Women Take Charge

Like many across the U.S., these ten women entrepreneurs are making waves in the Chattanooga business world by turning their passion into a thriving career.

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Sources:
2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, American Express Open,  National Association of Women Business Owners

sigsmilesDr. Kristen Conner, Dentist and Owner of Signature Smiles

After graduating from dental school and practicing for five years, Dr. Kristen Conner decided to start her own dental office with a patient-focused mindset and a spa-like feel.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: After practicing for five years, I learned what I believe in and how I think people should be treated. Female dentists are a lot more popular now, but until recently you didn’t see females with big practices. I thought ‘I know it can be done, why not me?’

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for
success?

A: Actually, none! I had no business experience. It was all a learning curve, but I was super determined. It was going to happen, it was going to happen fast, and I was going to make a successful business in as short amount of time as I could.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A:Dental coaches, life coaches—I’ve had several of both and I’ve learned so much
from each one. I think every great leader has a coach.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: Always pattern yourself after those who are more successful than you.

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Terri Holley, Owner of Embellish and Willa
(pictured above)

Terri Holley believes every woman looks better in heels, and she’s spent a decade making beautiful shoe designs available to the women of Chattanooga. Now she’s taking on ownership of NorthShore’s Willa Collection, too.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: I’ve always loved shoes and wanted to start my own business. For me, fashion starts with shoes. If I’m planning an outfit, it’s built around the shoes.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: I actually sold shoes in high school and college when I worked for a shoe boutique in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama. I have a degree in finance and went into banking before entering a related field selling check-related products.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: The women I worked for in Mobile were the first phone call I made when I decided to open Embellish. I’ve kept in touch with them throughout the years, and they opened many doors for
me. Another was my uncle. Every year on my birthday he took me shopping at the finest shoe store in town, and I could pick out anything I wanted. He developed in me a love of very high quality shoes at a young age.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: Research. Look at your market, look at your product, and see what other people are doing. By doing my research, I found my niche.

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CaptureTara Plumlee, Owner of The Catering Companies, LLC.

Not one, not two, but three catering companies keep Tara Plumlee on her toes as she serves up both food and special events that are unforgettable.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: The company I worked for was purchased by a larger company, and they fired almost everyone. I watched everyone packing up and losing their careers, and I realized I couldn’t give my all to a company like that. So I left and went out on my own.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: I have a master’s degree in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Having an entrepreneurial spirit is important because it gives you the guts to take huge risks and purchase million dollar venues without having a clue if you can put a party in there. You have to be a little crazy, but with calculated risk.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: My father. He has worked in the food and beverage business for many years, and even though our businesses are different, he has helped me fundamentally. He has a lot of life experience and knowledge of the working environment that you can’t learn in college.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: Do it. I think that if more women took a chance and got out there and did it, they would find success and have the same prosperous adventures that others do.

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pinsonAmanda Pinson, Owner of Amanda Pinson Jewelry

With a love of design and all things dazzling, Amanda Pinson showcases a curated selection of designer jewelry at her store.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: I think I have a feel for the work and the stones, and I’ve been hands-on with jewelry all my life. Both my grandmothers were collectors, and it was something I always felt very interested in.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: I was an art major in college and was always interested in design and color. I grew up around glamorous women, and they provided me with the perfect background for a career in jewelry.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: I actually had a much younger woman mentor me in the beginning. She was a young jewelry designer and shop owner in New Orleans.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and
want to start their own business?

A: If you’re not completely passionate about what you’re doing, it’s not going to work. My proudest moment is that I moved to a town where I didn’t know a soul to do what I love. I’m a
64-year-old woman who at 50 took a major leap. When I think about it, it was either the smartest thing I’ve ever done or one of the most dangerous. But there’s never been anything I’ve enjoyed more.

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Capture1Dr. Marie B. Farrar, Orthodontist and Owner of Smile Studio

The growth and vibrancy of the Southside attracted Dr. Farrar, a third-generation dentist, to open her own studio after 20 years at another practice.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: As a mom and an orthodontist, I see things from a different perspective than a lot of my colleagues. I felt like there was a need for a practice operated by someone who had that perspective.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: I was in the background of my husband’s dental practice and learned a lot about practice management from his experiences. I also worked in a very large, multi-office orthodontic practice for 20 years, which was very helpful, too.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: Dr. DeWayne McCamish, who was my boss for 20 years, has been a great professional mentor. My best support while setting up my own practice came from my friend and banker, Linly Mason, who helped alleviate my fears about financing.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: Follow your heart. I felt this calling for years and years, and it wasn’t until my children were old enough that I could finally do it. Also be clear about what sets you apart from the other products or services available to your customers.

derryberryRobin Derryberry, President, Derryberry Public Relations

A “cookie cutter-free” approach to public relations inspires Robin Derryberry in her work, allowing her to build lasting relationships with clients.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: We only serve clients that we truly believe we can assist and that we believe in. If we take on a client or a project, we do so because we believe in it, and we believe that we can win a battle factually, on the merits of its own case.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: One is a love of strategy. The second is that I’ve got a really strong work ethic, and I really enjoy taking on issues that matter significantly to our community and region.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: Personally, it’s my maternal grandmother and my mother. My maternal grandmother worked until she was 82. My mother was the first female underwriter at Provident [now Unum.]

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: Find that person or persons in your life who can be your support system, who will tell you when you’re onto something really big, and who will also tell you when you’re not.

herringSusannah Herring, Owner of Hot Yoga Plus

From a career in finance to yoga studio owner, Susannah Herring has made another big jump by expanding her brand from Nashville to the Scenic City.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: My background is in private equity, and I was doing a ton of yoga in my free time. Opening the studio was a way to combine my skills and business background with something I loved doing.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: My master’s in finance and background in investment banking and private equity are a huge help. I had a good foundation in business and finance that helped me make good decisions.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: I have a minority partner who was one of the chairmen of the investment bank where I worked. He has been incredibly helpful to me. I’m able to get on the phone with him when I have big decisions to make and need to bounce an idea off someone.

StoneJennifer Stone, Founder of ICG International Coffee Group

An internationally-renowned licensed coffee expert, Jennifer Stone’s passion for java helps her to lead a company that owns three brands of coffee.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: I received my degree in Spanish and went to Spain and Mexico where I first experienced “café society.” After school we’d be sitting at the town plaza and having this insightful conversation, and everyone was holding a cup of coffee. That resonated with me, and that’s when I decided I would open a café.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: My success comes from my intense commitment to quality and product. I first started my coffee business in 1997, when the word entrepreneur was not one the radar—somebody called me that and I had to look it up. I was just super driven to make extraordinary coffee and get it into people’s hands.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: One of my first customers was a woman named Gail Smith, who was Vice President of Operations at Golden Gallon. We would talk about some of the challenges I was facing as a female business owner. I admired her style and her business savvy.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: The foundation is the ultimate sense of commitment to your service or product.

shebakDr. Jan Sherbak, Owner of Stratton Hall

For Dr. Jan Sherbak, a moment of inspiration led to the development of a customizable event space in one of the largest venues in Chattanooga.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: I was part-owner of the building, which was an old lawn and garden center. I had a brainstorm one day, just a vision. I thought ‘Wow, this could be a great venue.’

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: As a psychologist, I opened an eating disorder clinic in 2001, which I operated and ran until September 2014. I also started and still maintain a private practice as a clinical psychologist. Both of these businesses were instrumental in increasing my knowledge about opening and
operating a small business.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: I learned as I went along and made sure I had some wonderful, passionate, informed people with me as I went. Then I really just jumped in there and did it.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: Make sure to pay attention to your own intuition. Use the courage that it takes to be in charge and take risks. Stay energetic, stay balanced, and surround yourself with good people.

KelchMarcy Kelch, Owner of Mia Cucina

Mia Cucina owner Marcy Kelch has served the people of Chattanooga since 2007 – offering gourmet housewares and cooking classes to kitchen novices and pros alike.

Q: What inspired you to open your business?

A: It was a concept I had in my mind for quite some time, but I didn’t know how to get it off the ground. When the opportunity came up with this turnkey operation [the established Mia Cucina was being sold in 2007], I jumped at the chance.

Q: What background experience do you have that set you up for success?

A: My previous role was to lead large scale cross-functional projects in a corporate setting where it was crucial to manage your time, resources, and energy effectively. Self-discipline and organizational skills are a requirement for anyone thinking of starting a new business.

Q: Did you have any mentors along the way?

A: We belong to a buying group, “Gourmet Catalog,” consisting of 350 independent retailers across the nation. We meet three times a year to network, discuss ideas for competition, how to alleviate big box advantages, and more. Being able to reach out to other independent gourmet store owners throughout the years has been extremely beneficial.

Q: Do you have any advice for other women who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

A: Start small and be prepared. Be patient and avoid the urge to grow too big too fast. Hire the best staff you can afford and delegate. Know when to get out of the way and let your employees do their job.