What challenges do female small-business owners encounter and what opportunities do they have for following their dreams?
Those issues were discussed by a panel of successful women business owners on Wednesday, May 8 at Wilton Library.
Speakers at the event were:
Renata Papadopoulos of Lovely Cakes, a custom cake studio that specializes in one-of-a-kind, high-end celebration cakes.
Susan Doyle of Oasis Senior Advisors, a service that provides experienced, professional help in finding the “right” senior living community for its clients.
Shana Hurkala of Wings Unlimited, a full-service corporate event management company.
Nancy Jack of Nantucket Spider, a company that sells natural alternatives to Deet-based bug repellents.
Renata Papadopoulos, owner of Lovely Cakes in Stratford, caught the eye of the public in 2017 with an appearance on the Food Network competition, “Cake Wars,” a TV show where masterful cakemakers compete for top honors and prizes.
Papadopoulos took first prize on the competition with a towering Valentine’s Day cake she created, held up by a grinning Cupid.
At the panel discussion, Papadopoulos discussed her 15 years in the custom cake business, where she specializes in baking and decorating multi-tiered wedding cakes, sculpted cakes, and cakes for special occasions.
“Initially, I started baking from my home,” Papadopoulos told The Bulletin.
But working from home meant she had to keep her business small and needed to utilize commercial kitchens (dictated by the health code) to bake her cakes.
Through mentoring assistance she received from SCORE, a network of volunteer, retired business professionals, Papadopoulos was able to take her business to the next level.
“SCORE helped me get a small-business loan so I could build a building in Stratford for my cake business,” she said.
As a result of moving into a larger space, Papadopoulos saw her business double in the first year, then triple in the next.
In addition, she has been able to lease a portion of her space, which contains a commercial kitchen, to other cooking professionals for their home businesses. “I’ve really come full cycle,” she said.
Another speaker, Susan Doyle, helps seniors find living communities to suit their needs through her business Oasis Senior Advisors.
The business is a franchise which Doyle has run with her husband Paul for three years. Her territory is Fairfield and Westchester counties.
“Oasis Senior Advisors is a free service for families to help them find the right housing option for those in need,” Doyle said.
Some seniors want an independent-living facility while others may need residential-care homes, hospice care, or other living situations.
While the service is free to families, Oasis is compensated through financial contributions from local senior housing communities. With everyone having a different housing need, there is no obligation for clients to choose any of the sponsoring communities.
“We help a lot of people. For families, it is about listening to them and finding out what they need. That’s the important thing, quality of life,” Doyle said.
Doyle’s service handles research and comes up with a list of matching services for each client. Last year, Doyle’s service helped 100 families find housing.
“We place about one-quarter to one-half of the people we talk to. But we don’t just place people. We also offer advice to people that don’t need services,” she said.
The Doyles got interested in the business after an experience with Paul’s parents, who were looking at senior housing options. “This is a niche people need,” she said.
To facilitate her entry into the franchise business, the couple met with volunteers from SCORE who introduced them to market strategies and gave them tips and advice.
“We were informed by SCORE that we are a success story,” Doyle said. “We experienced 250% growth in the past year, the largest of any Oasis franchise in 28 states.”
Immediately following the talk, attendees had the opportunity to break off into small groups to network with the speakers and discuss the challenges female small-business owners encounter.
This event was sponsored by SCORE Fairfield County and its media sponsor was The Wilton Bulletin.