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Entrepreneurship and motherhood: Family first

Starlett Simmons (right) of Five Star Cake Co. with her daughter, Kai Taalib

Cynthia Davis, owner of Sha La Cynt’s

Starlett Simmons of Five Star Cake Co.

Davis' son Jordan helps with making popcorn

Karen Guilmette, owner of Natural Red, with three of her children

This story is the final part of a three-part series looking at how five women entrepreneurs are tackling the challenges of growing a business while nurturing healthy families and contributing to thriving communities.  
If you missed the first parts of these series, you’ll find them HERE and HERE.
Starlett Simmons of Eastpointe always loved to cook and bake as a hobby, creating pastries and other baked goods for friends, family, and co-workers. Unfulfilled in a stressful management, job, she turned the hobby into a career and enrolled in a pastry arts program.
"I was becoming a person I didn't like, and I didn't feel like I was making any type of contribution to the world," says Simmons. "I was also missing out on my daughter's life because of my hectic work schedule."
Since 2009, she has thrown herself into growing her business, Five Star Cake Co., without sacrificing the needs of her daughter.
As any working parent can attest, finding a healthy home-work balance is one tough challenge. Entrepreneurship can be a solution, allowing women the flexibility to be present for children, which, in turn, contributes to family security and stability.

Starlett Simmons of Five Star Cake Co. with her daughter, Kai Taalib

"Having a flexible schedule with a child is everything," says Simmons. "Being an entrepreneur has allowed me to travel and do things with my daughter that I was too busy to do previously," says Simmons. "It's allowed me to set an example for her about hard work, dedication, following your passion and doing what you love to do."
Cynthia Davis, owner of Sha La Cynt’s works well beyond a nine-to-five day as she handles the demands of growing her Detroit gourmet vegan popcorn business. But she has intentionally made being a wife and a mom her priority. Her home is 10 minutes from her commercial kitchen and her youngest boy’s school is just five minutes away. She schedules kitchen time and deliveries around her boys’ sports schedules so she can be there to support them.
"I love that I'm usually able work my schedule around my kids," says Karen Guilmette, owner of a personal care products company, Natural Red. "I can be at their events. I meet them at the bus stop. I am usually the one who puts them to bed."
While those are obvious perks for her children, Guilmette's kids have been impacted in more nuanced ways. Through hard work and the fledgling success of Natural Red, Guilmette says that she's healed from her divorce and grown more confident. "My family, especially my children, have seen the transformation that's occurred."

"I hope my children look at me and know that they can achieve whatever they want to as long as they put in the work, make the sacrifices necessary, and don't give up," says Guilmette.

Karen Guilmette, owner of Natural Red, with three of her children

Jess Sanchez McClary, owner of
McClary Bros., a drinking vinegars company, also sees the hidden advantages of entrepreneurship on her family: "I wanted my sons to grow up knowing that barriers are just hurdles that you haven't jumped over yet."
For Erin Cole of Nurturing Our Seeds, a Detroit garden and agriculture education business, the unexpected benefits of running her own business are many: a flexible schedule; increased parent-child learning and cooperation; being a role model for her children and for students and neighbors; community engagement and support; and networking and recognition opportunities. 
By creating their own work schedules based on household and family needs, women entrepreneurs' impact can come full circle, allowing women to not only be more engaged with their families, but also engaged with schools and in the community.
"With a little bit of flexibility that may come from starting your own business, we think that also strengthens the social fabric of the community, so it adds economically, it adds socially," says Ali Webb, director of Michigan programs at W.K. Kellogg Foundation. "It adds economic capital and social capital to the communities, where these small businesses and these entrepreneurs are living and working. It's a win-win."

This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.
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