WE Launch Graduates First Class of Entrepreneurs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Carmella Williams, owner of Carmella Marie, was awarded the $5,000 grant at the conclusion of the inaugural WE Launch class last night.

The nine-week WE Launch was conducted by Women in Entrepreneurship, an initiative of the Youngstown Business Incubator. Female entrepreneurs attended classes and were paired with mentors during the course of the program.

“I will so totally cherish every penny and make it work,” said Williams, a resident of Hubbard.

Williams launched Carmella Marie three years ago. The company manufactures hair and body care products.

The passion in Williams’ business plan distinguished it from the others, said Stephanie Gilchrist, Women in Entrepreneurship program director.

“You could feel the passion in the first page of her plan,” she said. “We believe there was a need for this award for her, and the possibility of job creation that she’ll bring with the manufacturing piece is great and priceless for this community.”

Williams said she would use the grant to purchase in bulk the products she uses to make her hair and skin care products, thereby reducing the cost per pound. “Then we’ll be able to drive that [price] down and create a demand for it through our marketing campaign,” she added.

Before the announcement of the grant winner, each of the nine finalists presented elevator pitches, brief summaries of their businesses intended to catch the interest of a potential investor or partner.

Donna Cadwallader, a professional medical coding consultant, aims to capitalize on the market created by the new codes the federal government instituted for medical billing. She is targeting smaller physician offices initially “because they’re the ones getting hit the most,” she said.

Medical practices “already know how important it is because they’re going to get hit with no reimbursement,” she continued. “Once Medicare catches up and finds out that they’re still using the old code system, they’ll take back the money that they’ve paid,” she warned.

Marissa Devantier, owner of The Shop on Liberty Street in Hubbard, outlined her enterprise’s business model. Its revenue streams are rent from space leased to artisans, income from the café and arts education courses held in the space. “No fees are taken out of the products that we sell for artists,” she said.

Following the program, Devantier said she benefited from the resources and tools the course offered to help her increase her business and the relationships that formed during the class.

“I had lots of questions and I was able to ask them to people who are very experienced,” she said. She is confident that the relationships would help the participants to strengthen each other’s businesses in the future.

“It became a village for us,” Gilchrist said of the class. “We were a diverse group of women. … We came together and we became this village and supported each other.”

Williams, the grant winner, said the program helped her focus on the legal aspects of her business and understand how to spend resources on parts of the business that will help her company to grow. The course also put her on a time frame to develop a business plan, “which is what I needed to do,” she said.

The class “put a magnifying glass on all the details that it takes to run a growing, healthy business,” said Mary Protheroe, co-owner of Culturehouse Coffee Roasters in Hubbard. Now she plans to seek financing to establish a bricks-and-mortar shop, she said.

Claudia Kovach, vice president of City Machine Technologies in Youngstown, said she found serving as Protheroe’s mentor a rewarding experience. “It was nice to be on the other side of running a business and learning somebody’s hopes and dreams, and trying to help them start up a business that’s successful and can pay all their bills,” she said.

“In general, people have lofty goals about wanting to own their own business, but they have to realize and they have to make sure that they can pay their rent, pay the mortgage, pay the workers’ compensation fees, and sometimes it’s almost like you have to burst their bubble,” Kovach continued. “But you have to make sure that you can pay all your bills before you can start a successful business because you want that business to last and go forward in the future.”

Plans are underway to conduct a second WE Launch class in the fall, this time at the Raymond John Wean Foundation in Warren. While registration doesn’t formally begin until July, Gilchrist acknowledged she already has received one application for the fall session.

She also is looking at ways to improve the program.

“There is a great need for female entrepreneurs to come together and to become empowered and educated to run successful businesses,” Gilchrist remarked.

“My fall goal is to make sure that I home in on the educational piece and make sure that they have every component necessary to succeed,” she continued. “We had legal and we had marketing this time, but I want to focus more on financing for the next fall round.”

Women in Entrepreneurship also will continue to stay in touch with the participants in this spring’s class, “making sure that they do not just stop with the business plan but getting them those missing components that they need to go to the next level in their business,” she said.

That could mean connecting them with micro-lenders to provide financing or connecting them with legal help for assistance with patents and trademarks. “Because they’re startups and they cannot afford a $400-an-hour attorney, my goal is to get some folks to volunteer their time,” Gilchrist said.

Pictured: Carmella Williams, owner of Carmella Marie, was awarded the $5,000 grant at the conclusion of the inaugural WE Launch class.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.