To Celebrate Women's History Month We are Highlighting 5 Female Entrepreneurs That We Work With

March 23, 2022
Olivia Hann

According to LinkedIn, the software and IT industry is one of the top ten fastest-growing areas for women entrepreneurs. For Women’s History Month, we would like to introduce you to five women entrepreneurs that are shaping the community, especially their focus on healthcare, wellness, fashion, and education.

Ashley Barrow and Cynthia Dane have goals to change care for vulnerable people with long-term illnesses. Shannon Armstrong is introducing a local boutique, making fashionable clothing accessible to Toledoans. Renée Stack is focusing on a sector of education that is often overlooked for students: how to build vital social and emotional skills that will not only boost their academic performance, but also alleviate the community’s misunderstandings about mental health. Dana Pienta is making the food business even easier as she strengthens the connections between food vendors and sellers.

Ashley Barrow with RE-Assist

Ashley Barrow has experience with the healthcare system after a loved one became sick, allowing her to learn “the difference between providing care to intentionally assist with improving quality of life,” as told to the website Main St. Ventures. This moment sparked the idea for RE-Assist, a platform that gives long-term patients the ability to choose their provider before their transition from acute care. As we work with Ashley to further build RE-Assist, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to ask her questions about her project.

What led you to start your own business?

AB: Honestly, I have always been an innovator. I would work jobs with the mindset of figuring out how to make things easier for patients, peers, and other employees. I knew there were ways to streamline processes, however I had never thought I would be the agent of change. It wasn’t until my family member got ill and COVID hit that I felt I could be the one to lead the change. This was the birth of RE-Assist.

What adversity have you faced as a woman starting a business?

AB: I have to say a lot of opportunities have opened up for women. I have been connected to many different programs and services to help shape who I have become today.

What are your goals in the future for RE-Assist?

AB: RE-Assist is looking to be the #1 trusted SAAS platform to help individuals transition from acute to post-acute care smoothly with transparency of services. Our everlasting goal is to improve and maintain the quality of life. We keep that in the forefront of our minds and know that much success will come with that.

Do you have any advice for women planning to become entrepreneurs themselves?

AB: I like to speak with women who are like me. Single women, single mothers. Never give up! We have to be innovative in all we do. Our ideas and the common ways we do things are amazing. Keep moving forward and you will see all the work you do is worth it and you will be rewarded.

What are you currently working on?

AB: I am currently working on our phase one of development. Simultaneously, I am preparing to raise capital and awareness of our platform.

What perspectives does your background in healthcare give you in running RE-Assist?AB: I have 16 years of case management experience transitioning individuals from acute to post-acute care. In addition, I have nine years of experience taking care of a loved one who is ill and has to navigate programs and services to live healthily and safely in the community.

Ashley’s experience of both working in healthcare and caring for her relative gave her a great starting point for her. Starting by creating better outcomes for patients is only the beginning; Ashley hopes to revolutionize the healthcare industry in her journey.

Cynthia Dane with Recipes 4a Reason

During her husband’s battle with pancreatic cancer, Cynthia Dane had trouble balancing necessary care for her husband while also finding the time to prepare meals that were nutritious and supportive of his immune system. That’s why she started Recipes 4a Reason (R4R), a business which sells soups that are packed with nutrients, creating delicious, healthy meals that are also convenient and quick to make. Cynthia was willing to answer some questions about R4R and her entrepreneurial journey.

What led you to start your own business?

CD: I had a need for a specific type of food product that I could not find in the market. When my husband was battling cancer, I wanted to make sure that everything he ate was natural with as much nutrition in it as possible. He had enough poisons in his system. I struggled to balance spending time with him and having to spend time cooking food that would yield a lot of nutrition, but not upset his system while he battled the side effects of cancer treatments. I did not find any product that was up to my high standards. Options for healthy, prepackaged foods are getting better, but it requires the constant scrutiny of reading package labels to know what you are really getting. So, I just developed my own brand.

What adversity have you faced as a woman starting a business?

CD: I have been very lucky. I do not feel that I faced any particular adversity because I am a woman. Perhaps it’s because my “mission” is clear and that I’ve been able to work with amazing people who support my goal – both women and men. Even though I was brand new to the commercial food industry, no one ever said you won’t succeed because you are a woman. I’m sure I would have tuned them out and moved on if they did!

What are your goals in the future for R4R?

CD: My future goals are to expand the number of flavors available and to reach a bigger customer base. The first step is to reach the market in southeast Michigan. The next step will be to make the product available in stores nationally. Currently, national availability is through online sales.

Do you have any advice for women planning to become entrepreneurs themselves?

CD: Yes! Believe in yourself, believe in yourself, believe in yourself! Have a clear vision and translate that into a clear, written mission. Understand and accept that you will learn from mistakes! Then, go for it! You will project confidence!

What are you currently working on?

CD: Getting two more soup flavors in production. And, trying to figure out the most eco-friendly cushioning product to wrap my glass jars so they won’t break in shipping – and find one that is affordable! The world needs less plastic, so this is a challenge. And the jars are frozen which means moisture, so that is another challenge.

What specifically drove you to the culinary aspect of wellness?

CD: I want to do something concrete to fight cancer. It is a nightmare experience with devastating consequences for anyone touched by it. I’m not a doctor or a scientist so I needed another route. Eating healthy has a lot of supported studies indicating you can prevent disease or slow it down, and in some cases, cure or reverse it. And, most importantly, you control the process. I’ve believed for a long time in eating healthy, so this was an easy direction to go. There are a lot of people who are trying to eat healthy these days. I’ve met them! But eating healthy has to taste good and be convenient, or the habits won’t last. With food, there is an opportunity to be creative and make people want to eat vegetables and fruit. And, you’d be amazed at the bad foods you don’t crave when your body is nutritionally satisfied. I want to help people think about health by providing choices for clean food that tastes good, is full of nutrients, and is convenient.

Shannon Armstrong with

After traveling across the Midwest looking for her favorite fashions, Shannon Armstrong decided to bring her favorite clothes to Toledo. With the goal of providing Toledoans access to contemporary clothes, Shannon was happy to share information about her business and her entrepreneurship as a whole.

What led you to start your own business?

SA: I worked 17 years for a business in California, and when my son started elementary school, I “retired” from that position. It wasn’t until my son started college that I decided to get back out in the workforce, but it felt strange to send out resumes at this point in my life. My friend and I decided to open our own business together and started a meditation space that also sold athletic wear on the side. When COVID hit, we wondered if this business could survive. I also saw a demand for boutique clothing alongside our athletic wear merchandise. I branched off into boutique fashion and then started my own independent business, Wear Boutique.

What adversity have you faced as a woman starting a business?

SA: I can’t say I’ve faced adversity due to being a woman, but aspects such as time management, administrative tasks, and figuring out how to manage all parts of the business have been obstacles. Doing everything by yourself is very challenging, as well as finding new teammates to help grow the business as time goes on. Fortunately, there are a lot more resources that weren’t around before. It’s just easier to open your own business than it was 15 or 20 years ago. 

What are your goals in the future for Wear and what are you currently working on?

SA: Currently, we are working on opening our store location. We are shooting for May, 2022. With WynHouse, we are working on building our software as well as incorporating the administrative details. For the future, we want to start a company with great customer service and strong brand loyalty. An area I want to focus on is having a bigger online presence with a healthy base for social media. Fortunately, we already have people “coming in the door” at Wear, so to speak.

Do you have any advice for women planning to become entrepreneurs themselves?

SA: Yes, definitely choose something you enjoy doing and have a backup plan. Also, have a backup for your backup plan. Make sure you choose a unique idea and find a place where you business will flourish. For example, we were originally looking at opening up in Columbus, but found there was a saturation of women’s clothing stores in that area. Toledo proved to be a better option, with more places to rent, an inexpensive cost of living, and more opportunities in general. When you start your own business, keep moving forward with your ideas and don’t get discouraged. One last thing, always trust your gut.

What perspectives has your love of contemporary fashion provided you with when running your business?

SA: My grandparents owned a clothing store, so I spent a lot of my childhood around retail. I was always going to fashion shows when I was younger; I just enjoyed clothes and shopping overall. With my experience, it soon became second nature to pick out what looks good on people and what products will sell in which market.

Renée Stack with Stackable SEL

With her master’s degree in Applied Educational Psychology, Renée Stack applies her knowledge to help children obtain the social and academic skills for success. Renée hopes more education about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) will lessen the stigma around mental health.

What led you to start your own business?

RS: As an elementary School Counselor, I noticed a void in resources available to effectively teach social and emotional skills to kids in a meaningful and relevant way. I began creating my own curriculum that included the personalization and customization that helped kids in my school learn and practice valuable skills. I was drawn to impacting more kids across the nation using the same method on a broader scale.

What adversity have you faced as a woman starting a business?

RS: As a full-time school counselor, a mother to three elementary-aged kids, a person active in the community, and a founder of a start-up technology-based business, the barriers of time and money have been the biggest challenges for me. I can be a fairly risk-averse person, especially if my risks could potentially negatively impact others, so building up the courage to ask people to invest funds without feeling worried about the potential losses has set me back from pursuing the growth needed to truly launch the program development. As a woman, I haven’t really envisioned myself as capable of founding a tech startup. I have to sort through the imposter syndrome that goes along with not having a foundation in tech lingo or the business startup process.  I have to frequently remind myself that I am enough.

What are your goals in the future for Stackable SEL?

RS: I am always gaining insight regarding the potential of Stackable SEL that keeps my vision alive. My main goal is finding a founders partnership who can assist in making the vision come to life by complementing my expertise and passion with their technology development skills. Collaborating with another person hoping to make a positive impact on many young people and the community will help Stackable SEL reach its full potential sooner.

WHS: Do you have any advice for women planning to become entrepreneurs themselves?RS: Entrepreneurship involves risk of time, money, and resources. Your passion for a solution or product can change lives. Encourage yourself to find the right people to build you up, provide feedback, and support your goals for your business. Allow yourself room for mistakes and view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Setbacks give space for new perspectives to your vision.

What are you currently working on?

RS: I am currently working on building a social media campaign to help inform what Stackable SEL can offer in the form of professional development for educators as they navigate the new landscape of teaching children through and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics will include addressing many of the social and emotional skill deficits kids are experiencing that are impacting our classrooms by giving valuable tips, advice, and guidance to the people on the frontlines of “closing the gaps” in learning.

What experiences have you had that led you to choose SEL as the focus of your mission?

RS: Prosocial skill development has been addressed in the education setting for several decades; however, from my experience the curriculum resources have not impacted what we need in our society as much as they could. Kids learn best through relationships. They want to see their teachers and counselors and administrators as the experts they can learn from and talk to about challenges and difficulties they face in their lives.  Kids want to believe that they can reach their goals and become who they are meant to be, and Stackable SEL can provide the social and emotional learning opportunities to help them achieve their unique version of success. I have personally seen the positive impact of relevant, customized, and personalized social and emotional learning can have on students. I crave for all kids to learn the skills and give educators an easy and effective way to deliver the skills with the resources they already have in place.

Dana Pienta

Dana Pienta is a family-first, rooted in the community, entrepreneur. It’s not uncommon for her to have several projects underway at once. With an extensive sales and marketing background, Dana finds the marriage between ideas and execution. She looks to add value wherever she is involved!

What led you to start your own business?

DP: I have always enjoyed helping businesses succeed, so being able to do it with some of my own ideas was a natural pivot.

What adversity have you faced as a woman starting a business?

DP: Well, I could list a bunch of roadblocks I have encountered in business but not all have been 'gender' related. However, I do find that being taken seriously can be a struggle. I feel women have learned to approach business in a certain way because of such roadblocks and gender bias. I would love to know how different their paths would have been without them.

Are there any notable female entrepreneurs that have influenced your own entrepreneurial journey?

DP: I don't have any one in particular, however, I do tend to resonate with so many, especially those who have faced bias and discrimination due to gender. Supporting women is very important to me. In and outside of business. We need to build each other up instead of tearing each other down!

What are you currently working on?

DP: Currently I am working on an app that helps organizations connect with vendors and consumers. Think food truck meets school lunch program meets entertainment and events.

What are your goals in the future for your business?

DP: My goal is to connect consumers with local businesses on a platform built for the future.

As the number of women entrepreneurs grows, we are honored to work alongside our female clients across several industries. Whether fashion or wellness, education or healthcare, these  hard-working women have built innovative businesses to better their community. While celebrating women entrepreneurs throughout Women’s History Month, who are some female business owners who inspire you?

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