Panel empowers women in entrepreneurship
The National Association of Women Business Owners reports over 51% of businesses are owned by women. Nearly 5.5 million are owned by women of color, and more than 2.1 million Americans are employed by those businesses, as reported by NAWBO.
To celebrate these women in the local community — and to inspire other aspiring female entrepreneurs — Southeast hosted its first Women Entrepreneurs Panel, featuring six business owners from the Cape Girardeau area.
The Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, Southeast’s Women in Economics club and Harrison College of Business and Computing hosted this event, along with more than 120 students, faculty and community members attended the panel held at the Glenn Auditorium. It was moderated by Southeast alumna and associate professor Erin Fluegge.
Panelists included Southeast senior Genevive Sosuh of MadeNGhana; Laurie Everett of Annie Laurie’s; Carly Bowles of SEMO CPA Company; Lisa Essmyer of Fuido; and Megon Rousseau and Sheila Hottel of Roots Salon.
Business administration major Genevive Sosuh’s clothing company MadeNGhana features dresses, t-shirts and jewelry in colorful designs. Sosuh, who was born in Ghana, works with local fabric and clothing creators in Ghana to produce and sell vibrant clothing and accessories.
Sosuh co-founded MadeNGhana with her sister, who also attends Southeast. When asked about her motivation in running her own business, Soscuch said family keeps her invested in the apparel she sells. Sosuh said her family used to live in Ghana and moved to the United States when she was 10 years old. She said that cultural connection between her business and her background is an especially strong motivator.
“My sister and I, we’ve poured everything into this,” Sosuh said. “It’s a way to reconnect with our culture.” During the panel, she said she moved to the United States from Ghana but still remembers the culture she left. Working with individuals in Ghana has given her a chance to rekindle that connection, Sosuh said.
Military veteran and vintage clothing enthusiast Laurie Everett owns Annie Laurie’s, an antique store located at 536 Broadway St. in downtown Cape Girardeau, as well as the Indie House and Mother Earth, 605 Broadway St., and nextdoor, the Downtown Guesthouse.
During the panel, she said she worked three jobs for three years to ensure her store would be a success. She did not want her personal expenses to cut into the store’s profits, she said, so she moved into a space above the store.
“It started as a hobby, turned into a passion and that turned into a profession,” Everett said.
Roots Spa and Salon is co-owned by best friends and community members Rousseau and Hottel, who said they wanted to break into the beauty and wellness market with organically-sourced beauty products.
Southeast alumna Bowles owns accounting firm SEMO Certified Public Accountant Co. and also spoke on her experience in emerging as an accountant in a primarily male-dominated field. She advocates for individuals to never consider failure.
Fudio, which offers catering and cooking classes, is owned by Essmyer. During the panel, Essmyer discussed her creative freedom as an independent business owner and the stereotypes surrounding gender in the culinary business.
Essmyer said women are often thought of as “cooks,” while men are called “chefs” — which can often be a difficult stereotype for female entrepreneurs to break.
In addition to the mechanics of starting and owning a small business, the six women on the panel also discussed challenges they have faced while managing their business. Some of the panel members experienced pushback when first starting their businesses, but seemed to all agree finding a community of support is vital.
Hospitality Management major Anastasia Fundis attended the panel after hearing about the event from her professors. In the future, Fundis said she would like to own her own business and said she found the support of the women on the panel very encouraging.
“It allows our students to have real-world perspective and advice from practitioners and actual entrepreneurs — true people in the business — and it allows them to make connections in the community,” Fluegge said. “I just think it brings to life exactly what we’re trying to do here for our students.”
The panel took place while Southeast celebrated Women in Entrepreneurship Week, which was started in 2014 by Montclair State University and has since spread to other colleges across the country.