October is Women’s Small Business Month! We invited some of the dynamic women who make up the M2057 community to celebrate with us by sharing their stories of entrepreneurship.
Deepa Purushothaman / nFormation
I am a former executive. What I call a “First”— the first Indian female partner. I saw my own challenges and started gathering WOC to explore my own path. That grew into a company and a mission: nFormation, which helps professional women of color find their power through community and connection. So many high-powered women were feeling lonely, isolated and even sick. We are 6 months in existence and it’s been a wild ride to launch a business that feels aligned to what is being talked about in the world right now.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Starting a business during COVID meant reinventing myself and giving up security. I also wrote a book that comes out this March. It was hard to step into sharing my voice after spending decades being behind the scenes.
Debra Dobbs / The Dobbs Group
We provide exemplary representation and advocacy while fiercely protecting the best interests of each client with integrity and passion.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: 2020 was devastating on so many levels, between Covid and the incredible anger and hostility on display across the country. I work in a professional environment where positive energy, confidence, and passion are the foundation for success. I am proud to say I kept the ship afloat, with my incredible team working harder than ever. My biggest surprise was to see the most significant increase in my sales volume during my career, which translated to the most financially successful 12 months in my 37 years as a real estate professional in Chicago. I am so very proud of my team’s collaboration, positive spirit, and incredible work ethic on display during a most stressful year; we all dug in and helped each other, and many people around us that desperately needed help.
Jessica Strang / coco + peach jewelry
I’m the first-generation daughter of immigrant jewelers. My mission is to create affordable jewelry for chic people everywhere, while donating $1 of every sale to The Greater Chicago Food Depository.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: During the pandemic, I couldn’t do in-person pop-ups, but my jewelry was featured in digital and print magazines around the world and I met incredible stylists and photographers who helped me get to this place.
Mindy Viamontes / M Viamontes Architects
Our husband-wife owned firm specializes in bespoke turnkey architecture and interior design for apartment and home renovations, new construction houses, and hospitality.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Prior to starting this practice, I struggled with major burn-out at a large corporate firm. After spending years trying to rise to the top, I was done dealing with politics, feeling tired and ready to put my energy into a practice of my own. COVID gave me the opportunity to say what the hell and make this leap of faith. We have been fortunate to have so many people ready to invest in their homes. We love working with clients and helping their vision become a reality.
Jennifer Delaney / PAPR Force
Our mission is to provide healthcare workers with the most advanced personal protective equipment (PPE) - powered air-purifying respirators - so they can care for others. As a physician, I knew the danger my coworkers faced in caring for COVID-19 patients. I wanted to ensure that my colleagues had the safest, most comfortable PPE possible.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: I received incredible support from local engineers, STEM teachers, and the local business community to develop and distribute these life-saving devices. We have donated over 250 of these to hospitals in the US and abroad. Seeing the gratitude of a healthcare worker who now feels safe caring for their critically ill Covid 19 patients is all the reward I need.
Jane Bethke / Jane Bethke Coaching
I am a personal life, career and health and wellness coach. I have been planning my entire life for this career and worked in the weight loss industry for 12 years before starting my own business.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: I have been fortunate to weather the quarantine/lock down mandates due to Covid-19 because I can work with clients on the phone and via Zoom, although I haven’t been able to network in person. I have noticed many people slowing down their pace, evaluating what is important in their lives and identifying where they want to be spending time. Personal coaching is a wonderful way to identify needs/wants, set up a system to work toward those goals by establishing guidelines that lead to success, and support the work through accountability. It’s been beautiful to see every client moving their needle forward and observe them as they find success for themselves.
Connie Rivera / CityEscape Garden & Design Studio
CityEscape is a second career for me. My first career was as a non-profit executive. When I achieved what I wanted to do within the non-profit sector I hired a personal coach out of Northwestern to help me figure out what I wanted to do next in life. I wrote a business plan and went to work at a local garden center to try to learn as much as I could about the business and whether or not I would like to make the change; then, I launched into the landscape business to support getting financing for the retail garden center.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Staffing and hiring is always a challenge. I was surprised that I could successfully manage the business and survive throughout COVID. But the past year had some beautiful moments. We had a crew leader pass away suddenly on a Sunday, and I had to go to work and let everyone else know of this tragedy. When I told the group of leaders and laborers that worked with him many of them burst into tears. Then they took up a collection amongst all of them for the family. There were over 30 CityEscape employees at the service, many who only knew this individual for a short period of time. I was so proud and appreciative to work with this loyal and caring group of people.
Kristi Piehl / Media Minefield
After being laid off from my job as TV news reporter in 2009, I took a class to figure out how to help people with my skills and my business was born in 2010!
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Thanks to the pandemic, our team of 40+ people are all now working hybrid schedules and we launched a vacation requirement to ensure employees could relax and make time for themselves and their families. In 2020, I launched a podcast - Flip Your Script - to share stories of people who have overcome difficult times. Thousands of people are now tuning in; it’s beautiful to help others!
Stephanie Turner / C21 SGR
I’m a West Loop realtor providing client-focused representation for real estate investing, helping people find homes they love! I was in the fitness industry for 20 years, but shifted my focus to real estate during COVID due to the demand.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Thanks to low real estate inventory in some areas with bidding wars for properties, I had to get creative strategizing for my clients to get the deals done. One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in the past year has been seeing communities and neighborhoods pull together to support local businesses.
Laura Lundin / Corporate Compassion Project
After a 20-year career running national and international marketing and communications functions, I realized I had accomplished everything I had set out to do in my life. But I had a secret dream that I had hidden away because it had always felt too scary - entrepreneurship. I got my leadership coaching credential and then quit my corporate job in 2019 to start my business helping other women ascend the corporate leadership ranks. When I thought about the change I wanted to see in the world, creating kinder, more inclusive workplaces was it for me and I do that by helping my clients know, accept, and develop themselves.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Helping strong, kind, talented women who want to make a bigger impact in the world navigate career transitions and leadership development has been so rewarding. I know that by helping them find their path to professional fulfillment and authenticity, I'm having an indirect effect on all the people they're leading. My clients are role models for others on how to be successful, effective, AND compassionate business leaders and I'm always humbled to be a part of their journey.
Tanjia Coleman / Reimagine Organization Development Inc & Executive Women of Command
I have always wanted everyone to have an equal opportunity to become the best version of themselves. Our organizations create DEI solutions to enhance people and organizational outcomes. Executive Women of Command is a leadership acceleration program designed to help women live their most goal-oriented, successful, and purpose-driven lives.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: It has been heartwarming and humbling to tap into my network in the last year. The majority of my business derives from networking contacts. I don't have a sales or marketing team. I have found that people are much more willing to say "yes" than "no", if you ask the question.
Elise Gelwicks / Eleview Consulting
My firm teaches interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence at companies. We lead interactive workshops on topics such as networking, communication, initiative, and difficult conversations. Our clients range from Sidley Austin to CitiGroup to Kellogg's.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Prior to March 2020, I only led in-person workshops at companies. I had no idea how to handle a virtual workshop, and many of my clients cancelled our contracts because they were frantically trying to get everyone set up to work from home for (what we thought) was a few weeks. I had to completely change my business to be all virtual, find new clients, and sell my services all from my living room. I never would have guessed that COVID was the best thing that could have happened to my business. By leading virtual workshops, I'm able to teach professionals all around the world. It allows for rich conversation and diverse perspectives, and it’s far more efficient for me to work from home because I don't waste time traveling to client sites.
Gail Golden / Gail Golden Consulting, LLC
After earning my Ph.D. in psychology I was a therapist for many years. Mid-career, I went back to school to earn my MBA and then moved into leadership consulting with Gail Golden Consulting, LLC. We help business leaders understand what is really going on, make rapid decisions, and create breakthrough change.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: My clients have faced the transition to digital work, the necessity to downsize, the exhaustion of supporting their employees while also taking care of themselves, the imperative to be more agile and creative than ever, and the challenges of returning to in-person work. My challenge has been to help them navigate through this difficult time and be the best leaders they can be. I have been constantly amazed by the resilience and generosity my clients have demonstrated over the past year.
Dorian Webb / Dorian Webb Lifestyle
Our mission is to celebrate women, the beauty of connection and African American culture through jewelry. I started my business when I was a junior at Yale University after a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. At the first trade show I participated in, Neiman Marcus picked up the line, and Essence used a pair of my earrings on the cover. As the years went by, I sold to numerous department stores and retailers across the globe. I am now working on launching a diamond and 18k gold collection in conjunction with the Natural Diamond Council.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: Prior to the pandemic, most of my sales occurred at in-person events. These events still haven't returned. I work with local and global artisans to manufacture my jewelry. Not only was it impossible to get supplies to them, it was also challenging to get finished pieces from them. In addition, my older relatives had health issues related to the pandemic, and required assistance, and time away from the business to help them through that - a luxury that ironically the pandemic also allowed me to do. Having the time to think more deeply about what I'm doing and why has been a gift. Creating pieces that encourage women to be more active in the voting process, in social justice issues, and to amplify their voices have been personally rewarding. Spending more time with family has been amazing.
Meg Schmitz / S4GM, Inc.
I am a franchise business consultant, inspiring confidence in making career transitions, whether into business ownership or some other financial goal. I help people realize their dream of becoming self-employed and taking control of their future.
HOW THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN: There’s a misconception that a pandemic is a bad time to invest in yourself or a business. The metrics prove otherwise, especially if paying attention to consumer trends. I had personal challenges last year, too: About 2 months into COVID, I was depressed. My husband suggested that I renovate an office at our 230-acre prairie property in Wisconsin to be a Zoom studio with a stand-up desk. I got tired of wearing Pilates pants every day, so I started wearing my M2057 clothes and went to work. And work I did! It wasn't a great business year but I looked good!