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Empowering diversity: Wisconsin’s support propels success for women- and minority-owned businesses

May 12, 2023
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Sara Parthasarathy and her husband Partha.

Sara Parthasarathy and her husband, Partha, made the brave decision to leave their corporate jobs and pursue their passion for creating authentic Indian meal kits full-time through their business, Flavor Temptations.

Column by Sara Parthasarathy

A few years ago, my husband, Partha, and I made the brave decision to leave our corporate jobs and pursue our passion for creating authentic Indian meal kits full-time. While we knew that starting our own small business would be a challenging and time-consuming process, we were determined to make our dream a reality. Luckily, we’d chosen to settle in Madison years earlier, and we quickly discovered that we had access to a wealth of resources that would guide us on our journey to becoming a successful minority- and woman-owned small business. Thanks to the supportive community and valuable assistance we received in Wisconsin, we are now thriving as a business today.

The trend of women’s entrepreneurship is on the rise, and it’s essential to know where to turn for mentorship, networking opportunities, and financial and business assistance. Fortunately, Wisconsin offers a wealth of resources for both new and existing women- and minority-owned businesses.

Among the most significant and unique benefits we found were the various funding options available. We were fortunate to receive grants and loans from several organizations, including WEDC, the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), Kiva, Dane Buy Local, and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. These financial resources were a game-changer when we were starting Flavor Temptations.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve also taken advantage of other valuable resources offered by Wisconsin organizations, including mentorship programs, networking groups, and business development support. As a result, our business has flourished, and we’re proud to be part of a vibrant community of successful women entrepreneurs in Wisconsin.

We found the 12-week WARF-Upstart Program to be one of the most valuable resources for our business development. This free entrepreneurship initiative is specifically designed to support women and people of color, providing the necessary tools and resources to succeed in business endeavors. Through the program, we received support in business formation, funding, strategic planning, and organizational management. One of the key components was a mentorship program with Merlin Mentors, which matched us with successful entrepreneurs to help convert our ideas into actionable strategies.

For almost a decade, Tera Johnson, a business coach and entrepreneur in the food industry, has been an invaluable asset to our team. Working with her through the Food Finance Institute at the University of Wisconsin has been a true privilege. Tera’s guidance and expertise have played an instrumental role in our success, providing us with a wealth of knowledge and skills to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. Her continuous support and mentorship have helped us to stay ahead of the curve in a constantly evolving industry, enabling us to grow and thrive in our business. We feel grateful for the opportunity to work with such an experienced and committed professional.

We were also grateful to attend a three-day business retreat led by the Doyenne Group, an organization dedicated to mentoring entrepreneurs from underrepresented populations. This experience provided us with a wealth of valuable knowledge and skills that we were able to immediately apply to our business. The retreat not only expanded our strategic thinking and problem-solving abilities but also fostered a sense of community and collaboration with other like-minded entrepreneurs. Through engaging workshops, mentorship sessions, and networking opportunities, we gained a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in our industry and left feeling inspired and empowered to take our business to the next level. The Doyenne Group is truly a remarkable organization, and we are thankful for their continued support and dedication to helping entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds succeed.

Participating in the Food and Beverage Wisconsin Accelerator program was another game-changer for our business. We were able to implement more comprehensive sales planning tools, which enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of our customers and their needs. By leveraging these valuable insights, we were able to make more informed decisions about our business, ultimately driving growth and profitability. These robust sales planning tools provided us with the necessary data and analytics to identify areas for improvement and optimize our sales strategy, leading to increased customer satisfaction and a stronger competitive edge in the market.

Amid the challenges posed by the pandemic, receiving guidance and support was crucial for our business. Attending the Food Finance Institute’s Scenario Planning workshop proved to be a pivotal moment, as it equipped us with the necessary strategies and skills to plan for uncertainty. This invaluable experience enabled us to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing business landscape and proactively develop contingency plans to mitigate risks.

Currently, we are participating in the 2023 Green Bay Packers Mentor- Protégé Program. This program pairs emerging Wisconsin businesses with established companies to provide exposure, resources, and guidance to help them reach the next level of growth. We are excited to learn from knowledgeable and committed mentors and look forward to seeing where this program takes us. Overall, we are grateful for the opportunities we have had to learn and grow—and we remain committed to building a successful and sustainable business.

While the resources we’ve mentioned are undoubtedly helpful, building a successful business requires years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. At Flavor Temptations, we’ve poured countless hours into perfecting our products and expanding our offerings. Our efforts are now paying off as we continue to grow and expand our reach, supplying our products to school districts across the nation and inspiring families to experience the richness of ethnic Indian culture at home. We’re proud of how far we’ve come and grateful for the support we’ve received from our community in Wisconsin and beyond. Building a business is a journey, and we’re excited to see where it takes us next.

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