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Miller Business Center

Middle Country Public Library in Centereach hosted the 19th annual Women’s EXPO on Oct. 3. Thousands came out to kick off their holiday shopping at the one-day event presented by the Middle Country Library Foundation and the library’s Miller Business Center.

More than 80 women entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to introduce their products, which included jewelry, children’s books, soaps, candles, chocolate, fall crafts, clothing and much more. Fifth Season restaurant offered lunch in the EXPO Café. 

This year’s lead sponsor was Bank of America. The event was also sponsored by Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP of Ronkonkoma; People’s Alliance Federal Credit Union; BankUnited; TD Bank; Jefferson’s Ferry; and the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce. Vendors interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to visit www.womensExpoli.org. See more photos of the event at www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Chocology Unlimited owner Linda Johnson hands out samples of fudge at last year’s Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. Photo by Miranda Gatewood

By Elizabeth Malafi

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Entrepreneurs face many challenges when starting a new business. The challenges are even greater for women entrepreneurs.

While the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of women-owned businesses increased by 45 percent from 2007 to 2016, a faster rate than the national average, research shows there is still a significant gap between women-owned and male-owned businesses.

Linda Johnson. Photo by Miranda Gatewood

A report by SCORE, “The Megaphone of Main Street: Women’s Entrepreneurship,” published in spring 2018, shows that women-owned businesses still fall behind in revenue and financing. However, the same report shows that mentorship increases a business’s chances of opening and staying open. Networking and connecting with other women entrepreneurs can yield the same results. These outside perspectives help refine a business’s practices and decision-making.

Connections with other business women and entrepreneurs is invaluable and can really make a difference in the success of a business venture.

Linda Johnson of Chocology Unlimited knows the value of these connections. When first starting her business, she met a kindred spirit in Maria Camassa of Lucky Lou’s Gourmet Rice Pudding. Both were starting new businesses after previous careers and quickly realized that they had very similar philosophies. “Even though we have very different directions for our businesses we still bounce ideas off of each other. Sometimes all you need is a different perspective,” says Johnson. The two became business supports for each other.

As successful women entrepreneurs, the two are often too busy to physically meet, but they do keep in touch. Both women are early birds who spend a lot of time driving so phone calls from the car are their main way of communicating. And communicate they do. Johnson says these calls are often for sharing thoughts and getting input on new business ideas. “We laugh … a lot. Mostly at ourselves.” With the laughter comes true, honest and valuable feedback. Johnson says her connection with Camassa is so important, not only for her business but for herself. It is great to not only get an outside opinion but also encouragement and understanding.

Mentors, partners and role models are beneficial to the success of women-owned small businesses but not always easy to find. Women entrepreneurs should reach out to other women entrepreneurs and professionals.

Not sure where to find them? Join your local chamber of commerce. Or visit one of the many business networking organizations on Long Island. Some even focus on the success of women. SCWBEC, the Suffolk County Women’s Business Enterprise Coalition, is an organization whose mission is to support their members through networking with other women business professionals.

Each fall, the Middle Country Public Library’s Miller Business Center hosts the Women’s EXPO, a venue for women entrepreneurs on Long Island to market their products. But more importantly, this event strives to connect its participants with other women entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Women entrepreneurs have come a long way, but there is still a ways to go toward complete equity. Partnering and mentoring between women entrepreneurs is a good way to get there.

Elizabeth Malafi is the coordinator of the Miller Business Center at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.