BAR HARBOR, Maine — “I love that you are doing this,” Erica Brooks, associate broker at the Swan Agency, announces as she approaches a table where Nicole Ouellette, owner of Breaking Even and Anchorspace, sits as she creates a computerized map of women-owned businesses on Mount Desert Island. The women are just two of many at the Women-Owned-Business Expo in the old gym at the MDI YWCA.
Behind them are various tables all featuring women-owned businesses. The range from financial planning to real estate, arts to mortgage services. Marketing materials, art work, drums, examples of their work decorate the tables.
The women here will tell you that business ownership changes you. Every interaction, every solicitation, every success and failure, brings with it an experience, a toughness, a life lesson. And these women? They leave an impact on their clients, their students, their community. Those impacts? They matter. The sounds of the women are joyous and insightful as they talk and help each other set up.
Ouellette asks Brooks to sign up for a raffle of business books. All the books are written by women and stacked on the table, right behind an entry form and sign-up sheet. Brooks happily adds her name.
“I think this event attracts women who want a book with the word, ‘badass,’” Ouellette says, lifting one up that has that exact word in the title.
Brooks agrees, laughing, and then even as the other women continue to set up, Brooks segues into something pretty poignant for early on a Saturday morning in a small coastal Maine town of only about 5,000 year-round residents. She starts talking about how real estate is her passion and how part of that is empowering women, two ideas which most people don’t immediately hook together. But after a negative life event, when she was able to buy her own house, she felt incredibly empowered.
“Financial freedom… equity in real estate,” she says. It means something to her.
Ouellette agrees, “I spent my entire twenties trying to get my friends to open an IRA.”
Owning a business for many of the women is about doing something they enjoy, a passion, a love, but it’s also about making money, supporting themselves, making connections and empowerment.
One of Ouellette’s businesses, Anchorspace, is cohosting the event with the MDI YWCA. Her business’s tagline is, “Where Downeast Maine gets to work,” where she hopes people will work smarter, healthier and together. One of her many passions is apparent at the Expo, it’s bringing people together so that they can support each other, shout out each other’s successes and hook them into new revenue streams and friendships.
“I’m meeting so many women, really cool women,” Elise Frank of Edward Jones says.
Surely that kind of joy and connection is both important for the women themselves as well as the community they work with. Maybe networking and friendship skills should be taught in schools as well as at home. Maybe learning to listen to a new friend should be learned when you’re learning your ABC’s and then again with a refresher course in high school. The world would probably be a better place.
That’s what is happening here.
The event is held at the MDI YWCA, whose mission is empowering women and promoting diversity. Throughout the three hours there’s a lot of happy networking happening. Women keep adding more and more names to the map of local women-owned businesses, trying to remember everyone and not leave anyone out.
“That seems impossible. There are so many… so many women,” one lady murmurs. “It’s pretty incredible.”
At the same time, new clients are potentially met, and friendships solidify.
The talk keeps turning back to certain themes. Mothers. Potential. Abilities. The desire to become something, to create something, and to reach their own best potentials. Liz Cutler, owner of ArtWaves. talks about her mother’s brilliance in mathematics and how she gave up a promising career when she became a mother.
“She was wonderful,” Liz says, but she also has to wonder how hard that was.
Becky Carroll talks about her desire to become more artistic like other members of her family, about exploring new talents . Women murmur about fitting in, striking out, holding each other up even while remembering their relatives who may not have had those same opportunities.
After three hours, the business owners say goodbye to Ouellette. Sherri Dyer of MDI Mortgage offers to help Cutler carry her paintings and easels out to her car. But before they leave, they join in a chorus of women thanking Ouellette for the opportunity.
It’s a chorus of appreciation for a kindness and an event meant to empower women, create friendships and promote each other. It’s a litany of thanks for an event the world needs more of, an event that’s about lifting each other up instead of pulling each other down, about community and opportunity, about learning more about your neighbors than you knew before.