Business women in Rochester say the community is embedded with positive values of kindness, gratitude and positivity.
Rochester’s business community wants to see entrepreneurs succeed, says Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate, a startup accelerator focused on optic, photonics and imaging.
Not only does Rochester have a cluster of over 150 optics, photonics and imaging firms that has economies of scale in terms of supply chain and expertise, but “it’s a community that wants each business to succeed,” Ramanujan says. “And you get it with kindness.”
Luminate invests $100,000 in 10 startups a year and offers the chance to win $1 million in follow-on funding. Of the first cohort of participants from 2018, seven of the 10 have stayed based in Rochester and are growing, Ramanujan says.
Fatima Byram, the owner of Silk Bridal and Paislee Boutique, says that serving Rochesterians is her favorite part of doing business because of the pleasure of interacting with her clients.
“I feel like because we’re in a small town there is a sense of gratitude that is woven within us,” Byram says.
Byram says her high school counselor told her she was either going to go into fashion because she ran the school fashion club or go into engineering because of how she had excelled at mathematics in school.
Byram used both of those affinities to help her father run the family business Thimble Tailor, balancing his checkbook and helping him sew.
At the age of 20, Byram took over the operations of Thimble Tailor from her father, an immigrant from Turkey, after he had a massive heart attack at the age of 49.
She started Paisley Boutique with is focus on hand-selected fashion-friendly contemporary wear within the first year of taking over Thimble Tailor.
Then when Byram got engaged in 2014, she tried to buy a wedding dress locally, but she said it was a struggle to find a venue that was modern and inviting. She opened Silk Bridal in 2015 “to create a platform of love” where employees don’t have to work on commission.
Now Byram has three businesses all under one hub.
“I never want to get too big where we lose our sense of humility and our sense of gratitude to host and properly serve our clients,” Byram says
Julie Camardo, the fifth-generation owner and current CEO of Zweigle’s Inc., notes that it is not every company that is 140 years old and has stayed put where it was founded.
Zweigle’s, while known for its red and white hot dogs, also manufactures sausages, chicken breast and other deli meat products, and has a mission of producing high-quality food that is embedded in creating memories for families, Camardo says.
Camardo says she loves doing business in Rochester because of the “people who are here who have always supported us as a business and who work hard for me every day. There also are so many other wonderful things like the support you get from other businesses to network with to support your goals. The positive vibe and environment we have is unlike any other that is really out there in terms of a business.”
Donna Shultz, the founder and president of Mirror Show Management, a company specializing in putting together trade shows, said in an email that “there is also a passion for serving our local community. As a business leader, I find it refreshing and inspiring to see so many other organizations in Rochester share that passion and get behind important causes that are impacting lives in our community.”
Women in business
Byram advises that it takes a lot of self-discipline to own a business, and you will not wake up self-motivated every day. You have to experience those emotions at the same time as not letting yourself quit, she says.
“Part of being a small-business owner is recognizing is that it is going to become part of your identity,” Byram says. “There is no word or space or moment where quit should be addressed. It’s just having patience with yourself and being kind to yourself every day.”
Ramanujan, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and has had three startups herself, notes that it is harder to raise money as a woman. She advises women in the technical startup space to just keep at pitching to investors.
“We spend a lot of time thinking it’s OK to be the second one, ‘I’ll be your lieutenant,’ ” Ramanujan says, “You don’t have to be the lieutenant. You can be the general.”
She also notes that science is a great career for women because scientific products are tangible.
“When we make a scientific product it’s very real,” Ramanujan says. “It either works or doesn’t work. Your intelligence is never doubted because you just came up with some brilliant invention. Science is easier to have people accept you as an equal.”
Shultz advises: “Be a giver, not a taker. Focus on giving every one of your customers the best service and best product you can and surround yourself with great people. At times you are going to face additional obstacles, but all of them can be overcome and doing so will only make you stronger. The list of successful firms that are woman-led grows every day, so don’t let anything hold you back.”
Camardo emphasizes the importance of providing community support as a business owner and support to other entrepreneurs.
“One of the benefits I have had is to feel support from other entrepreneurs, whether they be men or women,” Camardo says. “It is leveraging who you know and taking the opportunity to network with other people in similar situations. It is always important to give back to your community that gives back to you. Always have the mindset of community support. You never should be afraid to ask for help. Where help is needed, it always will be produced.”
Amaris Elliott-Engel is a Rochester-area freelance writer.