Black Women Entrepreneurs Talk Careers, CT Community Service and Helping Others Succeed

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They were both named among the best 100 women of color. Both women also work to serve the community and grow their entrepreneurial spirit. But even with similar goals, their journeys took different paths.

Le Courant spoke with Francine Austin and Tasha Ruth about how they created their own path to entrepreneurship.

Francine Austin

As a little girl, Austin was sure of two things: she loved the entertainment industry and serving others.

She said she knew, even at an early age, that she was born to be an entrepreneur.

And her two loves helped her develop entrepreneurship; she is now CEO and founder of Francine Entertainment and Marketing Co.

“I was the person with the lemonade stand at the end of his driveway,” Austin said. “I have always been an entrepreneur. … When we had the big (bake) sales at school, it was me who worked with the teachers to organize (and) bring the baked goods to each of the classrooms, (ensuring) that everyone is perfect, whether presentation (of bakery products).

Austin said the girlhood training has translated into her work today in production for her company.

“All of this together was natural to me. … I would have showcases at my house as a young girl of 10 and 12, where I would bring children to my house and organize them,” she said. “They recited poetry. A lot of moms (were) at home, and we were doing shows for them. I would orchestrate (and) plan (this). I would (get) the snacks. I have everything set up correctly. I would create the graphics.

Austin said watching Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey on TV also helped her realize she could live her dream of giving back to others, while being in entertainment, as an entrepreneur. This led her to create her organization, A Giving Heart.

“Oprah came in and just shed light on your ability to be everything…how you can still have a generous heart, because I realized in that moment that I could live my dream (of) philanthropy, as well as (in) entertainment as an entrepreneur. I (can) still produce all of my own stuff, use my skills for marketing, PR events, (and) production. All of these things have come together for the greater good of humanity. This is what is most important to me.”

Austin noted that she pivoted out of corporate America, pre-COVID-19, into entrepreneurship.

She said she “worked in a company, because we’re all told to go to school, get a corporate job.

“It means you have arrived… you have succeeded. However, success was not defined for me by another company saying, “Here’s that review.” Here’s what you do. It’s your life.’ I knew there was more to me, something bigger. There was a passion burning inside me…always…to do something bigger. I have always been a visionary. I knew I had to exercise faith and do exactly what I was supposed to do.

After quitting a corporate job, she began by opening her first hair salon and day spa in Bloomfield, with the goal of providing a safe haven for women of color to be pampered and talk about the issues that mattered to them the most. more. Many of her early clients were professional women of color, many of whom she had worked with, were fellow members of her Links organization, or friends she grew up with.

“I knew I wanted a spa. Not really a salon, but a spa, (because) there was no place back then where women of color could go for professional treatment. As women of color, we’re told we don’t deserve time to relax or take care of ourselves,” she said. “This generation (talks about it) now a little more. However, back then, no one was telling women of color to take care of themselves. Also, (when women of color were going to receive) these types of services in other institutions, you were being discriminated against, so you wanted to go somewhere where you felt comfortable, where someone understood you.

Through the spa, she was able to have conversations about philanthropy, service, new careers, and scholarship information for children.

While working in her spa and salon business, Austin said she was able to transition into food on the next step in her entrepreneurial journey, which took her into television, after helping a young woman who wanted help selling a product in her business.

“I invited her to my living room to host a party to sell her products and help her with her business,” Austin said. “She was so happy and telling others (about the event). Then the next thing you know, people heard about my food, what was going on in the living room.

“I started bringing food to the show so we didn’t have to order and everyone had something nice. Fast forward ABC ‘The Chew’ finds out about me. I’m on national television. I cook ribs for ABC and I won…for my brown sugar molasses ribs in 2016.”

After Austin’s win over “chewinghe was offered a show, along with other opportunities. At the same time, she decided to give back to different local organizations, threw a party at the Bushnell, and enlisted her friend, ABC’s Tamron Hall, to create A Giver’s Heart presents “An Evening of Philanthropy” featuring Hall in April 2018.

This led her to transition into her business, Francine Entertainment & Marketing. Through this company, Austin produced community events and fundraisers throughout the state, using its national connections and pull.

Some of them include: Black Doctors Day at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, introducing young people of color to the medical field; The Hartford Foundation’s Black Giving Circle Fund presents: 20/20 Vision: Black Philanthropy’s Role in Social Justice, where it has brought in guest speakers such as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator of the landmark 1619 project Nikole Hannah-Jones , and co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a national organization focused on increasing voter registration and participation in the black community, LaTosha Brown; Trinity Health of New England 24 Hour Vax-A-Thon, with over 1,000 residents vaccinated.

In addition, she helped raise funds for Walter “Doc” Hurley’s first built monument and his scholarship weekend with State Senator Douglas McCrory held at the Artists Collective, Hartford; and created a strategic branding, marketing, communications and media placement plan, directly with Fairview Capital, JoAnn Price, Founder and Managing Partner and Stephen Bayer of the Jewish Federation for the Brother Carl Institute for the Prevention of violence and community engagement.

She said what makes people understand her best is that she has the ear and the heart of her community. “They know I care. … When I say my community, I’m not just talking about Hartford. My community is large. People know that I really care and what you see is what you get with me. … It’s just who I am.

Tasha Ruth

Once the COVID-19 pandemic made Ruth’s position remote and her CPA told her she couldn’t claim anything while working remotely, the 13-year-old associate director decided to push her love of service at the top level.

After learning this from the CPA, Ruth said, “You know what? You’re right. I will go ahead and do it.

“That kind of putting the drums behind my back. I was already running my own business informally, without an LLC. What I do is help individuals plan their finances, budget, and teach them the basics of managing their credit (and) saving money. »

Thus, Ruth Consulting LLC was born. In addition to helping others with finances, she helps community members prepare for job interviews and plan events. Many of these services she offered for free before she got into entrepreneurship.

“A lot of things I do from the heart. I have helped so many people repair their credit. I helped them write letters to the credit union so they could get a loan if they needed it for a car, helping them fill in the gaps,” Ruth said.

She said she also helps clients when asked about their work history, what happened with student loans, how to contact lenders or even what happened with a power bill. .

However, she said she also understands the importance of formalizing her business with an LLC, not only for her personal financial gain, but also to reach more people in her community who need help.

Some of the other services offered by Ruth Consulting Firm, LLC include assistance with Social Security and disability documents.

She said, for example, that she can help those who are denied disability benefits by working as an advocate, helping clients gather documents and medical information, submit them, and talk to case managers. .

“A lot of times people are denied social security or disability just because they don’t understand the process,” she said.

Ruth lost her father during the COVID-19 pandemic and put her business on hold to take time to grieve, but has now resumed it in honor of her father.

“I was postponing the business because if I can’t take care of myself. How am I going to help someone else? I’m still grieving, but a lot is fueled by my father’s spirit,” she said. “I was a daddy’s girl. I decided I had to get back into the game.”

She said it helped her when she was nominated for an award, attended the event and was asked to speak.

She said she noted that she had “been absent from the scene” and taken care of herself after losing her father. She also talked about staying relevant and that “a lot of people will call me out in the community just to try to support me” and seek her help.

She said she has kept her job at MetLife and appreciates their support as she was recently promoted.

While her outside business is up and running, Ruth still has big plans to continue helping her community, including adding a realtor’s license to her long list of services, and plans to take the real estate test.

She said her “goal and mission” is to buy a building and rent it out to people who want to buy homes, and can stay in that building for up to 36 months with a fixed rent rate, so that they can save money. She said she would offer financial and practical courses.

Ruth wants to make sure she can help more people of color become homeowners.

“As you can see, they’re knocking the projects down. We no longer have projects where people can come in and pay a very low rate. Right now, if you want to rent on Garden Street in Hartford, it’s about $1,500 for a two-bedroom apartment. We need more landlords,” she said. “We need to get a lot of people into (the) community, into a place where they can have more buying power. It’s my goal.”

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