Women in business roles have endured quite a lot this past year, including layoffs, losses, starting businesses in 2020, and general pivoting. But if there’s anything that’s proved women’s resiliency, it’s been a pandemic.
Ahead of our WeLead (Women Empowered. Learn. Engage. take Action. Deliver.) event on May 7, we highlighted seven local businesswomen from a variety of business avenues. These women are a mix of entrepreneurs, educators, and businesswomen who are all determined to make the world a better place. Whether a boots-on-the-ground educator, someone helping those in the community, starting businesses or offering support to others, these women have worked hard to earn the respect of their peers and the community, all the while striving to do more.
These women have different specialties, but know that failure is a prerequisite for success. As Octavia Brown told me, when describing the thriving mental health practice that she opened in 2020, “You might think UIMH was an overnight success, but it was 12 years in the making,” adding, “Don’t rush the process. As the saying goes, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ ”
Perhaps these women will inspire you to take on a new venture, add to your business, or even want to switch careers. If so, remember to use other women as resources. Look for a business association or organization in your field; they are immensely helpful resources that pertain directly to your business. And don’t forget to lift up other women in the process; we’re all counting on one another to succeed.
Founder/CEO of Atlas Book Club
Bunmi Emenanjo is a mom of three living in Davidsonville. In 2019, the ethics attorney started Atlas Book Club, a monthly subscription box for kids to learn about different world cultures. The book club allows kids to “travel” to a different country every month, with carefully curated content—including books, a fun-fact card, postcard, map, and relevant souvenir—to help them learn about cultures around the world.
Emenanjo started the book club at home with her family as a way to expose her Nigerian-American children to their African heritage. But it soon grew beyond her own home. “I witnessed how my children, and others who participated in the book club, connected with the different cultures through the selected books,” she says. “I became even more passionate about sharing this transformative experience with kids nationwide.”
Two years in, Atlas kids members have been exposed to some 20 cultures from around the world through age-appropriate books and activities and as Emenanjo says, “I am on a mission to expose kids to as many world cultures as possible through books!”
Educator, author, owner of Weems Creek Nursery School
Mary Ostrowski is an Annapolis native with a passion for educating children. After working as a practicing accountant, Mary turned her focus to education both in the U.S. and Central America. After years of working as an elementary school principal and then Head of School at an international-style school in Panama, and working on educational consultancy programs here in the U.S., Ostrowski purchased Weems Creek Nursery School in 2018.
Her passion for teaching kids also includes keeping their creativity flowing, which led her to create “Drip, Drop and Drizzle,” a journal aimed at 8- to 12-year olds that inspires kids to imagine, draw and write. She founded The Drizzle Effect, an education consulting business aimed at building kids’ confidence through literacy and the arts. Ostrowski is also involved with local nonprofits, including Creating Communities, which offers Life Skills Through the Arts programs to students from low-income households.
Octavia Brown, LCSW-C
Founder and lead clinician, Urban Institute of Mental Health (UIMH)
Octavia Brown opened the Urban Institute of Mental Health (urbanmh.com) in September 2020. In less than a year UIMH has grown to a team of seven therapists serving some 130 patients. Brown is specifically trained in working in urban communities and has extensive experience working in racial trauma therapy. UIMH’s mission is to “to provide effective, culturally competent, and trauma-informed mental health services.”
UIMH therapists are trained in a wide variety of treatments, modalities and interventions, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, play therapy, and behavioral modification, and all of them have experience working with the Black and Brown community. “UIMH is a trauma informed mental health practice,” says Brown. “Our belief is that everything begins with trauma. It could be a traumatic incident, anything that can bring a mental health problem to light.”
Before opening UIMH, Brown served the Annapolis community advocating for urban communities, and by implementing new and progressive policies to help dismantle the system of racism.
Jo Ann Mattson
Executive Director of The Light House
Jo Ann Mattson is the Executive Director of the Light House, a homeless prevention support center in Annapolis that provides housing, food, clothing, and job support, and other services to those in need. Mattson, a longtime Annapolis resident, has been a supporter and volunteer with the Light House for many years, and was the Director of Development and Communications before assuming the role of Executive Director. She also has more than 15 years of experience working in nonprofit fundraising and development.
2020-2021 Anne Arundel County Public Schools Teacher of the Year
Jing Dai is a nine-year veteran teacher with AACPS, currently teaching Chinese 1–4; IB DP, and AP Chinese at Meade High School. She is also the school district’s IB teacher leader, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Chinese Language Teachers Association. According to Meade High Principal Dr. Frederick Rivers, “Walking into her classroom is like walking into an educational adventure where no two days are ever the same.”
Former WNBA Player, owner Sonia Chase Basketball
Baltimore native Sonia Chase is a former University of Maryland basketball star, and WNBA player with the Charlotte Sting and Minnesota Lynx. She is also an author, women’s and youth advocate, community activist, and mother.
In 2009, Chase founded Chase Your Dreams, a nonprofit organization that helps players of all ages “develop elite basketball skills and prepare them for next-level opportunities.” She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Chase Your Dreams Academy, whose mission is to “facilitate positive transformation in high need and underserved youth through a holistic approach that includes character enrichment, sports, and nutrition.” Through these leadership programs, Chase engages students through speaking engagements, during which she uses her coaching skills to boost kids’ (and adults’) motivation, self-esteem and determination.
Chase Your Dreams Incorporated brings “a solid motivational message to inspire, motivate, and encourage all youth to chase their dreams in life,” and has become a popular speaker series for schools, colleges, universities, churches, and business organizations. In addition to her nonprofit work, Sonia Chase Basketball camps began partnering with Nike in 2013 to deliver high-quality coaching opportunities to kids. Her camps are intensive, focusing on skills and techniques, in addition to signature NIKE programs.
Lean on Dee Senior Care Advocates
Winsome Brown is the co-founder of Lean On Dee Senior Care Advocates. Brown is an accountant by trade, but is also a certified dementia life coach, senior advisor, and holds certifications from the University of Michigan Advanced Clinical Dementia Practice.
Lean on Dee, which launched in 2020, works with both dementia patients and their family and caregivers to help them understand dementia. Brown teaches family members and caregivers how to understand what life is like for a dementia patient and how to care for them. The program also cares for dementia patients with at-home cognitive stimulation and activities that help adults living with dementia maintain cognitive abilities.
After struggling to find engaging care and activities for her mother, who had recently been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Brown partnered with her sister Danielle Brown and cousin Lisa McDonald (an RN and social worker, respectively) to help bring stimulating and engaging programs to dementia patients. “We’re normally there twice a week for an hour to hour-and-a-half at most,” Brown says, during which time they connect with patients, focusing on keeping the patient’s mind active through conversation and engaging activities.
Brown and her partners are also working toward becoming a residential service agency, which will allow them to provide skilled nursing care and other health services in the home.
Resources for Women Entrepreneurs
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, moving your way up the corporate ladder, or a mom ready to jump into a new career, there’s something we all need: support. Fortunately, there are dozens of great organizations ready to help you find the resources you need to succeed—from business development to finances, grant programs and continuing education courses. Here are 5 places to start looking for whatever help you need to keep your business grow.
Maryland Business Express
Maryland Business Express has state and federal funding resources, and provides help with business plans, licensing and tax prep, and help with hiring, training and managing employees.
Maryland Small Business Development Center
Maryland’s Small Business Development Center provides advice, consulting and support to entrepreneurs and small businesses across the state.
Maryland Women’s Business Center
Maryland Women’s Business Center helps women entrepreneurs and small business owners achieve economic growth
SCORE is a nationwide nonprofit organization that helps business owners find mentors in their field, as well as resources including business development webinars, courses and more.
Small Business Administration
The SBA is an invaluable resource for small business owners. It offers programs in “contracting and funding guidance, with a focus on Veterans, Native Americans, LGBT, and women-owned businesses.”
Just starting out? Look for a business association or organization in your field. They are immensely helpful resources that pertain directly to your business! And don’t forget to join your local Chamber of Commerce to meet other local businesses to partner with and grow your local network.
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