’s shelves.

Another business, The Salt Crystal, got started over a year ago when co-owner Deb O’Hara visited a Himalayan salt cave at a spa for the health benefits of inhaling the air. She said she liked how the salt cave made it easier for her to breathe, but wanted a way that she could have that feeling without leaving her home.

From this idea she created portable salt-crystal inhalers that are infused with essential oils to serve different purposes depending oil used, including helping with respiratory problems, sleep, asthma, or alertness. She also sells products made with the oils such as roll-ons, where one can roll the oil onto the body, and lotion.

The products are homemade and O’Hara sells them on Facebook. A page on e-commerce site Shopify is in the works.

“You need to be able to have a place to network. With e-commerce, it’s not easy to do that because you’re doing your business on the computer,” O’Hara said. “But the WE Program helps you meet people that are in the same place you are in and they always have some type of function so that networking can continue.”

“The WE Program is an amazing program that not only prepares you to build a business plan and take your product to market but it also lifts you up,” said Carmella Williams, owner of Carmella Marie beauty products, director of the WE Program and the newly appointed leader of the Minority Business Assistance Center, to be housed at the YBI in January.

Williams introduced the night’s three honorees.

“These three women ignored the lines of society, ignored the ceiling that was built above their head and they ignored the box that people tried to put them in and they broke out of that,” she said. “They are women who have broken boundaries and who are still breaking boundaries to this day.”

Honoree Diane Sauer started her career in 1976 in a male-dominated field as an accountant at Martin Chevrolet in Warren. She moved up in the automotive industry to purchase the dealership and become president of the company. She renamed the dealership Diane Sauer Chevrolet in 2003. She also served as the first woman president of Rotary Club of Warren in 1997.

“I look forward to the day when I or any of these ladies are no longer unique and all the glass ceilings are broken,” Sauer said.

Another honoree, Patsy Kouvas, broke boundaries by changing directions from focusing on her family business, AVI Food Systems, to a nonprofit organization in the Mahoning Valley.

“One of the biggest boundaries I had to break is due to my family,” said Kouvas, who was named president of the Warren-based company in 2000. “They have allowed me to break my boundaries and leave a family business that was so important to me and my family.”

Kouvas became high school program director of Inspiring Minds, a nonprofit in Warren that works with students to help them reach their full potential. Due to her commitment to the organization, her role at AVI changed to vice chairwoman of the board.

“Many times people give up on high school students. They say, ‘Oh they’re too far gone, they don’t listen, they don’t respect.’ But I see the complete opposite,” said Kouvas.

Before Andrea Wood was publisher and president of The Business Journal, she was the first newswoman at WYTV Channel 33 , where she was hired as a reporter and weekend anchor in 1974.

In 1984, when the steel industry in Youngstown was at its lowest points, Wood decided to promote business and economic redevelopment by starting her own newspaper. Today, The Business Journal reaches viewers worldwide through the internet and its social media channels as a positive voice of the Mahoning Valley.

“We all stand on each others shoulders,” said Wood. “On the shoulders of our mothers, on the shoulders of our grandmothers, and on the shoulders of all the women and all the generations who came before them.”

Pictured: Honored at the Breaking Boundaries dinner were Andrea Wood, Patsy Kouvas and Diane Sauer. With them is Women in Entrepreneurship director Carmella Williams.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.